Finding Your Community
By: Josh Pocock
I needed my Community Group in a way I never thought I would and it forced me to acknowledge that the Holy Spirit has radically changed my perspective of these kinds of groups over the past couple of years.
In my experience, when people hear about church small groups, they have a variety of feelings or response:
- I don’t like people enough to join a group
- I’m too busy
- Feels like work
- I don’t want to share my problems
- I don’t want to hear about anyone else’s problems
- Fear (this is probably the core of all of the above reasons, but let’s not open that right now)
For much of my life, I did not have the right perspective on Community Groups. They were either another thing to jam into my schedule or a checklist item I had to complete. And while they go by many names – Community Groups, Small Groups, Connection Groups – and all have some catchy slogan, like, “out of rows and into circles,” I always viewed them from an academic viewpoint – a sort of Bible study where people gathered to talk about what they liked about the pastor and the church (or worse, what they disliked).
Until we started attending Rivers Crossing, the above was my flawed perspective of Community Groups. It took a year, but after some rather forceful nudging of a close friend, my wife and I decided to step out and lead one. That was almost 3 years ago.
Over that period, we have built incredible friendships, gained authentic community and watched our group multiply a few times into what is now 4 different groups. Multiplying out has been a challenge and a thrill to watch our friends step out into leading their own groups with new families.
But it was my experience this past week that caused me to stop and take full measurement of what this Community Group truly means to me. For the past 7 days, I have watched my Community Group be the Church for me and my family.
Last Monday morning, I left for China on a business trip. By Monday evening, as I was on a plane somewhere over Canada, my wife was messaging me that what we thought were bruises on my son’s legs were actually a symptom of something called HSP. You can Google all of the wonderful cases of that sometime. Here is the short version – intense pain, bruising & swelling. No treatment. It will probably run its course in several months. Weekly monitoring of blood and urine because in some cases, it absolutely destroys its host’s kidneys and liver.
Only 8 hours until I land in Shanghai where I will be for the next 2 weeks. And this is the news I am processing in a dark plane via iMessage.
Helpless. Fearful. Anxious. This emotional cocktail took all 6’6” of me to my breaking point, and I sat trying to sob quietly in my seat.
I struggle with vulnerability (my own real reason for pushing back against Community Groups at first), but I had to push past that. I had to get my “family” praying. This wasn’t a casual case of needing prayer, this was an emergency. I needed everyone. So off the messages went – to my men’s group, my Community Group and a few other friends inside of RC3 who used to be in our Community Group but have become a part of the groups that have branched off.
I encouraged my wife, wiped my tears and began to pray for my son. I was appealing fervently to my Father to move on behalf of my son; a prayer that I would pray repeatedly over the next week as my son’s conditioned appeared to improve (they ruled out leukemia – the disease that took my father from me), but then quickly turned as they thought the worst about his kidneys due to the HSP.
Over this same week, here is just some of what I encountered:
- A gentleman in my men’s group took my wife and kids dinner on his way home from work (Romans 12:10, Hebrews 10:24)
- A family in our Community Group got my son a gift and my wife flowers (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
- A close friend text me back and forth for 3 hours while he was at work because I was on the other side of the planet and couldn’t sleep as we waited another round of test results (Matthew 18:19-20)
- Two different men rebuked my negative thoughts directly and forcefully (Proverbs 27:17, Hebrews 3:13, John 14:1)
- Countless text messages from the men in our Community Group telling me that they had my family covered in prayer and were checking on them (James 5:16, John 13:34-35, Philippians 2:1-2)
- Messages from the men in our Community Group who, upon hearing the news, woke their kids up and had them all pray for my son – which might have been the coolest thing in this process since it reminded me that our kids are also a part of this community/family. (Ephesians 6:4, Proverbs 22:6)
I am certain that I am forgetting everything that was done. What I found, was that my Community Group was being the Church for me. I had this vision of me kneeling before God and violently praying for my son, and when I stood and turned around, the rest of my community group was right there with me. Bloodied and bruised from battle. Exhausted from being in the trenches with me. Sore from carrying my family but determined to keep fighting. They were just as engaged as I was. They weren’t just saying, “we will pray for you” and then going about their lives. They were backing those words up with action in every single way possible. They weren’t praying for my son. They were praying for Malachi; the sweet little ball of energy that binds all of the kids together. This was just as real for them as it was for me, and they made sure that I knew it.
And THAT, my brothers and sisters, is why getting out of rows and into circles is so vital for our walk with Christ. I was broken. I was down. I knew all of the words to say, but transferring them to my heart was hard. But my community family had me!
Prayer works. We can and should ask the church to pray for us in our time of need. I proudly serve on the Prayer Team at Rivers Crossing because I believe this so strongly. But Community Groups? They put a tangible touch the phrase “I will keep you in my prayers.”
Oh, and about my son, Malachi? Yeah, God decided to just go right ahead and heal him. The protein level in his urine was higher than they wanted and it was climbing. I’ve learned so much about kidneys over the last 7 days, chief among this new knowledge is high protein in the urine is a really bad sign. Really bad. So bad the doctor didn’t want to discuss what the next steps were if they are high. They did another test the following morning and as my side of the world drifted off to sleep, I forced myself to stay awake and stare at my phone as I awaited the results. Friends continue to steal moments from their lives to text me short prayers. The doctors’ hope was that the climb in protein levels would stop. Their best-case scenario, was that it would slightly drop. But what happened? It plummeted! Back to well within a normal range.
The doctor told my wife that there was no explanation for it. All my wife could push out before she burst into tears was, “my God is greater.’ She was a rock through this whole thing. Her confidence in God – not in the outcome – never wavered once. Man, I love her! She’s a rock star. But I’m sure she would agree that her strength was in large part thanks to our Community Group. Come what may, we knew that we were not alone.
And now, we get to rejoice together! Scarred from battle. Somehow even closer than we were before. We now get to show our kids how prayer works. How community works. How the Church works.
I’m so thankful for these men and women in my life. I wouldn’t trade them for the world. But I will close with an invitation to join our little tribe. Or another one. They take work. I don’t want you to go into them thinking the above story just happened because we all agreed to meet on Sundays for an hour to talk about the message. It happened because several families have decided to embrace a process that formed these bonds and relationships.
A healthy Community Group requires a few things:
- You will have to be vulnerable.No one gets a free ride when it comes to Community Groups. Believe me, I would rather be the introverted guy in the corner who doesn’t share what is really going on in my life. But unless I do, I can never really have the relationships that are vital to my health as a dad, husband and man of God.
- You will have to commit.You can’t be the person/family who comes to every other meeting and is always too busy to get coffee/drinks with the guys/girls every now and then. In his book ‘What Matters Most,’ Doug Fields makes the case that every time you say ‘yes’ to something, you are saying ‘no’ to something else. So, go into your Community Group knowing it will require you to say no to something in your life. Weigh the cost, and commit to it at the beginning.
- You will have to make it a priority.No one accidentally falls into community. It requires effort. Intentional effort to make connections. To not only make yourself known, but to get to know those in your group. You don’t need to force it, you just need to be open to it.
Like most relationships worth having, you will get so much more out of it than you will ever be asked to put into it. I certainly know that I have.
Be brave. Show love.