Using Small Groups to Fight Sin
My natural tendency is to say to those around me, “I’m doing quite well, thanks.” The problem is, sin is active and wars against us each and every day. It’s unwise—and, frankly, dishonest—to suggest that I don’t need help in my battle against sin. Often, I can put an accurate label on my sin patterns, and even identify verses that speak to them. But just as often, there are sins and sin patterns I cannot see.
The care group to which my wife and I belong at our church in Gaithersburg, Maryland comes alongside and helps me fight the battle. They help me to see my sin, and then apply the gospel of Jesus Christ to it.
“And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (1 Thes. 5:14).
By reminding me of his all-sufficient sacrifice, my care groups admonishes me when I am idle, encourages me when I am fainthearted, and helps me where I am weak. This is bringing grace in an appropriate form—according to our needs at the moment.
The care group I lead consists of three married couples. All six of us meet monthly. The three husbands also meet separately once a month, as do the three wives. Since all three of us men work on the pastoral staff at our church, we are able to drop into one another’s offices to care for each another on a regular basis. Yet in our care groups we meet as friends, not as coworkers or professionals.
Though we periodically read an article to enrich our marriages, primarily we focus on learning to apply what we have been taught from the pulpit. The major emphasis of our discussions is simple: “how does what we have been taught affect my life?” That means our conversation will bring the message of the sermon into personal heart struggles, into day-to-day decisions such as whether our kids go to college, into our latest conflicts, or into evidences of grace in one another’s lives.
Our goal is not to measure each other’s performance; it’s to give care and be grace-bringers. There is an underlying assumption of trust, as well as the assumption that we continue to be sinners in need of a Savior today. In this context, we don’t try to “out-perform” one another, but to truly know each other and be known by each other.
Given this context of trust, we will openly discuss almost any topic as couples (with the exception of matters pertaining to sexual temptation, which will be discussed in our same-sex meetings). Discussing our lives with spouses present is immensely helpful in caring for one another, since it allows the group to get the perspective of the person who knows each individual best. Without such input, we are less equipped to help one another. Additional benefits of meeting as married couples include
- allowing individual’s to hear how sin affects others in the family. The individual may not be aware of the consequences of his or her sin, and the group might be able to facilitate a conversation or offer a perspective that leads to a level of shared understanding the couple cannot reach on their own.
- letting the group point out evidences of grace in an individual’s life, evidences which the spouse may not have seen.
- allowing an individual to hear how a spouse sees God changing him or her (often to the surprise of the husband/wife).
- helping spouses be more effective at caring for one another. By observing others care for our spouse, we learn how to more effectively do the same.
- providing conversation topics which can be picked up in our separate meetings for men and women.
Every Christian has predominant sin patterns that affect our lives. For myself, I can be self-sufficient, judgmental, and proud. These sins reside deep in my heart. While these sins may show up in primary areas such as my marriage, they really affect all of my actions. Because “out of the heart, the mouth speaks,” our discussions reflect my heart and what I truly believe. Every conversation is then an opportunity for others to see my sin patterns at work. By having others that know me share these observations, I can more effectively mortify the sin that is active in my heart. And what a joy to do this with brothers and sisters who know, believe, trust, and always remind me of the same gospel—that Christ died for our sins, that we might belong to sin no more!