What’s in it for me?
Meeting regularly with a cell group can be such a bother at times. With a focus on authentic community and intentional discipleship, this usually requires us, Christians, to meet weekly and “share vulnerably” about life’s problems. Over the years, I’ve lost count of the number of social gatherings I missed, and the times where I got by such sharing sessions with something vaguely personal.
As a second-generation Christian, I have grown up around the idea of cell groups: I followed my parents to theirs when I was a child; through my schooling and National Service days, I was a regular in my cell group. It was a routine affair for me. On some weeks, I had craved for the concern and affection from my fellow cell group members, especially if I was going through a tough season. However, on most weeks, I had merely attended because it was “the right thing” to do.
During university, I started to question this whole idea of attending cell groups regularly. Couldn’t I study and learn from the Bible on my own? Why should I commit to attending weekly when a few of my friends didn’t? Could I have spent my time better on assignments or investing in other friendships?
Serendipitously, this period of soul searching fell around the same time that a fellow cell group member — who had just established his start-up company — shared that he would intentionally not arrange for meetings on nights when we had cell group. Even though this meant that time was lost on networking or on building his new company!
Seeing how hard he worked on the other days of the week, his decision to set aside that one weeknight astounded me. Moreover, he would never fail to testify of God’s goodness in his business that week. Why did he view cell group time so differently from me? How does he manage to always bring a word of encouragement?
I soon realised that I had a self-centred view of Christian community. I had been bent on asking “What’s in it me?” instead of “What can I give to this group?”
Tim Challies recently wrote, “We are a culture of convenience, of personalisation, of individualism. We have a million ways of customising our lives to perfectly suit our every preference. When things are difficult, we think little of pulling away…This can even extend to…our commitment to the local church.”
Isn’t it true that when things get slightly more difficult or inconvenient, we are quick to abandon our Christian communities?
The book of Hebrews exhorts us to value the community in our churches, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another — and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24–25 NIV).
This passage is found within the context of drawing near to God (Hebrews 10:22), thereby suggesting that our Christian community is paramount to our relationship with God. On this Christian journey, we are supposed to inspire and rally others who falter, and look to those around us for encouragement when we stumble.
If all of us were to neglect our Christian communities — due to discomfort or inconvenience — who would be there to spur one other on? When we ditch our Christian communities, it is not just us who will suffer, but our fellow brothers- and sisters-in-Christ who will experience a dearth of mutual encouragement!
Reflecting upon my fellow cell group member’s sharing, God convicted me of my deep-seated self-absorption in relation to my Christian community. He wanted to get rid the “What can this group give to me?” mentality I had. Unknowingly, I had brought a consumerist mindset to my cell group — its value was derived from how much I would be served and whether my personal needs were met.
In Paul’s exhortation to the Ephesian church, he shared that a Christian community should be one where people are “filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit…always giving thanks to God the Father for everything” (Ephesians 5:18-20 NIV).
In an effort to change this mentality of mine, I decided that I would prepare a short sharing of God’s goodness that week prior to each cell meeting, hoping that these testimonies would encourage those present. On some weeks, of course, I would have nothing to share — nothing spectacular had stood out to me that week. But I have since trained myself to be more in-tune with what the Holy Spirit was doing throughout the week, so that I would have something to share in cell group!
Recently, this culture of giving thanks every week has been growing in my cell group. Our community is revitalised as we celebrate the goodness of God in our individual lives. My personal faith has been strengthened when I hear of His faithfulness in the lives of my friends. Today, I look forward to share my story and listen in on others’ stories.
I have to come to learn that community is central to a Christian’s life. During the final semester of my time in university, I was feeling rather unsettled and directionless because I had not landed a job, nor was there any interview in sight. I began to doubt if God was really watching out for me. However, when I looked at the lives of those around me, I saw that God was with them. He had divinely brought them through job interviews and career transitions. Their testimonies of God’s abiding guidance helped allay my fears. It was within this community of believers, who had modelled what it meant to trust in God, that compelled me to trust that God holds my future in His hands.
Galatians 6:10 tells us to “do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” In our quest to bless people around us, we should start within the spiritual family. Christian community is a place where we can practise and grow to love our “neighbours” as ourselves.
We are not meant to be lone-rangers in this faith journey — we cannot read our Bible and survive off sermon podcasts, without consistently interacting with others in the Body of Christ. When we are plugged into a life-giving Christian community through seasons of hardship and joy, we can flourish spiritually.
If you are currently struggling to attend a cell group today, I implore you to not give up meeting regularly, and to persist in spurring one another towards love and good deeds. Every one of us has a place in the local church — not just your leaders or the more “spiritually mature” members in your group. We all have a collective responsibility to love, encourage, and spur one another in zeal until Christ returns.