My disappointment with community
Have you ever felt apathetic towards attending cell group? Your mind righteously points out convincing reasons for you to attend it, but your heart turns and pulls the other way. All you need is a legitimate excuse to skip it, but you cannot find something that would adequately absolve your guilt. You are torn.
I have felt this way on numerous occasions, and I know there are countless Christians who feel or have felt the same way. I’ve heard stories of how difficult and frustrating cell groups can be in multifarious compositions, and they never seem to end well.
In the past few months alone, I’ve encountered a few youths who were struggling with their cell communities. Someone told me that he saw no need for his current cell group as his band of close Christian friends was already providing him with adequate support; another told me how difficult it was to respect her leader due to unmet expectations.
I knew how exactly they were feeling as I, myself, have had a couple of disappointing brushes with the concept of cell group. When I was in secondary school, I felt cold and distant from everyone else in the room; everybody appeared to know each other swimmingly well, and I found no desire to shove myself in. There was another juncture in my life where I felt dissatisfied with my cell group as I could not connect with my leader on a personal level, and in my pride, I failed to make any effort to bridge the gap.
After looking back on my lamentable experiences with various cell groups, I realised that there was something common in all of them: I had lived ignorantly in the comfort of my own ideals.
Idealism vs Reality
All of us attend cell group bearing personal ideals and expectations. We could desire for honest sharing, sessions that dive deep into the Word of God, or even cell group discussions that actualise into positive action. Yet, when our cell group fails to meet these expectations, we can be easily enticed by the nearest thriving community within our periscope. It is convenient to cell-hop, whereby we spring from house to house, in relentless pursuit of the ideal cell group.
When I was looking for a new cell group after returning from six months of studying abroad, I sternly told myself that I was going to find a community that would ground me resolutely in the Word; I wanted a cell that would consistently challenge my thoughts, and I was not ready to make a compromise.
I eventually found a cell group that seemed to have the best fit, but it did not entirely meet this particular expectation. Each session left my soul nourished and my faith edified, yet I continually felt that discussions could follow more closely to specific Bible passages. I was unsure of what to do next. I felt like a pendulum stuck in mid-swing, curbed by gravity.
After a couple of weeks, I finally swallowed my self-righteousness that had been wrapped around my ideals. Deep down, I knew that if I continued pining for a cell group to function exactly like how I wanted it to, then I was never going to root myself in the fullness of community.
When we mindlessly fixate on our ideals of what community should look like and heavily guard its “purity,” we are effectively looking to change others in order for them to fit us. However, this only means that we have given up the possibility for community to change us. Ever since I settled into this cell group, my fellow siblings-in-Christ have taught me so much about Love, and have inspired me to live uninhibitedly for His Kingdom.
Our lofty ideals of the perfect cell group can hinder us from committing to any fellowship. With a twisted brow and wagging fingers, we will never be satisfied with a single community. It’s like living whilst holding our breaths — never fully present, never fully sentient.
The Acts Church knew all about wholehearted commitment: “All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals” (Acts 2:42 NLT). How many of us are honestly committed to our communities today?
An endless string of excuses stand in the way of pledging our lives to each other: exams, travelling distance, fatigue, working overtime, the list stretches on. In time-starved Singapore, regularity and intentionality are increasingly missing in our relationships. We may see cell group as a good thing, but it is almost never seen as something necessary in our lives.
Undergirding my lack of commitment to cell group was a consumeristic attitude to community-building. I was engrossed with what the cell group could offer me rather than how I could meaningfully contribute to the camaraderie.
Driven by spiritual consumption, I analysed the many ways the community fell short of my standards and I tended to scrutinise the leader’s every word and move. There was not much of a difference between choosing a cell group and picking up an item off the supermarket shelf. Should I have second thoughts after purchasing the product, I could casually toss it into the trash, all in the blink of an eye. Our faith can be bent to focus on ourselves instead of others.
In contrast to this cold, brutal mindset, the Acts Church embodied the richness of community. They “met together and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need” (Acts 2:44-45). Instead of aggrandising themselves, the members readily helped those who were destitute and disadvantaged, to an extent that they were willing to forsake their own assets.
As I look at the growing communities in my home church, the cell group leader is never alone in championing the vision of the cell group; many sacrificial hands are onboard in supporting their shepherd. Every cell group needs an Aaron and Hur: extraordinary individuals who supported Moses’s heavy hands, one on each side, such that “his hands were steady until the sun set” (Exodus 17:12). We all need each other to cultivate impactful community, more than we tend to admit.
Every single time I had given up on a particular cell group, I had let one of the simplest axioms of life slip through my fingers: Relationships need time. In God’s metanarrative, nothing excellent has been realised when everything was easy. When we bleed through the brokenness and emptiness, they will eventually give way to new fullness and richness.
The most spiritual moments I’ve experienced in cell groups have not been worship encounters or stirring cell discussions. They are ironically the most corporeal and gritty: love that wipes clean eyes clogged with tears, love that holds and protects you fiercely through the pain, love that listens with sensitivity. Relationships are forged through moments — sacred times where your heart aches with the same intensity as everybody else’s in the room.
After a multitude of trying experiences with cell groups, I have come to an understanding that the perfect cell group is nowhere to be found. This ideal may linger silently at the back of our minds, but will only fill our hearts with wasteful longing.
When we examine our communities today, let us not be overly critical, but instead grasp the potential of Christ-inspired community. May we lend God our eyes, allowing His careful hands to gently detach the plank that remains entrenched in the socket. As He changes the way you see, the fullness of community you’re looking for might be closer than you know.