Imagine if you were to read the Bible just to read it. You are not preparing for a sermon or a Bible study. You are not trying to figure out the meaning of some difficult theological question. You are not even trying to read it devotionally. You are just reading it like you would a epic novel, where you allow the story to take over and let your imagination be shaped by that story.
Then after reading it through—yes all the way through—imagine that you tell a friend about it. Now this person is not a Christian and has only been observed churches from the fringe. But she has read her fair share of novels. She does not ask the normal kinds of questions that we church people might ask. Instead she just simply asks, "What makes the story work?" She's intrigued as to how such a long book could keep anyone's interest.
Your immediate response is "God." This answer might even surprise you at first because it's so simple but yet so true. He is the one who creates. He calls Abraham. He hears the cries of the of the Isrealite slaves and sends Moses. He anoints David. He sends prophets. He confronts. He loves. He sacrifices. Then Jesus comes. Jesus reveals God. Jesus heals. Jesus dies. Jesus rises. Then the Spirit comes and fills the church. Jesus through the Spirit confronts Paul. The Spirit sends forth leaders to start new churches all over the place with all kinds of miracles. Then in the last book, Jesus returns and restores all of creation. This story is about God.
Then she asks, "What do you mean?" You say something like, "Well God's active presence with his people is what carries the entire story. It's that simple."
She flippantly ask, "If that's true about the Bible, is it true about God's people today?"
How do you respond to her?
We have our Bible studies. We have our DVD curriculum. We have our nice meetings where we gather in homes and we share conversations with one another. We have our "good advice" sessions where we try to help each other through tough times. We even have our worship song time in our groups.
But should any of these things "mark" us as God's people? We have nice groups. We know how to do that. No doubt. But we need groups that experience the active presence of God, where we know his love, his leading and his shaping. Jesus is the center of life, the one through whom we relate to one another.
Why don't we hear more about this in our small group literature and training?
Now we have missional communities who gather around a action or a cause. Good yes! But is the cause, the social action, the intentional outreach that which should mark missional communities as God's people?
If we are going to move our groups beyond simply connecting people so we can close the back door, we need a cause that's bigger than us, but even more we need to know God's presence. God is the one on mission. He is the one who is actively redeeming creation. If we don't know God's presence, then how can we get involved in HIS mission?
For the next post in this series, Practice #6, click here.