Life Groups are a major emphasis at our church. We were created for relationship with God, God’s People, & God’s World. Trouble is, all relationships are broken because of sin. Every problem can be traced back to a broken relationship.
Jesus lived, died, and rose again to make relationship with God possible; to forgive and make us holy. Although the Holy Spirit changes hearts one person at a time, God’s plan has always been to call a united people to himself. A nation. A family. A tribe. A body. A flock. Choose your metaphor, they are all pictures of pluralism perfected. That means our horizontal relationships (person to person) are very important! Unfortunately, most churches don’t tend to do relationships well.
Part of the problem is we trust our biological families too much. What?! How can you trust your family too much??? I’ll tell you. The three humans with whom I live are invaluable to me. They know me better than any others. We depend on each other completely for material support, for love & affection, for our identity, and for encouragement. In short, I’d be lost without them. But therein lies the problem. We depend on each other completely.
Psychologists specializing in family systems have known this for years. A family is a system (think of a web) made up of highly complex relationships consisting of thousands of unspoken rules that are nevertheless ironclad. You dare not break them or there will be consequences! I’ll give a generic, but common, example. A husband does something his wife doesn’t like. She gets angry and loses her temper. Here the unspoken rule is, “I (husband) will do (x) and she (wife) will do (y).” The husband doesn’t like it, but he takes it, at least for a while. After she’s done yelling he leaves to join his buddies at the bar. The wife calls her sister and the two vent about the man’s bad behavior. Here the unspoken rule is, “I (wife) will call you (sister) and you will sympathize with (read, enable) me.” The husband comes home, they go to sleep. The next morning they go their separate ways and by evening it seems as though the fight never happened. Until it happens again, that is.
Years go by until the two find they can no longer communicate. Along the way they’ve taught their children that yelling is ok and that not talking about issues is the way we deal with them. In extreme cases, the marriage ends or there is an affair. As bad as all this sounds, the couple actually prefers the system they’ve created (the known) to the uncertainty that would be caused should one or both of them try to build something different.
Should the wife decide to control her anger, for instance, she might find her husband provokes her all the more, perhaps completely unaware that he’s reacting from anxiety he feels because his wife is suddenly not playing by the rules. If the husband decides not to leave but to talk with his wife she may become all the more aggressive, for the same reason. If the sister on the phone refuses to validate the wife’s frustration, but begins to challenge her to get help, she may be accused of disloyalty or of being on a ‘high horse’. We create systems that work. Even if those systems are dysfunctional and harmful, we prefer the flawed systems we’ve built together to the unknown.
And that’s why you need Christian friends who don’t live with you. That’s why you need a Life Group. Discipleship, in one word, means change. Your spouse may be great at keeping your anger in check or pointing out when you’re acting selfishly. You might even welcome her critique. But chances are, there are many faults the two of you share. You probably aren’t even aware of them. You need someone from the outside; someone whose system is not vulnerable to the threat of your change to your system.
Conversions are important and necessary, but God’s primary mode for building the Church has always been through the family. This is what covenantal theology is all about. This is why “The promise is for you, and for your children, and for all who are far off…” (Acts 2:39 ESV). But even though God builds the Church largely through the family, he grows the Church through the Church. God’s design is for the Church to be a family of families that have all things in common, learn together, worship together, eat together, and serve together (Acts 2:42-47).
Have you given permission to other families to speak Gospel truth into your family? How might you begin to do that today?