Every small group needs a reason for existence. Why should we carve out more time in our busy lives to spend it with people we might barely know? For most people and groups that reason is the desire for community. We desire friendship, and that is a good thing.
We all need community. In fact, we were designed by God to be in community. You can see it modeled for us with the perfect relationship of the Trinity in Genesis.
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness. They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and the creatures that crawl on the earth.” (Gen. 1:26 hcsb)
We then see it prayed for by Jesus with His final prayer before His death on the cross:
“May they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You. May they also be one in Us, so the world may believe You sent Me.” (John 17:21 hcsb)
Community is important, but a problem arises when community is the destination of the group. A small group that gathers strictly around the desire to make friends will live or die on the strength of those relationships. If those relationships begin to shift or separate, so will the group. Without the imperative of being on mission, community is fragile.
Like all aspects of God’s creation, our relationships have been broken by sin. In our sinfulness, we use other people instead of live in God-honoring community with them. But when we believe the gospel, our relationships begin to be reshaped. We, together, are meant to help each other follow Jesus more closely and in so doing to extend the gospel into all the world. This is our mission. This is the redeemed version of community—it’s relationships that are centered on seeing the mission of God come to pass first in our own hearts, and eventually in the world.
We can look at the life of Jesus to see how community was used as the foundation for mission. As we saw in Genesis 1:26, Jesus had this perfect community with the Trinity, but chose to not only leave home, but to leave heaven on a mission to die for those He came to reach. Jesus was the first and greatest missionary of all history!
John testified to the fullness of Jesus’ mission in John 1:
Indeed, we have all received grace upon grace from his fullness, for the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. The one and only Son, who is himself God and is at the Father’s side—he has revealed him. (vv. 16–18)
Jesus left His community to come to Earth, to realign our priorities, and to make us citizens of a new kingdom. Because of sin, our priorities are broken, but the gospel puts them back in line. The truth of this gospel was the sole mission of Jesus’ life on Earth.
When Pilate questioned who He was, Jesus replied, “You say that I’m a king . . . I was born for this, and I have come into the world for this: to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (John 18:37). Jesus was born to share this truth.
We can see clearly why living out the mission of Jesus is related to the gospel. After all, the final instructions of Jesus before He ascended into heaven were centered around this mission—that His followers should “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19–20).
And as you align your group around this gospel-centered mission of Jesus, remember that we had to hear the good news before we could share the good news. We had to be brought to life by the message before we could be its messengers. What this means practically is that we have to be open to living out the gospel in our group by inviting those who need the gospel the most.
With time of living it out, this missional way of looking at our world becomes a natural outflow of what the gospel has produced in our lives. We desire deeply for others to experience what we have in our life-giving community. Helping group members see their world through this new missional lens will slowly move them beyond just the desire for friendships.