Visions are dangerous things, especially when they involve the church. The German pastor and WWII martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer went so far as to say that God hates visionary dreaming, that it transforms pastors into accusers, and that any attempt to transform the church into a social movement (activism) or divide it into little Bible studies (pietism) will inevitably lead to excluding so-called insignificant people, effectively kicking Jesus out of the church. 1 So in our church’s vision for “Vital comGroups” in 2017, we must tread with caution. To have no vision is to be merely blind, but we must not make an idol of our notion of community.
A comGroup is a small, diverse group of people pursuing the Jesus life together. Those words are chosen very carefully. Pursuing the Jesus life is simply what the church does: we seek to be with Jesus and do what he does. A comGroup then is essentially the community with which you follow Jesus. Just as Jesus’ first disciples did, we must follow our Master in a close-knit fellowship of diverse people. We cannot live the Jesus life alone, anonymously, or surrounded only by people just like us.
The main reason why people don’t plant or join a comGroup is because they don’t have time for “one more Bible study.” Many others have tried one and dropped out and now have a “been there, done that” attitude. To them, comGroups are another word for Bible study. Some of them were turned off by the diversity of age in a group, others by the lack of it. Is that you?
I understand both of these objections. Most of us should not give one more evening of our week to sitting in a circle in a pristine family room or a classroom of a church building. And intergenerational community is awkward and challenging (though how can we hope to de-segregate our churches along more difficult lines such as racial, sexual, or socioeconomic if we cannot do this?). But most importantly, if a comGroup really is just a small group of people sitting in a circle once a week (at most) to read the Bible and share prayer requests about a sick aunt, can we really call this “pursuing the Jesus life”? Was it Bible studies that threatened the corrupt powers of Jerusalem and Rome? We often thank God that we are free to meet in this country, but maybe we are free to do so because that’s all we are doing: meeting.
Tim Chester and Steve Timmis assert that, “The church is God’s primary missionary strategy. Our strategy must be to litter the world with communities of light.” 2 Churches are vehicles of blessing in their communities. They are more than a loose association of volunteers; they are a presence in their city. They are to be the presence of God, the family of God on mission to make disciples of Jesus and seek the welfare of the city where God has placed them. The church is like a new family moving into a run-down neighborhood, transforming it by going on walks to pick up trash, inviting people for dinner, taking a widow to her doctor’s appointments, and throwing block parties. You would grieve if they left. This is what comGroups are meant to be. The church is not the family that moves in, locks the door, shuts the blinds, parks in the garage, and disappears. But this is what most comGroups eventually become.
Furthermore, because we live in a fallen world, being a Jesus follower is about more than being a good neighbor. Missiologist Lesslie Newbigin compared the church’s calling to that of undercover agents seeking to subvert an oppressive regime from within. 3 (I think I would have been way more interested in Christianity as a teenager had someone explained it like that!) What he means is that the various institutions that we serve (e.g. government), are members of (e.g. family), or work for (e.g. a company) often end up using and abusing the very human beings they are called to serve. They are “fallen powers” in theological language. Even churches can be fallen, abusing and oppressing rather than blessing and serving. We must not compartmentalize our involvement in these realms from our pursuit of the Jesus life. Rather, God places us in them as servants who will seek to “subvert them from within” and bring them back to their original intention of contributing to human flourishing. When you understand “carrying your cross” to mean changing a corrupt and dehumanizing corporate culture from within, for instance, then the intensity of the phrase may start to make sense. So with our comGroup we study the Bible not to merely fulfill a religious requirement, but to actually learn to obey Jesus in every part of our lives. We are “secret service agents” receiving encouragement and instructions from home.
There is so much more to be said. But hopefully this gives you a good start in understanding what makes for a vital comGroup and why they are so vital to our mission. A massive army (mega-church) storming into battle as a mob of individuals is destined for slaughter. An army of well-trained and equipped platoons (micro-churches) can overthrow strongholds. So let’s plant vital comGroups. Let’s bless our city and our neighborhoods. Let’s litter them with communities of light. Let’s be a real presence. And yes, if you are so spread thin with Bible studies that you have no time for actually pursuing the Jesus life in committed community, then quit.