As a pastor, I get to talk to people in a variety of different settings. Since I am not our primary preacher it is often one-on-one, one-on-two, or in a small group.
I love these settings and I’m comfortable in them. However, one of the things that I have to guard myself against is saying more than is helpful at one time. Probably every pastor or teacher has experienced this at least once. Your mouth is moving and the other person is nodding, but inside you know, “I’m talking too much. They aren’t getting it.” So you keep talking (“But this stuff is gold!”).
Sometimes over talking is the fault of the pastor/teacher. And sure, sometimes you just aren’t talking to someone who listens very well. But that isn’t always the problem. The reality is that change comes from thinking differently, and thinking differently takes time.
This is one of the (many!) reasons that I love our gospel communities.
In the context of community you get to talk, process, talk some more, argue, process, and change. You participate in real relationships and you not only hear truth, you get to listen and to observe. You get a chance for other people’s lives to explain what they are talking about.
For example: in this past year we’ve had the chance to do premarital counseling for numerous couples within the church. What would be better?
- To be taught what the Bible says about marriage?
- Or to spend days, weeks, months, even years with people who were believing the gospel and letting it shape their marriage?
The answer is both! We need both. This is why when I counsel a couple, we spend hours talking about God’s covenant design, headship, submission, money, sex, and communication. But when we’re done I tell them, “The best thing you can do for the health of your marriage is to give yourself to the local church where the gospel is preached and you are discipled in the context of community.”
The importance of community was reinforced for me recently when I had a conversation with a new member of the church.
“My gospel community is amazing,” she said. She went on to explain that her friend had explained to her the theological concept of imputed righteousness during one of the nights that her gospecl-centered community had met.
But here’s the thing: she didn’t use the words “imputed righteousness” and it didn’t take one night. It took months of love and of conversation for trust to build. Once that was in place, then her friend could explain that because of the cross, God doesn’t look at our sins anymore. He sees the perfect life that Jesus lived instead, substituted for us. Jesus give us His perfection.”
Change takes time. And gospel-centered community is the perfect place for change to take root.