I guess I first should say that before I was ever a part of a small group I used to think that these groups were for “weird” or “religious” people.
Even being an outgoing person by nature, I didn’t think it would be something I was comfortable participating in because I had a fear of not fitting in. Then Sean (my husband) and I joined one because of a specific financial study they were doing. It is something that to this day I look back on, and I am so grateful we decided to try it. It grew our faith and relationships in so many ways, and it was the furthest thing from being weird!
So, when the idea came up about starting or leading one myself, I thought, “Ugh, now people are going to think that I am weird too!” But, I also knew that if I was willing to be okay with that and put myself out there, God would use it to bless me and other people through authentic relationships. Of course, I also thought a lot of other negative thoughts as well, like most of us tend to do when the enemy wants his way. Things like:
- “Am I qualified?”
- “Who am I to want to start or lead a group?”
- “Who in their right mind would want to hear what I have to say?”
- Or, “Who in the world would want to hang out with me?”
Those were a lot of things I had to work through by remembering that it wasn’t about me, it was about Jesus, and that if he had a hand in it, people would get what they needed from it. So, I did it!
When I first felt a small tug from God to lead a group, I think I did want to do it, but I was hesitant because of fear. I’m sure I am like a lot of people when it comes to opening myself up to others because most people just don’t like being vulnerable. I had a fear of being unqualified, a fear of failing, a fear of not knowing enough Bible verses, a fear of not knowing how to lead a group, or what I was supposed to do. But, what I have learned is that you can’t let things like fear and hesitation stop you from doing what God has called you to do. That’s called disobedience, and that’s not something I wanted to be to God after what He asked Jesus to do for me. After all, it repeatedly says in the Bible that we are supposed to be in community, that we are supposed to be relational, and that we should look after the interests of others. So, who am I to tell God “no” when I see verses like Galatians 5:13, “For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.” Or, in 1 Peter 4: 10-11, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen!”
Of course, even once we decided to take the plunge, I would get all in my head with things like imagining opening my home and having no one show up. I also would play out scenarios about what I would do if this or that happened and even found myself worrying about seating, or if they’d be hungry or bored. So, as a result, I over planned, over bought, over prepared, and prayed a lot for God to help me figure it out. I also had this ridiculous fear of praying out loud, and I had to work through that as well, realizing it was the enemy, once again, trying to psych me out, getting me to play his games, and stop me from doing what I knew God was telling me to do.
But you know what? I was amazed that after the very first Connect Group meeting, everything came easier! It was like I just had to get that initial hurdle over with and from there I was good to go.
Don’t get me wrong, I would still get nervous or worry about things too much (which I think is silly now), but I also got a taste of God’s joy and peace just from being obedient and connected to others for God’s glory, and that completely outweighed any of the other stuff.
In general, I think that we all hesitate at some point to put our “true” selves out there for fear of judgment or rejection. But, what I have found instead is that when I am at my most transparent, people are most willing to hear me. When I am the most vulnerable, people feel the most trusted by me. When I am willing to walk out my faith in real life ways and I am not content to stay the same, the more people want to be a part of that journey too. Even today, after years of leading Connect Groups, there are studies that Sean and I do that are out of our comfort zone, or sometimes the size of the group gets big and I worry about all those “Martha”-type things (Luke 10:38-42) that make me think people are not going to enjoy themselves. But that’s when I remember that there is nothing “special” about me or Sean that make our group or our leadership something fantastic and wonderful, except for our relationship with Jesus Christ and our willingness to be His disciples. “It is not that we think we are qualified to do anything on our own. Our qualification comes from God.” (2 Corinthians 3:5). The key is the Holy Spirit, just like we see in the book of Acts, where He goes before us and apart from Him, or without His blessing, nothing we do will bear fruit.
Despite things getting better, there still have been (and continue to be) some hurdles to get past. Like most people in our area, the biggest challenge for me is time. I’m a wife, a mom of three active kids, I work two jobs, I serve and volunteer when I can, my husband owns his own business, and we have very big extended families that are all close as well. If we aren’t careful, and praying, and working together to keep it prioritized as something that is important in our lives, it would be easy to push it to the wayside or not give it much thought. Add to that, we live in such a busy time, and such a busy area of the country, that it is difficult to find the time, energy, and sometimes even desire to keep it on the schedule. But the funny thing is that we have taken breaks in the past and I can honestly say that during those times life feels a little bit harder, and we really miss the connection with other people.
But despite all the difficulties we’ve had, nothing can compare to the eternal friendships, life change, and growth we’ve experienced. Not to mention, what a tremendous impact it has had on us personally with our own faith and family! To see friendships and bonds form, to see marriages restored, and families transformed is an amazing thing to witness. We have had people become believers by coming to our group and have watched so many people grow and mature in their faith. We have had the privilege of walking beside people who were down in the deepest valleys of life in a variety of different ways, and I can’t even put into words what it feels like to see them persevere and stand firm and come out on the other side. And, to be able to witness to one another about all we are seeing happen in each other’s lives and how the blessings of God are visible in one way or another, it’s just an amazing experience. Just think… when we are really doing life together then we’ll have the opportunity to make friends right now in this broken place; friends that we’re going to also know in heaven where everything is perfect. Isn’t that cool?