Life Groups are where the life of the church takes place. They're how we experience what it means to be the Church in the midst of ordinary, everyday life. While we treasure our weekly gathering on Sunday mornings, the vision for church life depicted in the Scriptures seems far more intimate and frequent than could be experienced by simply attending a weekly meeting. For instance, we’re told of the early church:
42 "And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.43And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.44And all who believed were together and had all things in common.45And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.46And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts,47praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved." (Acts 2:42-47)
While our groups have barely begun to scratch the surface of truly experiencing this wonderful vision, it is what we aspire to, in dependence upon God and to the praise of His glorious grace. From this vision of church life, we would understand the church to be…
1. A Gospel-Formed Community
Who are “they” (“and they…”, v.42), whose life is being described in this passage? “They” are the three thousand people who had just heard and been pierced in soul by Peter’s proclamation of the gospel in the first part of Acts 2. Having spiritually grasped the weight of their sin and the grace of God’s provision in Christ, they repented and were baptized, expressing their commitment to Jesus as Savior and Lord.
The gospel is both how we begin the Christian life, and how we make progress in the Christian life. Therefore, the gospel creates the Christian community, and any communal life that simply tries to do activity together apart from a shared experience of God’s grace in the gospel will be superficial and not truly authentic, Christian community.
2. A God-Centered Community
“And they…praising God” (v.47)
The message of the gospel is that Christ died for us when were yet sinners. Our identity is not determined by what we have done or what we can do, but by what God has done for us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. We are, therefore, first and foremost, a people who are grateful to God for His mercies in Christ, amazed and awe-filled at the wonders of His love. Only when God is at the center of our lives individually, will we experience vibrant Christian community.
It’s been said, ‘Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction.’ So we will experience genuine fellowship with others not by looking at one another and becoming “community-focused”, but as we each look individually to God (as He is revealed in Christ) as our greatest treasure and joy.
3. A Word-Shaped Community
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching…” (v.42)
If “love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction,” then the Christian community must be a Word-shaped community, because it is in the Scriptures that we come to see God and know God for who He is. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14). It is by the word of the gospel that we are born again (1 Peter 1:23-25), and it is by that same word of the gospel that we grow in Christ and bear fruit for God (Colossians 1:6).
True devotion to the apostles’ teaching is not merely learning new information (though it is certainly not less!), but also embracing that information with the heart, so that the Word and the Spirit together transform our lives. We don’t simply want to be hearers of the Word, but doers of it (James 1:22). So we gather around the Word (and particularly the Word of Christ, the gospel) to hear God speak to us, to respond in repentance and faith, and to walk out change in the power of the Holy Spirit.
4. A Loving Community
44 "And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need."
To be a doer of the Word is, fundamentally, to walk in love. Jesus said that the defining mark of His followers is love: "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:34-35). As we are saved by God’s grace and brought into relationship with Him as our heavenly Father, we become a part of God’s family (Ephesians 2:18-19).
Life in the church is intended by God to be family life, where we love one another as brothers and sisters, displaying the very love with which our heavenly Father has loved us. As family, we spend time with one another, care for one another in tangible ways, exhort one another with the gospel, pray with one another and take initiative to resolve conflict. It’s through learning how to love one another in the messiness of family life that biblical truth gets lived out in real life, and our lives are increasingly conformed to the image of Christ.
5. An “Everyday” Community
"46And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts,"
While Jesus did spend time in the temple formally instructing His followers, much of the time He spent with His disciples was not in the formal environment of a classroom or synagogue, but in a more experiential, "ordinary life" sort of environment. Jesus taught people "along the way" (cf. Deuteronomy 6:6-7). They were living together, traveling together, eating meals together, serving the needs of others together.
Similarly, the first believers saw “Church” not as an event, or a building. It was, and is, a people who have been saved by God’s grace and set apart for His glory. So as we conceive of Life Groups, we envision not a weekly meeting, but a little family in which the “one another” commands of the New Testament (exhort, instruct, admonish, show hospitality, comfort, bear burdens, pray for, forgive, etc.) are consistently being embodied. As much as possible, we want to “do life” with each other, bringing God’s Word to bear on each other’s hearts in the midst of ordinary life, not only in the scheduled meetings of the Church.
6. An Outward-Facing Community
"…having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved" (v.47).
We know from the rest of Acts, the New Testament, and the history of the Church, that opposition and persecution on account of our allegiance to Jesus is something we should expect. Nevertheless, we see here that as intimate and involved as the Christian community was in one another’s lives, their love did not insulate them from the unbelieving world around them. If, as quoted above, Jesus said that all people would know that we are His disciples by the love we have for one another (John 13:35), the implication seems to be that the disciples of Jesus were living their lives before a watching, unbelieving world.
As the Church, God’s holy people, we relate to the world not as chameleons (ie, conforming our ways to “fit in” with our unbelieving friends), nor as turtles (ie, hiding in a shell and avoiding contact with unbelievers as much as possible). Rather, we live holy, distinctively attractive lives among unbelievers, so that as they see the beauty of our lives together, they are compelled to give God glory as we declare Jesus to be the reason for our hope, and call them to faith and repentance (see 1 Peter 2:9-12).