21 Days of Prayer

On August 21 we kicked off 21 Days of Prayer, a time focused prayer for one another and for our church.  We encourage you to join in.

In Anaheim there are two more nights of prayer and worship: Wednesdays, August 31 and September 7; 7-8 PM.

You can pick up a copy of the 21 Days of Prayer booklet at the church office, at weekend services, or during the night of prayer and worship, and you can follow along with the daily devotional and prayer focus at eastside.com/prayer.


Note to Leaders

This week’s sermon is designed to help people understand the importance of community and encourage them to join a small group.  For us as leaders, and probably for most people in our groups, this is something we understand very well.

Consequently, this week’s discussion guide is less focused on convincing people of the importance of community and serves more as a check up for how we’re doing.  As such, some of these questions may be a bit uncomfortable if answered honestly.  They may expose places where our group needs to grow.

But that’s okay!  There are no perfect groups, just like there are no perfect people.  If we find that we’re not doing as well in an area as we’d like to be, it just means we need to focus on growing in that area.  It doesn’t mean we’re not a good leader or we shouldn’t be doing this.  If that were the case, I (Will) would have had to stop leading groups a long time ago.


Message Introduction

You cannot achieve your full human and spiritual potential apart from community.

It’s why people form little clubs or groups around their favorite activities: skiing, fishing, surfing, boating, car collecting, crafting.

It’s why people work out together and start businesses together.  It’s why you’ve never heard of an all expense paid trip for one.

  • Share your favorite experience in community with the group.  It could be a trip you took with friends, living with roommates in college, time spent playing on a sports team, or a hobby you enjoy sharing with others.


Understanding

God Hardwired you to Make Friends

Have a volunteer read Genesis 1:26.

Even God Himself has never done life on His own. From the very beginning He was in community with others.  In the very mysterious identity of God—the Trinity, God in three persons—we find God the Father, God the Son, and God Holy Spirit in perfect love and community.

The Father is not complete without the Son and Holy Spirit. The Son is not complete without the Father and Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not complete without the Father and Son.

At the core of God’s very identity is community and love, and connection and relationship.

And the Bible tells us that we are made in the image of God.  You are hardwired by God to need and make friends.

In fact, in Genesis 2:18, after God had created Adam, the first may, God says that it is not good for him to be alone.  It’s the first time God says that something isn’t good.

But it’s not just the Bible that teaches us that we’re hardwired to make friends, is it? Our own experience bears this out.

At some point in life, we've all felt the pain of loneliness.  You might have been surrounded by people, but you felt like there was no one who really knew you.  Maybe you felt like there was no one you could turn to, no one you could trust or rely on.

And by the same token, our best experiences involve others: the day we bring our child home from the hospital or adoption agency, the championship we win with our teammates, the candidate we campaigned for winning the election, the dinners with friends, and the long conversations around a campfire.

  • What do you think about the idea that we were hardwired to make friends?  If you agree, what in your own experience has borne that truth out?   If you disagree, how do you explain the seeming universal longing for connection?

  • If you experienced something you wanted to celebrate with others (a promotion at work, the birth of a child, buying a new house) or a difficult situation during which you needed support (the loss of a loved one, a layoff at work), would the members of this group turn to each other to celebrate or for support?

 

Community is God’s Ecosystem to Fully Follow Jesus

Have a volunteer read Proverbs 27:17.

There’s no such thing as a lone ranger follower of Jesus who reaches their full potential.  It is in community where we begin to become more like Jesus.

It’s easy to be like Jesus when no one else is around.   If you spend a day out in the middle of nature, miles and miles from anyone else, you won’t lie to anyone.  You won’t cheat anyone.  You won’t yell at anyone.  You won’t demean or belittle anyone.  You won’t covet anyone else’s things.   You won’t lust after anyone.

But the reality is that your character hasn’t changed.  You haven’t become more like Jesus.  You’ve just removed yourself from an environment that tests you.

In community our true selves are exposed.  When our neighbors play their music way too loud, when a coworker takes credit for our work, when our “friend” gossips about us, that’s when we have the opportunity to be like Jesus… or not.

It is in community that we are able to live out the “one anothers” we find in the Bible: love one another, be patient with one another, forgive one another, encourage each other, offer hospitality to one another.

In community we point one another towards Jesus, encourage one another when we do well, and lovingly point out areas where growth is needed.

  • Do you have the relationships that you need to encourage your own growth in Christ-likeness?  Are there people in your life who can and do point out when you’re living and loving like Jesus… and when you’re not?  If so, how did you develop those relationships?  If not, what steps do you need to take to develop them?

  • We all need to grow as followers of Jesus, whether it’s by making a decision to be baptized, beginning to read our Bible regularly, attending marital counseling, increasing our level of generosity, or learning to control our temper.  How can we as a group encourage one another to identify and take next steps in our spiritual journeys?

 

God Made You to Make a Difference

Have a volunteer read Matthew 25:31-46.

Have a volunteer read Acts 2:42-47, 4:32-35

Small groups weren't meant to be holy huddles but rather units of the Church on mission from God.

It's human nature to form cliques.  We meet a group of people, and as our relationships begin to strengthen, we start focusing inward, becoming more and more exclusive, but communities of Christ-followers aren't supposed to be cliques. They exist to make a difference in the lives not only of the people who are a part of that community but of the people outside of it.

There are two primary ways that our small groups can make a difference in the lives of others:

The first is simply to get out and serve the community.

Andi and Keith McGlothlin are part of small group that once a month prepares and serves a meal for a local organization that supports teen moms.  These are young women who are often struggling and scared, who are children themselves and yet find themselves with their own kids.  And often the meal they get on Thursday nights is the best meal they get all week.

What’s great about this story is that at 71, Andi is the youngest person in the group.  It's easy to think of a thousand reasons why we can't serve, but this group shows that anyone can serve.

  • How can our group be more intentional about serving others?

The second way that small groups make a difference is simply by engaging people who don't yet know Jesus.  When someone experiences the love that is found amongst a group of people who are followers of Jesus, it helps them to understand who Jesus is and what He is about.

In fact, in Matthew 28 Jesus promises that he will always be with those of us who follow Him.  So when we invite someone into a community of people who are following Jesus, Jesus is actually there to meet that person.

Engaging people who don’t yet know Jesus could mean inviting them to your group.  It could be throwing a party and inviting friends and neighbors.  You might rally around the friend of one of the group members who is struggling with loss or illness.

  • How can our group engage people who don’t yet know Jesus in order to eventually introduce them to Him?


Application

How can we be a more vital, more vibrant community?

That’s the application question to wrestle with this week.  As a group, discuss how well you are making friends, following Jesus, and making a difference.  Are you a group of people that meet once-a-week and then move on?  Or are you a group of people who are building real relationships, taking steps of faith, and impacting the community around you?

Once you figure out where your group needs to grow, make an action plan.

Do you need to build stronger relationships?  Divide up into groups of 2-4 and go out for coffee or a meal within the next two weeks.

Do you need to be more intentional in following Jesus?  Take next week and rather than discuss the sermon, share with one another where you need to grow spiritually and how the group can encourage you in that area.

Do you need to get out and serve?  Pick someone in the group to organize an opportunity to do so and commit to following through once plans are made.

You’ll only get as much out of your group as you put in.  If you just check the “showed up to a meeting” box, you can’t expect many results.  But if you will invest the time and energy into being a true community, the rewards are priceless.