The Book of Acts is arguably a blueprint for the church. Ac. 2:42-47 is descriptive and arguably prescriptive of how the Church is to love God and neighbors better. The early church created the rhythms of life that are needed to grow as followers of Jesus (disciples). It reveals how we can learn to love God and neighbors in our groups better. These are simple practices that produce profound transformation. Let us visit a familiar passage of Scripture like a familiar friend who has new insights to share.
Here we discover seven best practices to love neighbors within your group better and make disciples:
- Learn the Bible together : And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine… Scripture-based study guides related to the Sunday sermon help you to engage in active Bible learning, and align a church in a common growth trajectory. Sharing what you are learning from the Bible with others, who do the same with you, encourages and helps the group to grow in love for God and neighbors. Learning the apostles’ doctrine related to the gospel and the fullness of New Testament theology will help keep your NG gospel-centered rather than performance-based.
In our group, relatively new believers share insights that bless mature disciples. And mature disciples help to ensure clarity and preservation of sound doctrine. The group dynamic provides helpful perspectives that are unlikely to be fostered in a one on one setting. The process of growing together creates healthy relationships that over time are characterized by Christ’s love.
- Share life together : fellowship… The Greek term koinonia that we translate “fellowship” refers to community and sharing life in common. Have fun with people in your group and share life. Occasionally play a game during your group, or plan an activity together. Plan a time to watch sports together or go see a movie. Recreation is a great way to strengthen relationships.
- Share communion together : in the breaking of bread… Here the reference is to communion or “The Lord’s Supper.” Create rhythms in the group for believers to share communion together while being sensitive that unbelievers in the group will not be invited to participate. Remembering what God has done for us, especially at the cross helps to keep groups gospel-centered rather than performance based.
Our group did not partake of communion together until we had been meeting nearly three months. The first time, was while we were reflecting upon responding to the gospel and God’s love for us, especially as displayed at the cross. The mood in the room was a palpable sense of love for God, and we had just experienced something special together. It helped the group to have a greater sense of community with one another. I wish I hadn’t waited three months. Communion is now a regular rhythm of our group.
- Pray together : and in prayers … Praying together in your group, and for each other during the week is one of the most loving things you can do for one another, and creates unity among the group. We are exhorted to pray for one another [Ja. 5:16], yet many who begin to participate in a group find praying with others to be challenging. We try to create a safe environment in our NG where people are not forced to pray but are encouraged to pray. Over the course of several weeks more and more people are praying out loud in the group.
We generally end our NG by praying for one another’s needs (or neighbors). Someone in the group generally volunteers to send a typed list of the prayer requests to all the group participants. I feel very loved when people in my group remind me that they are praying for me. And I know that others feel the same.
- Care together : Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, 45 and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.
a. Empathy and compassion [Rom. 12:15, Gal. 6:2]: Empathy is seeking to enter an experience from another’s perspective, and compassion is seeking to provide a sense of relief to a person, especially someone who is struggling. We can show that we care by asking, “How are you doing?” We are encouraged to “listen with our hearts” or to give someone our attention. We often show we care by offering to pray with or for them. Similarly, an email, text, or call between gatherings can display compassion, empathy and love.
Being involved in a NG is a place to develop biblically healthy relationships where we are cared for, and where we care for others. Too often people feel disconnected, isolated, or not cared for. When we are struggling we need people that care and NG help produce caring disciples.
b. Serve one another: For example babysitting, bringing a meal, helping clean their home, or helping with an expense can be ways to care for one another. Imagine someone in your group sharing a prayer request, “I need to get my brakes fixed and I’m about $150.00 short, and I’m asking God to provide some side jobs quick to make-up the gap.” It is not unreasonable to imagine the group deciding to receive an impromptu collection that meets the need.
c. Visiting the sick: When someone in the group is ill or at the hospital, it displays love when people in the group offer to visit. Recently my wife was so sick that she could barely leave our bedroom. I came home at lunch and saw a chai tea latte on her nightstand. I learned that someone in our group had brought the drink as a gesture of love. A small gesture can speak love loudly.
d. Support a missionary: Some NG will decide to “adopt” a missionary. Designate someone in the group to stay in contact with the missionary to find out prayer requests and needs. Spend time praying for the missionary and seek to meet a need, as the Lord would lead. Make a video of the group encouraging the missionary or make an audio or video call to the missionary if that is possible.
6. Worship together as part of a larger assembly : So continuing daily with one accord in the temple … Encourage your NG to be part of a larger assembly that worships together with the purpose of magnifying God; and learning to love God and neighbors better.
7. Share meals together : breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart … Throughout the gospels we see life and transformation as people gather with Jesus for meals. Meals create opportunities to unite, and share food and life. Create rhythms to enjoy meals together.
At our NG we serve food every week. Two people bring food (sweet and savory), and we all take turns. Some people like to cook and others pick something up. I’ve discovered that as we gather and eat the conversations are distinct from study and prayer. Those are times that we bond and that helps develop love. We also plan BBQs on a different day or night than our regular NG meeting time. This provides an opportunity to involve our group and to invite our neighbors outside the group. There we can share the love of God with neighbors within and outside the group.
The desired results of loving God and neighbors better : Praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.
God is praised: Praising God … NGs develop people who grow in their love for God, and thus praise of God.
Good witness: Favor with all the people … We desire to be transformed in our love for God and neighbors so that we establish a good witness. We want favor with people based on our tangible and unconditional love for them. Loving them is not a program or project but a value that Christ has commanded.
Six months prior to rediscovering the Great Commandments of loving God and neighbors my reputation among my neighbors was presumably neutral. Six months after creating rhythms in my life to befriend and build relationships I was encouraged by my neighbor who said, “Bruce you’re a really good neighbor.” The moral of my story is that relatively quickly we can create a good witness if we are intentional to rediscover and live the Great Commandments.
People will be saved: The Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved. When we actually live the values of loving God and neighbors people will be far more receptive to the gospel message. Over time, we will adopt and live these values more and more. We will create margin in our lives to join a group, to befriend and build relationship with neighbors where we live, work, study, and play. Neighbors within and outside of our group. And we trust that God by His Holy Spirit will use us, in due time, to help people know and experience the love of God we so greatly enjoy.