Week after week you gather and every time you wonder if anything meaningful transpired in the last few hours. You tell yourself that it takes time to build strong community life, but it’s been months and it doesn’t seem that lives are being changed and meaningful relationships built. No spiritual fireworks. There doesn’t seem to be a spark to light a fire.
Jesus had this awesome ability to move forward with his mission despite the lack of belief and motivation he was seeing from his disciples. The gospels record some pretty exciting events during their three years of ministry with one another. Could you imagine helping to miraculously feed over 5000 people, casting out demons with your own words, and seeing the dead raised on multiple occasions? These are EXTREME events! Sure the disciples were wowed and wooed. But these events were never the direct cause of the disciple’s spiritual transformation. Miracles are manure – they only help prep the soil because life is contained in the seed. After all these huge electrifying events Thomas still doubted the mission of Jesus, Peter still denied Christ, and Judas still betrayed Jesus.
Here are a few things that I think Jesus told himself during the mundane moments of trying to build his small group called The Twelve:
1) *facepalm* “Don’t yell at them…just go pray for them now.”
Jesus prayed early in the morning everyday because He stayed connected with the Father. But he also prayed for his disciples. He definitely felt frustration with them at times. He knew that their transformation was impossible without the Father’s help.
2) “I love them, I believe in them and I know they can do it.”
Jesus had hopes and dreams for his disciples even when he knew they would fail and deny him. He would never say, “They will NEVER change.” He saw their potential choosing not to be cynical. Cynicism is either from our experience of failure or from the lies of the Enemy. Jesus does not condemn. He provides hope and encouragement not cynicism and condemnation.
3) “Here’s our opportunity to grow.”
A few months ago, a child of one of our young married couples died. This was hard. You can imagine how utterly inadequate our young cell group felt in ministering to our brother and sister. But it was an opportunity for us to grow. We had a chance to both prove our love. Jesus saw life events, conflict, andfailures as opportunities and not as setbacks.
4) “They won’t understand until they’ve tried it.”
Jesus didn’t just spend time talking at his disciples. Jesus was a teacher not because he was an academic, but because was able to impart himself to his group members. He knew that learning often happens by doing. He sent people out to do both crazy challenging things as well as mundane tasks. Our cell group is in the process of sponsoring a refugee family and we are super excited at how God will move through us with this opportunity. There will be a lot of little assignments that will grow us as individuals and as a team.
5) “They’ll get it after I’m gone.”
Jesus had a different time table than we do. He has a long perspective. He didn’t have the need to see total transformation right away. He prepped the seed, planted the seed, worked as hard as he could (even to the point of death) and then he went away. He was humble and TRUSTED in them. He didn’t force it.
6) “It’s okay if this guy doesn’t get it.”
Jesus loves everyone equally, but the truth is not everyone will get it. It hurts when we know that. We don’t have the same kind of foresight that Jesus has. We can always hope that the ones that leave or the ones that never grow will one day find the right soil to grow in. But at the end of the day, we need to let go of personal responsibility for someone else who refuses to grow the way that Jesus wants them to grow.
Repentance from sin as a group is absolutely necessary for growth. Here are some practical ways to facilitate repentance for your group:
Three Suggestions for Leaders:
- Pray for your cell group members by name. Recall the issues going on in their life and trust that prayer and obedience will transform them.
- Be honest and open about any stumbling blocks in your own leadership. Are you doing/not doing anything that is hindering the group from growing? Are you the bottleneck? Are you unable to trust others with leadership responsibilities? What parts of this Body are still unactivated?
- Ask God specifically to give opportunities for growth and then be on the lookout. He could allow a tragedy to bring you closer. He could present a mission opportunity. Or he may just want you to have late night conversations that lead to deeper and more meaningful relationships.
Three Suggestions for Everyone Else:
- Discover your strengths and spiritual gifts so that you can use them more to build up your cell group. If you have an amazing gift of hospitality, but never offer your home then your group is missing out on experiencing your gift. If you are really good at listening to problems, but never reach out to the one with a problem then you’re holding back your ministry.
- Take responsibility for the growth of others. Take time this week to get to know one or two people within your group and see how you can encourage and build them up spiritually. Should you gather for prayer? Maybe there is sin in their life and you’re the one to provide accountability.
- Take initiative in finding outside opportunities and resources to grow your group. Perhaps you need to take a retreat together and your leader isn’t gifted to organize that – so you do it!
I tell my group all the time how talented they are and how much I love them. I do it because #1 it’s true and #2 that’s how Jesus grew his small group of 12 broken men into a movement that changed the world.