In his devotional New Morning Mercies, Paul Tripp observes, “Relationships are first fixed vertically before they are ever fixed horizontally.” His words also apply to small groups. When small groups begin to falter, it is usually due to a lack of balance. Most small groups have a tendency to focus exclusively on their vertical relationship to God or their horizontal relationships with people. Jesus teaches us balance — both vertically and horizontally — in the Great Commandment. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” is the vertical charge and “love your neighbor as yourself” the horizontal (Matthew 22:37-39). If you’re just starting a small group, a good question to ask is, “What DNA needs to be put in up front?” Or, if you are in an existing small group, ask, “What needs to be tweaked so that we love God first and, out of that love for God, love all other people?”
A small group that has a high love for God and a low love for others may have deep Bible study, but they may not be on the mission of God.s.
On the other hand, a small group that has a high love for people and a low love for God may on mission constantly, but they may seldom be in the Word. In the worst case scenario, a small group that has a low love for God and a low love for people may just be a social gathering. In the gospel, we see relational balance. The gospel provides an ocean of forgiveness and grace that washes over sinners who, in response, worship God and give away their lives for the sake of His name. The most successful small groups have a balance of Bible study, worship, fellowship and missional living. They love God and people and are gospel-centered. But even the best groups can get out of balance from time to time. Tripp reminds us that “our relationships” and small groups “need more than horizontal fixing. They need vertical rescue, and for that there is the ever-sufficient grace of a willing and patient Savior.”
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