Not yet in a small group at Elim? Here’s how to get connected!

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By Larry Short

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about small groups at Elim. I’ve been thinking about how incredibly blessed I have been, in my life thus far, because of my connection to those small communities we call “groups.”

This week I am turning the big six-zero. (Which really means, and I realize this is anticlimactic, that I have been breathing air for a total of 61 years now! But, we must have some excuse to party, right?)

And recently I realized that now I am twice as old as I was when I led my first small group. I know this because I have a very distinct (pleasant) memory, as a small group leader, of the members of my first group all wearing black as I led a Bible study on my 30th birthday. (I’m guessing 60 is the new black, right?)

So, more than half of my life so far has been spent connected to small groups. It was in one of those first small groups that a leader thrust a guitar into my hands and said, “You are now our group’s worship leader!” (I wanted to kabong him with it.) It was in groups that I learned how God answered prayer and how I needed to depend on Him when my heart ached for another person. He revealed Himself in small groups, and I have grown time and again over the years, thanks to the exhortation, encouragement, and even the occasional rebuke by small-group members. As we’ve studied God’s Word together, prayed together, worshipped together, served together, ate together, and just hung out together, God has helped me find and walk in His plan for my life . . . through small groups.

I sometimes hear people say, “I don’t really feel connected.” My wife Darlene and I feel connected—and we have small groups to thank for that!

Recently I submitted to Elim staff and elders a document that I titled “Community Ministry at Elim: Seven Guiding Principles.” I’d like to share these with you on this Last Word blog. We’ll start with Principle 1 and tackle a new one each time I get a chance to write. (If you are eager to read all seven principles at one time, I’ve posted the document here on Elim’s website.)

Principle 1: Groups are an incredibly important part of life at a local church such as Elim. They should be one of the key places where people truly connect to God and one another. A lot of life change (for the better!) happens in the context of small groups.

Because groups are so important, we will seek to:

  • Encourage as many friends and members at Elim as possible to be a part.
  • Recruit and raise up as many leaders as needed to lead as many groups as needed to accommodate all who should be in a group.
  • Pray for, support, and help equip group leaders in whatever ways we can to be effective in using their gifts in group leadership.

I’ve already mentioned the crucial role groups have played in my own life and in Darlene’s.  Our experience in groups hasn’t always been comfortable or pain free, but they have always resulted in growth as well as an opportunity to serve others. (Which, by the way, I really need to do in order to grow!)

Many of you know already that Darlene and I have been leading Elim’s young adults group, now called Pulse, for 15 years now. Like all groups, this group has had its ebbs and its flows. Right now we’re in a bit of an ebb; we’ve had a lot of people get married and some of those move away. For years we met on Friday nights (and before that, other weeknights), but because our members have been “aging” together (some now approaching that magic age at which I led my first group!) and are now more like young professionals and less like college students, Friday nights have become more challenging for everyone to gather on. So, we have gone to Sunday mornings (before worship service) instead, but we still have the occasional Friday- or Saturday-night fellowship event. (We also often hang out on Sunday evenings. We have a lot of group “togetherness” time! More about this in another post.)

Our original goal in hosting Pulse was to keep the young people who were being turned out by Elim’s wonderful Student Ministries engaged in the life of the church after they graduated from high school. God has provided a lot of blessings as we’ve seen this goal realized. Young adults are staying at Elim, bringing others in, serving in ministry, and even becoming leaders. And as I mentioned previously, they are also getting married and, in many cases, raising children here (you’re welcome, Children’s Ministry!). This reality, and the blessing of the friendships we have built with so many precious young adults, has been ample reward for the time, the prayers, and the many boxes of pizza we have invested along the way.

I sometimes wonder how people who are NOT involved in small groups at Elim (and probably about half of our congregation are not yet involved) stay connected. Honestly, Sundays aren’t enough! And while our Sunday services here are fantastic, small groups offer so much more opportunity for positive life change to occur. They are a key place God really does His work: through accountability, through prayer, through sharing your story, through encouragement and all the other “one anothers” of Scripture, through Bible study, and through just plain experiencing life together.

So, if you are a member or friend of Elim and are not yet in a small group, for both your benefit and the benefit of others, please consider how you can get connected to one! If you’d like to find a group to plug into, please call or drop me a note, and I promise I will try to help you get connected (call 253-906-9676 [mobile] or email larryshort@gmail.com). Thank you!

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GROWING together in Christ – Part 2

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By Larry Short

At Elim, affinity groups and community groups are the primary place where we practice the “one anothers” of Scripture and walk together to hold each other accountable to become more like Jesus. Moving people into healthy groups and mentoring relationships is key to achieving the second part of our vision: “Grow Together in Christ.”

Last week we focused on what it means to grow “Together.” This week, we look more at the nature of growth itself, and especially what it means to grow IN CHRIST. And yes, once again we are offering a special treat to everyone who clicks the following link, reads this week’s Last Word in its entirety, and follows the specific instructions you find therein. Enjoy!

Growing together in Christ will occur, to some extent, on weekend worship services and in class-like child and adult education contexts. But at Elim we’ve discovered that Sunday morning is not enough! This growth will occur most effectively in the context of affinity groups or community groups … smaller groupings of like-minded individuals from within our Body who commit themselves to gathering together regularly to pursue a deeper and healthier Body Life commitment to growth in Christ. It is in a dozen such groups in this church (and I am including, in addition to community groups, affinity groups such as the M&Ms, YAMs, women’s Bible study, MOPS, etc.) where the real growth, the practical application, occurs. Where people know each other more intimately, submitting themselves to the leadership of their shepherd-teacher(s) as they seek to work out together what it really means to become more like Jesus, our Master Shepherd-Teacher.

We are blessed to have a majority, more than 60%, of our attending church members and friends involved in such groups. But we also recognize that the remaining 40% are missing out on a key component that will heighten your chances of “finishing well” in this Christian race. As we as a church embrace our vision statement of “Know God, Grow together in Christ, Go and serve South Hill and Beyond,” we will be thinking carefully not just about those three components, but the all-important transitions between them. If weekend worship services are where we come together to know God better, we will also be using them to encourage you to take the next step and transition into a community or affinity group where you can really begin “growing together in Christ.”

And we recognize that not everyone will find a group where they feel they completely “fit.” Perhaps you work evenings, and can’t find a group that doesn’t meet in the evenings. Or perhaps you have struggled all your life, due to the fact that you are left-handed or double-jointed or talk in a funny voice. What should you do?

Here’s an idea: Start one! We want to be very intentional about raising up and training new group leaders, and we would love to work with you on creating a group to help facilitate growth together in Christ for people who may be just like you (left-handed, double-jointed, funny voice talkers with evening jobs).

Without groups of people who are committed to walking the Christian life together, our strategy as a church will never be successful. We need each other! And most of all, we need Christ, which is the final and most important part of this second line in our vision statement: “Grow together IN CHRIST.” For Christ did not launch out on His earthly, heavenly-Kingdom-building ministry alone, but surrounded himself with a concentric team of God-seekers, in order to walk the journey together with them. Not only did He have a large following of disciples (estimated at about 500 during his earthly ministry), and a smaller team of 12 apostles, but even a smaller yet and more tightly-knit inner team of 3 disciples, to whom He entrusted His most intimate and amazing moments and experiences (such as the Transfiguration).

Which speaks to mentoring, another key part of “growing together in Christ,” wherein smaller groups of 2 or 3 individuals work to establish and hold each other accountable for spiritual growth, and learn from each other … but, alas and alack, we are out of time and space! (Of course, we have enough space to provide you with another email link for Martin … CLICK HERE to submit an email with “DOUBLE YUMM!” in the title, then be sure to claim your prize on Sunday!)

So, the last word of this Last Word is: If you are not yet in an affinity group or community group or mentoring relationship at Elim, we offer you two choices: 1) Get in one! 2) Start one! The status quo is unacceptable. We must be growing together in Christ before we can hope to do what He is calling us to do … GO and serve, South Hill and beyond! Tune in next week, for more on that.

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