Small groups can either divide us or bring reconciliation.
We can’t deny that a level of racial divide exists in the U.S. (still) today. I’m not pointing fingers for who is responsible for this and I hope you don’t either. But I want to move beyond that fact and look at the state of our small groups. Are they places that mirror the racial division of our country or are they examples of real community, real unity, and real integration?
I’ve seen enough groups (and churches, for that matter) that look nothing like the beautiful scene of heaven: “There before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9). Why can’t that become the reality now? I think it starts with us.
Small Groups: The Best Place for Reconciliation
I believe that small groups can be the very best environment in our society for bringing about racial (and every other type of) reconciliation. Yes, more than the government. Yes, more than one party or candidate. Yes, more than the church at large. Why?
- Healthy small groups are, or should be, environments of radical, authentic Christian community. By “authentic,” I mean real, genuine, unbiased, others-first, listening-to-understand, ministering, unconditionally loving, sacrificial community. It’s in that environment that reconciliation will best occur.
- Small groups are small enough to look each other in the face, hear each other’s stories, and know each other’s hearts. I’ve been in racially integrated small groups, and they have grown me as a person and as a Christ follower. In this kind of group, each person is a friend, a person I’m doing life with, a brother or sister in Christ whose story I know and care about. In that environment, like no other, I can hear and understand and affirm their stories. And they do the same for me.
- Because of these first two reasons, a small group is the perfect environment to discuss what’s going on in our country and in our churches and in our lives, and better understand the perspectives of people who are different from us.
The Undeniable Facts about Segregation
Here’s the fact according to God’s Word:
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has become a child of God. And everyone who loves the Father loves his children, too (1 John 5:1, NLT).
I’ve heard sermons and read articles by Christian writers over the last several months on this and other similar Bible passages. And this is true. As God’s dearly loved children, as people with new lives in him, we are to be known by our radical love for everyone. There is no difference for a Christ follower between color of skin, country of origin, culture, sexual preference, or any other “difference” that tends to divide us. We are simply to love each person as God loves us: genuinely, unconditionally, tangibly and sacrificially. Yes, it takes some GUTS to do that, but most of us understand this. But let’s go one step further. These are God’s words, not my own:
Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. … Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister (1 John 4:8-21, NIV).
This is serious business! If we do not love our brothers and sisters, whom we can see and talk to and, more importantly, listen to, it calls into question whether we really love God. Discuss those passages as a small group!
What about Jesus’ Small Group?
The members of Jesus’ small group may at first seem to be the same—they were all Jewish men—yet they each had a variety of backgrounds, experiences, and passions. More importantly, Jesus constantly pushed these 12 men out of their cultural comfort zones to face their societal prejudices, preferences, and presuppositions, mostly by Jesus’ own examples of crossing cultural barriers. And what they learned from their time with Jesus continued to an even broader extent as the Church spread after Jesus returned to heaven.
In fact, it was this cross-cultural love that enabled the church to grow and expand from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria and to the ends of the earth.
Like Jesus and his original followers, we must choose to cross cultural barriers. Imagine what God would do through us if we all did this!
What This Means for You and Your Group
All of this has specific implications for your group. Here’s how I think this calls your group to respond:
- Get out of the comfort zone of people just like you.
- Pray that God will give you opportunities to be reconcilers. He will!
- Watch for the opportunities God gives you to invite people who do not look like, act like, or think just like you.
- Seek to fulfill Jesus’ prayer: “I pray also … that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:20-23). Do you see that? We can change the world by the way we unite a divided world!
- Seek racial and every other kind of reconciliation. God has given us the “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18).
- Seek to radically love people who are different from you.
What would happen if the rest of the world looked to us in small group community as the place that crosses racial and other cultural divides and radically loves people as no other element of society can? If we don’t, that’s a disgrace, because we have the opportunity to do so. If we do, we can change the world, just like that first group of Jesus followers did.
Is your group a segregated group or a reconciling group? What’s your story? Please tell us by clicking the “Comment” button below.