Last week my youngest son’s Kindergarten Registration paperwork came in the mail. He was quite excited. His parents were not.
Certainly we are delighted that Carson is growing, healthy, and (almost) mature enough to spend his days at school. Certainly we are thankful that he has a great school to attend, one that is staffed by caring and devoted teachers and administrators. And certainly we are excited to see him take steps forward into maturity. But, if we are honest, those steps forward also seem to us like steps away from a season of life that we’ve loved. As a preschooler, our little man has brought us much joy. He is fun. We love the enthusiasm and boisterousness of his “little” years. Now he’s getting “big” – and that is a bittersweet reality, to say the least.
On some level, every parent feels this way as their children reach major milestones in life. The first day of school. The first day behind the wheel of a car. Sending them off to college. These events mark significant growth into maturity, and for this reason they are celebrated. But they also mean leaving behind a younger, sweeter, more innocent season of life, and for this reason they come with a tinge of sadness and pain. There is joy here, but it is a painful joy.
The same feeling describes what happens in my heart as we multiply community groups here at Capitol City. In the coming weeks, my own group will multiply. From one perspective, this will be a joyous thing. It means that one healthy group is becoming two healthy groups. This is a sign of maturity. It means that the group is working, growing, and progressing toward its goals. But it is also a painful thing. It involves change in relationships that have come to matter – a lot. It means disrupting something special that the Lord has used in awesome ways. It means taking steps away from a past that was significant, all for the sake of taking steps toward maturity.
Painful joy. A parent who sees her child pass a new milestone knows that feeling. Group multiplication feels much like that. It is wonderful. It would be a problem if it weren’t happening. But it hurts, even when it happens under the best of circumstances.
In light of this painful joy, why is multiplying community groups so important? Here are three reasons:
1. Multiplication forces us to prioritize mission over comfort. We multiply groups because groups make disciples. More groups formed means more disciples made. Therefore group multiplication is about fulfilling the great commission. In all of our lives, the greatest obstacle to faithfulness to the great commission is our love of comfort. For the same reasons we don’t share the gospel as freely as we should (i.e., we don’t want other people to dislike us) we want to hold on to the relationships we know and love. By the time a community group grows to the point where it is ready to multiply, the people in that group have grown to know and love each other. They are comfortable with one another. But comfort is always an obstacle to mission. So we multiply because it forces us to put God’s mission ahead of our own comfort. It is one (significant) way we can deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Jesus (see Matthew 16:24).
Comfort is always an obstacle to mission. So we multiply because it forces us to put God’s mission ahead of our own comfort.
2. Multiplication challenges us to develop new leaders. No leader – aside from our resurrected King – will lead his or her people forever. We are all interim leaders, destined for death or some more-immediate reassignment. This is why the New Testament makes the development of new leaders a key part of true discipleship. Paul tells Timothy: what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also (2 Timothy 2:2). What Timothy has heard – the gospel – is to be shared with others. Why? So that they can share it with still more people. Group multiplication presses us to be better and more intentional about raising up new leaders (who can, in turn, raise up new leaders).
We are all interim leaders, destined for death or some more-immediate reassignment. This is why the development of new leaders is a key part of true discipleship.
3. Multiplication helps us toward maturity. Paul sums up the goal of his ministry in Colossians 1: Christ we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ (Colossians 1:28). Everyone mature in Christ. Paul doesn’t want settle for baby Christians – he wants to press them toward maturity. Groups that multiply are, by their very nature, closer to this picture of Christian maturity. In the weeks to come, as the members of my former group continue to meet together, pray together, study the Word together, and encourage one another with the gospel, they will experience a newfound measure of independence. Like Carson on the first day of school, they will take a new step toward maturity, toward completeness. Though painful, multiplication helps groups – and group members – towards maturity.