THE EXPERIENCE OF BIBLICAL RELATIONSHIPS
BY M. SCOTT BOREN
M. Scott Boren is the director of research and publications for TOUCH Outreach Ministries, Inc. He is an associate pastor at Hosanna Church in Houston, Texas, and is a TOUCH conference presenter.
Support groups, care groups, life groups, recovery groups, prayer groups, self-help groups, cell groups. We live in the midst of a small-group craze. Name the group, you can join it. Forty percent of the American population participates in “a small group that meets regularly and provides care and support for those who participate in it,” according to Robert Wuthnow, a Princeton University researcher. People are crying out for relationships!
I fit the image of the modem man looking for a place to call “mine.” I recently moved into a new apartment with my bride, Shawna. This marks my seventeenth home in the last ten years. I have bought into the constant movement of our time. We search for the pot of gold – new job, more schooling, better town – at the elusive rainbow’s end, but we never stop to view the rainbow itself. We move on just in time to miss the beauty of living in true relationships.
House to House
Christians in the New Testament found a remedy for our displaced world: They found solace in the church. They made church attractive and real. They related to one another. To illustrate how they lived, Larry Kreider, pastor of DOVE Christian Fellowship International, retells T.L. Osborne’s fictional conversation with Aquila in Ephesus:
“Good evening, Aquila. We understand you’re a member of the church here. Could we come in and visit for a while?”
“Certainly. Come in.”
“If you don’t mind, we would like for you to tell us about the way the churches here in Asia Minor carry on their soul-winning program. We read that you have been a member of a church in Corinth and Rome, as well as this one here in Ephesus. You should be very qualified to tell us about evangelism in the New Testament Church. If you don’t mind, we’d like to visit your church while we’re here.”
“Sit down, you’re already in the church. It meets in my home.”
“You don’t have a church building?”
‘What’s a church building? No, I guess we don’t.”
“Tell me, what is your church doing to evangelize Ephesus? What are you doing to reach the city with the Gospel?”
“Oh, we already evangelized Ephesus. Every person in the city clearly understands the Gospel. We just visited every home in the city. That’s the way the church in Jerusalem first evangelized. The disciples there evangelized the entire city of Jerusalem in a very short time. All the other churches in Asia Minor have followed that example.”
Homes were the centerpiece of New Testament life. Acts 2:46 reads, “They broke bread in their homes…” They met from “house to house” in Acts 5:42 and 20:20. The homes of Jason in Thessalonica, Titus Justus and Stepphanas in Corinth, Philip in Caesarea, and Lydia and the jailer at Philippi illustrate the central role the home played in the early church.
Some blame the modern malady of the church on the fact that we do not use homes as a means of ministry and evangelism. While meeting in a home is a step in the right direction, this alone will not fix your church. Small groups meeting from house to house will not make the world take notice and ask, ‘Wow, how can I be a part?” The 40 percent of the population who gather regularly in small groups and the 60 percent who choose not to are not looking for another meeting to attend, even if it is in a home. They seek something real, something powerful, something that will change their lives.
God does not give us easy formulas such as, “Meet from house to house and your church will grow.” The power of the New Testament church supercedes meeting in a home. It supercedes meeting anywhere. The New Testament does, however, give us a model and a definition for relationships. It tells us how to live with one another as the church to impact our relationship-hungry world.
We read in Acts about how the church initially experienced the touch of the Spirit in the Upper Room. This moment directly impacted all of Jerusalem and eventually the entire world. Yet before the 120 in the Upper Room were ready to receive the power of God, He had to prepare the community. Luke tells us in Acts 1:14 that they were constantly praying. They remained together in one place (Acts 2:1) until the day of Pentecost. After this, the Holy Spirit filled those who waited on Him together.
We learn from this story that the Spirit does not fill individuals but people who relate with one another before God. The Spirit of God looks for people who seek Him together, who are willing to join in life together to reach the world. He fills them and unites such people.
The New Testament calls this “family.” We belong to the family of God, according to Ephesians 2:19. Jesus said that those who do the will of God are His family (Matthew 12:50). The center of the New Testament church family was the home, the place of hospitality. Hospitality became the model for the life of the church. Through the transparent relationships of the home, the first cell members matured naturally. Conversation with friends, meals with family, and serving each other in the house became the means for living the Gospel.
If we are God’s family, we must relate as family. Obviously we cannot interact as family with 75 other people who meet once a week on Sunday. Nor can we expect to develop an atmosphere of family by meeting once a week in a home. For example, imagine that your earthly family has a mandatory dinner every Thursday night. You gather around the table, pray, eat and talk about the rest of your week. This is the only communication you have as a family unless there is a crisis. Would you call this family? If so, your standard for intimacy and commitment is not very high!
Yet cell groups are described by many as a 90-minute Wednesday night meeting for prayer and Bible study. Meeting once a week is a step in the right direction but insufficient to develop biblical relationships. When we limit ourselves to a meeting, we miss the experience of hospitality. We miss the touch of friends available only in the mundane parts of life: meals, working together, serving one another, long talks over coffee and playing board games until two in the morning.
The first time I experienced family in the body of Christ, I w heading a group of small-group leaders in college. I had no idea what God was doing. As I drove to our weekly meeting, God told me not to say a thing and to let the group set the agenda. As we talked, one student shared how she had been violated as a teen and that she was experiencing some healing. Later it came out that another young woman in the group had a similar experience. From this unplanned sharing of life birthed a family of countless phone calls, late talks over Coke and pizza, overnight retreats and ministry. God blessed us with the very simple miracle of family.
Most people in your group have no idea how to live as a family. This is Satan’s scheme because he seeks to divide and conquer. Bad father figures, broken marriages and sibling rivalries are the norm. Satan wants to continue this pattern in your group. But people long for a touch, a hug, a phone call. You probably yearn for it too. Your cell can be a place to call home, where people feel welcomed and where Satan’s loneliness is left at the door.
God poured out His Spirit in the context of family. Acts 1:8 says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you …” The early church stood out, and everyone in town knew when Jesus’ church arrived. The people of God were marked by the presence of God. Some even accused them of being drunk! The church demonstrated His presence through signs and wonders, and saw the unbelievable happen as they continued the ministry of Jesus in His name. Peter and John healed the crippled beggar; Philip cast out demons and healed paralytics; Paul and Silas escaped from prison; Steven preached with power; 5,000 people confessed Christ as Lord; the church grew; and they remained in Christ for the long-haul.
Most of us have never seen God move like this. You might even think, “It was good for Peter and Paul, but God cannot do that through me.” Or, “God only uses special people like a pastor or an evangelist.”‘ Well, you are special! Peter was a simple fisherman before Jesus chose him, and look what happened. Who were Philip or Steven or Lydia before God moved through them?
You can see God touch people miraculously, but your experience probably will not look like Peter’s. Your story will resemble those of Mark’s mother (who owned a home where the church met), Pricilla and Aquila, Lydia, Philemon or Nympha. We know little of these people except that they were faithful enough to be named in the Word of God. These were a few of the hundreds who prayed, ministered and labored behind the scenes.
In fact, the power of God probably will move through you and me differently than we think. Most believers will never reproduce what happens in a large crusade or on television. Some don’t want to. But we can pray together for God to work. We don’t need one man to do all the praying. Cell groups must learn that the power of God moves through relationships. If someone needs God’s touch, the family is the means for that touch. In the normal ad hoc parts of life, two or three can gather in His name and minister to one another. We can do this as friends and become united.
After college, I asked God to move in the cell group I was leading. I did not know what I was doing. The group had no formal training. We just started seeking God. We grew close to people with deep needs – Don had cancer and had been hurt by the church, Sharon needed Jesus and healing from a recent divorce, and Jim struggled with sexual sin. We could not pray from a distance, with token requests and a closing prayer. We were too close and the needs were too great.
Seek God together for the impossible and watch Him work! When you start praying for deep needs of friends in the cell, your heart will break for them. You will stay up all night praying. You are no longer praying for an anonymous request or for the need of an acquaintance. You are now personally involved, and if God does not answer it affects you too. You will see miracles up close and personal and know that God is present. Your faith will grow, but even more your commitment to one another will multiply like weeds in the spring. And so will those asking you what is so different about your group.
Acts 2:42-47 tells us about the relationships in the first church: “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
Jesus says in Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you: and you will use this power to minister to one another, develop deeper community and keep it to yourselves.” No He says “… and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in. Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
With great sincerity some have said: “We cannot reach out to others. We are just getting to know one another. Our group is starting to jell and become a family.”
C.T. Stud, a famous missionary to Africa, once said, “I do not wish to live ‘neath sound of church or chapel bell; I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell.” Does this describe your group? Is your cell group a rescue shop for your friends, family and others who are living a life of hell and are headed there for eternity?
Many groups claim to have deep relational bonds but miss the opportunity to run a rescue mission for the lost. Biblical
relationships are fostered in a rescue shop. Jesus calls His disciples to lose their lives in order to gain it. Acts tells us how ordinary
people took the message beyond Jerusalem to Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the earth. Biblical relationships have a purpose: to rescue the captives.
One of my best friends is Quart Hoang, my first cell leader. We prayed, praised and fasted together. We ministered to our cell members and stuck together through success and failure. We reached out to seeking friends and grew our group together. We fought together in the trenches. While walking in our purpose, we created a deep friendship.
You and your group are in the middle of a war. Your cell group is an army unit. When you wage war against the enemy to rescue the captives, you build bonds with your “army buddies.” You learn to love one another in weakness, to fight together, to depend on each other. You discover the purpose of biblical friendships.
When you combine the element of being “army buddies” in the battle with the movement of the Spirit amid the group and the hospitality of family, your group will shine. People will gaze in wonder at your love for one another. Your life together will be real and much more than a weekly meeting in homes. You will have something worth their time and energy.
In the New Testament world, Aquila gave his home church much more than a house. He gave them experiences where they could encounter God and one another. Our world searches for this same kind of experience. Our call is to give it to them. There we will discover biblical relationships.
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS PUBLISHED BY TOUCH OUTREACH MINISTRIES, 2000, “CELLEBRATING” CELLCHURCH MAGAZINE, PAGES 137-142.
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