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Pain and Failure as Keys to Community

Tuesday Re-mix –

“Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii,and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.”
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” Luke 7:41-47

I have two leadership roles in my church, two different “small group” ministries for which I am partly responsible.  I am pretty passionate about both of them, and I am always learning from each of them.  The Gathering is my Sunday morning Bible study group, open to any and all comers, all ages, all walks of life and all levels of spiritual maturity.  It is a slightly non-traditional offering as a part of my church’s “Sunday School”.  We meet around tables, effectively creating “small groups” of 6 to 8 people every Sunday morning for Bible study.  Heart 2 Heart is also a small group ministry, but for wounded people.  Every Tuesday night, these dear friends meet in small groups built around specific issues and pains in their lives.  Some of these groups are dealing with grief or abuse or other woundedness inflicted on them by others.  Other groups are dealing with pain from their own failures or addictions or other issues.  But in all cases, it is their specific pain which brings them together and which forms the basis for their community with one another.

Is there any question in your mind about which ministry’s conversation gets very deep and personal and “real” the quickest?  Can you guess which group reaches a level of intimacy and real community and involvement in each other’s lives  more readily?

Before I make my point, let me pause here and say to all the table hosts and leaders in The Gathering: you guys are amazing, you are definitely getting it right, you are creating a safe environment around your tables where honest and vulnerable discussion of scripture can take place, and I could not possibly be more proud of what we are accomplishing there.  But let’s face it: when it comes to open, raw pain and desperate discussion of it, genuine support/recovery groups just have a clear advantage over even the strongest of small groups.  And it is all because of the point Jesus makes in the passage above.

People who have adequately processed profound pain and/or failure in their lives, or are currently processing it through a spiritual lens, have necessarily developed both the ability and the desire to take friendship deeper faster and to be completely transparent and vulnerable in the process.  They may be messy, even confused and confounded at times, but they have learned (or are learning) more about God’s grace and forgiveness in times of tragedy than anyone who has not yet experienced those kinds of bumps in life.  People who have been so backed into a corner by grief or failure or addiction or abuse that they cannot find any way out at all but for the grace of God have no choice but to sit and allow the Spirit of God to teach them about genuine relationships and the power of community.

The more I have been forgiven, the more grace I have understood and embraced, the more I am able and willing to give forgiveness and grace myself.

The questions this raises for church leaders, then, are these:  Would you rather serve a church full of beautiful, pain-free people who don’t yet know the miracle of grace, or a church full of flawed, broken people who have been through real life and can be fully forgiving as a result of having been fully forgiven?  What about you…do you think your church is best served by a leader whose flaws and brokenness are all kept under wraps and never confessed openly or by a leader whose capacity to forgive is seemingly endless because he/she has been forgiven so very much?

I suppose it all comes down to what kind of church you really want to be.

© Blake Coffee
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