The Open Circle
Pray for vision. So, what’s the vision of the Open Circle? It’s a vision for every Living Hope family, member and Small Group. Picture the cover of a book about community or Small Groups. Picture a church website page or brochure about Small Group life. Now, describe the picture. People laughing (or really, really serious), Bible’s in their laps. And how are they sitting? In a circle. And what does a circle represent that is good about the Christian community we experience in our group? People are listening, sharing, open to each other, etc.
Now, return to that image of the imaginary Small Group on the book cover – which way should the people in the circle be turned? Should the circle be open or closed? What vision is faithful to the ultimate purpose for our church and our groups?
Essentially, the first Small Group was Jesus’ 12 disciples. After His crucifixion and resurrection in Matthew 28, the number is down to 11. And before He ascends to the right hand of God the Father, Jesus gives this directive to Group #1: 16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
How does this passage help us answer the above question – should our circles be open our closed? Can we use Jesus’ Great Commission to formulate a vision for our circle?
Jesus’ 11 disciples, standing on this mountain in Galilee – this is the church…this is Small Group #1. And what was Jesus’ vision for them? Look up. Look in. Look out.
Look up: All authority belongs to Jesus. Worship Him. Look to Him for power and direction. We may still doubt, but we can gather and go because Jesus has authority and has told us what to do. And as we go, we can know that He is always with us (His Spirit).
Look in: There is an “us”; He is with “us”. We get together, worship, learn what He commanded, and help each other to obey.
Look out: There is a mission. We are told to “go and make (new) disciples”, baptizing them into the family and teaching them to obey. The vision is for the “us” to grow in number and obedience.
What vision does God have for our church and our Small Groups 18 months from now? I don’t know. But could it be something like this? We look around our circle and there are new people here. Imagine a cookout at _________’s house. We’re all there, but we’re not alone… there’s a family that hasn’t gone to church in years; a co-worker that doesn’t know Christ but is asking some good questions; and maybe a neighbor who recently said – “I know I need God. Can you tell me what to do?”
The Biblical vision for the Open Circle is summed up with one word. Hospitality.
It’s a constant Biblical call for God’s people, a consistent theme from Genesis to Revelation. And what does it mean? Literally, in Hebrew, hospitality means “welcoming the stranger”. Leviticus 19:34 (God said to Israel)“You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.”
Hospitality is treating the stranger as the native, the “outsider” as the “insider”. There is a way we treat each other inside the circle. But that unique love and community are designed to be shared with those outside the circle. OK, but why is it so hard for us to move beyond our circle?
Pray for vision. We must spend some time praying for a new vision from God that gives us a goal to work toward, as a church and as individual Small Groups.
God will help us see the purpose and future of our group. But this leads to a tough question – what if we see the vision but we don’t want it? This brings us to our second prayer…
Pray for heart. We must pray for ourselves.
Remember the meaning of Biblical hospitality? Prayers for our hearts begin with remembering that we were once the strangers. We were once outside of Christ, outside of His family and promises. We were once outside of our church and Small Group. For some of us, Living Hope was our first experience with really sharing life in a group of believers. It was scary jumping in, but we have grown so much in showing hospitality to each other – in opening our homes and lives to each other. We now treasure community; with all of its challenges, shared life has become precious to many of us. But are we hoarding it? What happens when we keep the gift of community to ourselves? For you Lord of the Rings fans, like Gollum’s grip on his “precious” ring, if we hold too tight to community, we can lose it. The principle of Biblical hospitality teaches us that Christian love and community were designed to spill out of the circle, if not – if it terminates on us – it’s like a stagnant pool of water. It will lose its freshness…its taste…its life. A flowing, freshwater spring overflowing its banks – that’s God’s intention for Christian community.
If kept to ourselves, we will eventually grow bored with church life and Small Group life; our commitment will start to fade.
It’s not hard to look at Scripture and convince ourselves that we “ought to” open our circles to those without Christ. But the “want to” is a different story. Because we are born after the Fall, after sin entered the world, we have a hard time doing anything because we ought to do it. In fact, we often still desire and pursue the opposite of what we ought. So, the most essential question is, “Where does the ‘want to’ come from? What will motivate us?”
God takes certain truths and applies them to our hearts with the Holy Spirit. This brings the “want to”. But it requires repeated application. This is why we need each other.
What truths do we need that the Spirit can use for motivation to open our circle?
Jesus is beautiful, glorious and worthy of more praise (Psalm 96:4); Heaven and Hell are real; God is preparing the way for us/preparing hearts; and there are hundreds more.
We must regularly remind each other of these things when we gather. Why? Because the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, seeking out churches, families and Small Groups to devour (paraphrase of 1 Peter 5:8). Less important visions will grab our attention; lesser treasures will grab our hearts. Let’s pray now for God to guard our hearts and protect us from distractions, idols and wrong motives.