Why Does Your Small Group Meet?

Imagine that you are leading a small group, and a young couple opens up about their infertility. They share their battle with jealousy when others get pregnant, their fear of never getting pregnant, and their struggle with bitterness toward God.

What do you say?

Since this couple is feeling pain, it’s loving to want to comfort them. So maybe someone in the group says, “I’m really sorry for what you are going through.” Maybe someone else shares about a couple who got pregnant after lengthy infertility. Maybe another member says she will pray that they get pregnant. And maybe someone else recommends an infertility specialist.

All of this will probably comfort the infertile couple, and may be the kind of encouragement and counsel they need. But has this small group accomplished God’s goal for fellowship yet? I don’t think so.

Paul’s Goal

When Paul first visited Thessalonica, people came to faith and God forged deep love between the apostle and these new converts, to such a degree that he was heartbroken when he suddenly had to leave the city.

Later he wrote them and shared his plans to visit so they could fellowship together again. And from this letter, we can learn what the goal of Christian fellowship should be. In 1 Thessalonians 3:1–10 we see a theme emerge:

  • Therefore . . . we sent Timothy . . . to establish and exhort you in your faith.

  • For this reason . . . I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain.

  • But now that Timothy has . . . brought us the good news of your faith and love . . . for this reason . . . we have been comforted about you through your faith.

  • . . . we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith.

When it came to fellowship, Paul’s main goal was to strengthen faith.

But Why?

Why focus on faith? Paul tells us in the verse 5:

For this reason . . . I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labor would be in vain.

Paul knew that Satan’s goal in tempting them was to destroy their faith, because if Satan can destroy their faith, they would not be saved and Paul’s labor would be in vain.

No one can be saved and have their faith destroyed (1 John 5:18). I believe that when God saves someone he starts a good work which he will continue all the way to heaven (Philippians 1:6). So, everyone who genuinely trusts Christ will persevere in faith to the end and be saved (John 10:29–30; Romans 8:28–30; Jude 1:24–25).

But one of the ways God keeps us persevering is by having others encourage our faith (Hebrews 3:12–14). So, if there is someone in my small group who I thought had faith, but now is so tempted by Satan that his faith is weakening, I understand that their eternity is at stake (James 5:19–20). That’s why Paul’s priority was to strengthen faith in Christ.

Stop the Bleeding

Imagine that you came upon a horrific car accident, and a man is lying on the road with ripped Levis, an obviously broken leg, and blood pouring from a gash in his neck.

It would be foolish to start with sewing up his Levis, or even setting his leg. This man will not die from torn pants or a broken leg. But he will die if you don’t stop the bleeding.

In this accident, everything depends on stopping the bleeding. And in fellowship, stopping the bleeding is the first priority before we can take all the steps needed in rehabilitating a fellow believer. Focus most on the nature and source of unbelief, because faith is the lifeline we all need most in the midst of our pain.

Strengthen Faith

Back to the couple struggling with infertility. My wife and I battled infertility for years, so I am sympathetic with their sorrow. But their struggle with fear and jealousy and bitterness shows that unbelief is festering in their hearts. The goal of this small group, then, must be to strengthen their faith.

The main battle for infertile couples is to trust that Christ — not pregnancy or babies — is their all-satisfying treasure, and that God will do whatever will bring them the most joy in Christ, whether that means pregnancy or not. This couple needs brothers and sisters who, with deep tenderness and compassion and even tears, will help them trust all that God promises to be to them in Christ.

Show Compassion

To do this the small group will listen humbly as the couple pours out their soul, and will weep with them as they weep. They might share how “the Lord is near to the brokenhearted” (Psalm 34:18). They might open to Psalm 40:1–3, and encourage them that as they wait on the Lord in prayer — he will set their feet on a rock and fill them with praise.

They might study Romans 8:28–39 to see that even in this trial they can be confident that God loves them, and that he is working all of this to bring them the greatest joy, which is beholding Christ in all his glory. Then they might lay hands on them and plead for the Spirit’s faith-strengthening work — and pray earnestly that God, in his mercy, will have them get pregnant. The goal of all this is to strengthen this couple’s faith, so that they see and feel that Christ is their all-satisfying treasure, and that he will do whatever necessary to bring them the greatest joy in him.

But if the small group ignores their faith, and just comforts them with hopes of pregnancy, then the small group is only sewing ripped pants and setting a broken bone while this couple continues to bleed. We’d never do that with an accident victim. Let’s call each other to trust in God when trials come.