The Assembling of Ourselves Together: Reflections on a Vibrant Small Group
For three decades, I returned to my hometown to visit family (Frankenmuth, Michigan). My blood family was very small in number, but I had another family in my hometown. When God called me and converted me, He put me into His family. I have learned over the years that His family has members all over the world. On my visits back to my hometown, I met with fifteen of my brothers for their Tuesday morning Bible study. It was a family gathering (see the link to a group photo at the end of this article).
Some of these men I knew when I was a child growing up, and some of them were new to the community. Some of them belonged to the Roman Catholic Church, while some of them were members at the Lutheran Church. One of them was a Presbyterian, and still others belonged to the Methodist Church where we convened. As a Reformed Baptist, I fit right in with these guys. I loved them.
Some of them were retired from the local General Motors factories, and some of them were white collar businessmen. A couple of them were active Alcoholics Anonymous members. I was a sporadic member of the group for several years. I lived in California, and they met in Michigan, but my visits were almost monthly from 2013 to 2016. Over the years a few of them died, and a few moved away. Despite the change in a few faces, the group always remained at fifteen guys on a Tuesday morning.
The meetings were run by a humble Roman Catholic guy who loved it that we could be together. He claimed that he learned much by being a part of the group. At times, he talked about salvation by grace through faith with a picture of Pope Benedict as his book marker. He had been learning. He facilitated the group discussion, but leadership was not necessary.
Christians are all students, and we gather with our teachers, the ones filled with our Teacher, the Holy Spirit (Jn 14:26). In this group of men, no one pressed their theological views too hard, but we were all pressed to grow our knowledge of theology. The salvation of God is a pressing matter. Christians all want to learn and grow spiritually because we are compelled by the love of Christ. God is with us and for us.
The conversation never waned with these men, and it was rare when we all agreed, but the group always met on Tuesday morning. We were drawn like a horse to water, and believe me, we were drinking it in. We assembled ourselves together with great expectation of our spiritual thirst being quenched. God was gracious to meet with us for that season of participation in one another’s lives. Before the group disbanded, I am pretty sure it had been around for a good fifteen years.
One morning our topic was “the church.” We meditated on the second point in our discussion book, written by Pastor Randy Frazee from San Antonio, Texas. His point that we had to contend with was, “I believe that I cannot grow, unless I am a member of a local church.” At first, the comments were in favor of the idea that we can be Christians and not belong to a local church. Someone suggested that hermits have seemed to prosper alone. “We have the Spirit and the Word that we can read on our own,” was another argument.
Then one of the AA guys said, “I could never do this without the church.” Successive analogies began to support this notion. One man said that his finger, if severed from his body, could be kept alive by a scientist in a laboratory, but it would not have the life of his body nor serve its purposeful function. Another mentioned Judas’ aspiration to go his own way apart from the group and how that did not work out too well. These rich offerings are why all Christians should study the Bible in small groups, in addition to personal study.
At the end of our time together, we were all more in love with the church. That small group was a pristine example of what church is supposed to be. Here are some observations about this group, in retrospect and what made it work when it assembled together.
First, there was an unspoken love and respect in the group. We were one in the Spirit when we were together. A small candle was lit at the beginning of the assembly. It represented one idea that is very powerful. The Spirit of God was there with us. It symbolically reminded us that we are to love God and love one another (Lk 10:27). We did not have an option, and because we laid our pretensions at door to the room, there was only one motivation for being there…love in the quest for truth.
God pulled every one of us from the mire, and we knew it. We gathered because we loved Jesus Christ. We gathered in love for our brothers, and each one had needs. In an attempt to be transparent with one another, a “weather report” was briefly given by each member. Most of the guys were living under sunny skies most of the time, but cloud cover was honestly noted and once in a while there was a legitimate storm report. When that happened the lesson was set aside, and we became a support group, given to much prayer for our brother in acute need.
Second, nobody talked too long or too much. I was always excited to be there. Sometimes I apologized at the end for talking too much. They always forgave me, denied my claims of verbosity, and they were always glad to greet me the next time. One morning, on an unexpected visit by me, the leader took one look at me walking in, and said, “Holy cow.” I quickly retorted, “I have been called worse.” They all laughed. Almost everyone was there at 6:55am, a whole five minutes before we began at 7:00am. We wanted this assembly. Some guys did more of the talking than others, but no one seemed to mind. We all came expectant to hear from the Spirit through the Word.
One time, one guy mentioned that he was reading that Jesus could have sinned. Instead of offering instant correction, it was fifteen minutes until the doctrine of impeccability (Jesus could not sin) was gently brought into the conversation. That brought some relief and some good affirmation to some of them who were troubled in their spirit over the prospect of doctrinal error.
Grace and truth abounded for the learning of Christ to advance. We need one another. God has spoken, and He is speaking His Word through His people of the Book, by His Spirit. A word from God’s Word, aptly spoken, is powerful, like a double-edged sword. It gave life to our group.
Third, someone outside the group had set the agenda for discussion. During the aforementioned season of study, Pastor Randy Frazee had produced a video and book, to accompany each group session. It was called, “Believe.” One week the subject was “the church,” and next week it was Christian “compassion.” We were learning about the Christian life that we were endeavoring to live in community.
There was little time to grind our theological axes. We were constrained to speak our words on the current subject, and then we had to move on. In the next session, with the next subject, someone else would be the primary talker. The point is that there was little opportunity to invite deep controversy.
Pet doctrines had little exposure. We all knew there was surely a time and a place and even another medium for important doctrinal debates. However, this was daily bread, and it only came once a week, so no one wished to waste it. It was sustenance for living. There was plenty of Word and plenty of Spirit for all. The portions were sized to be healthy for our spiritual diets.
Fourth, it was learning by discussion. When I want to learn the core of a Christian belief, I go to a lecture on one doctrine, or sit through a sermon series, or read a book. Learning by discussion says we are life-long learners without our own agenda. Group discussion has unwritten rules of etiquette and decorum. Our discussion never got past the fringe of debate.
Doctrine and practice do matter. We inherently believed and knew this to be true. Nobody in the group wanted to be deceived, but nobody wanted to be humiliated, either. Like a dancing water fountain, spurts of Scripture were quoted, an analogy was quickly spoken, a short story was told, a proverb was uttered with collective groan from everyone, then a testimony, a confession, and application was worked out together.
Nobody had to tell us how to live, but God has told us how to live. We need that spoken to us for right understanding and practice. We trust the Spirit will lead and guide our brothers, and as an extension, lead and guide us (Jn 16:13). He was there with us. Somehow there is true faith that God is sanctifying us, each of us, and He is not in a rush. We can discuss these things of God, and then go out into the world and practice what has been learned from our brothers.
In one gathering, a guy named Dave sat silently, but at the end of our discussion on the church and the practical need to be friendly and loving to visitors, especially unbelievers, Dave confessed he had always hated, “the forced time of handshaking and greeting one another,” at his church. As he talked through his anxiety and distaste for the practice, he then turned and surprised us. He said, “As a result of this morning’s discussion, I have to rethink my position on this practice.” No one affirmed or denied his statement. He was subtly confessing that he was learning Christ. It was heart-warming. The assembling of ourselves together has its good effect on each of us.
Pastor Bob was one of the participants. Bob was a Lutheran missionary based in my hometown. Let us just say, “he had been there and done that.” He would sit silently listening, as a wise old sage, and every session, the group honored him with the final word. He would summarize what had been said by the group, during the hour.
We listened intently to Pastor Bob, as he reflected what the Spirit of God had seemingly been teaching us. That morning, on the subject of church, Bob was able to say, “We are the church, and it is good for us to be together. Let us go with what we have learned here, to the mission field out there, and do likewise with them.” It was good to assemble ourselves together. It was good to have such a sweet foretaste of heaven from a vibrant small group. May God bless you with the same from this day forth and forevermore.
David E. Norczyk
Spokane Valley, Washington
January 27, 2021
Group photo from June 2016: