Many questions surrounding leading a small group don’t fall into the categories of life and death:
- Do we have enough chairs?
- Will this icebreaker really break ice?
- How can four families have this many children?
- Who brings plain celery to potluck night?
Questions like these have low stakes. The problems are simple. However, there are other questions that carry great weight:
- Are we prepared to suffer well?
- Is our group ready to be hated?
It’s perhaps not a common topic of conversation in our groups, but suffering for the sake of Jesus, being hated for the sake of Jesus, is something Jesus told us to expect. In Matthew 10, Jesus gave this warning to His disciples and it is a warning those of us who shepherd His disciples must, at times, pause to remember. It is a warning we need to help our group consider.
Because people will hand you over to sanhedrins and flog you in their synagogues, beware of them. You will even be brought before governors and kings because of Me, to bear witness to them and to the nations. But when they hand you over, don’t worry about how or what you should speak. For you will be given what to say at that hour, because you are not speaking, but the Spirit of your Father is speaking through you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will even rise up against their parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by everyone because of My name. But the one who endures to the end will be delivered.”
That is a hefty text. Disciple-makers, we don’t just facilitate discussions. We don’t simply plan service projects. Take a moment to remember that what we are involved in is more than a volunteer ministry opportunity. The people in your group have been brought into the eternal, invisible kingdom of heaven, yet they still live in the broken, carnal kingdom of earth. As followers of Christ, our hearts, thoughts, values, and priorities are increasingly foreign to those who are not followers of Jesus.
And so the Bible tells us that being hated by all is a reality we could experience in several ways:
- We may lose our freedom (v. 18) – In some parts of the world this is distressingly obvious, but regardless of location, this warning is logical. We are not like those in the world in which we live. We are aliens and strangers. There comes a point when a culture says “we won’t deal with these diametrical differences anymore.” There comes a time when the thinking of the kingdom of heaven feels foreign and offensive enough for governments to lock it away. Your group members could lose their freedom.
- We may lose our families (v. 21) – Not everyone sees Jesus for the treasure He is. Sometimes a dad sees Jesus as his one true hope and greatest source of joy and a son sees Jesus as an alien, a stranger, and an enemy. What if one day your children or your children’s children cling to a culture that tells them their family is crazy for loving a man who died two thousand years ago? It is not outside of the realm of possibility for your group members’ loved ones to someday hate them for the sake of the name of Jesus.
- We may lose our lives (v. 21) – Many of the people who originally heard Jesus’ warning were killed for following Jesus. Many who came after them in the New Testament were killed for following Jesus. For two thousand years, men and women all over the world have been killed for following Jesus. Today, in the world in which we live, people are still being killed for following Jesus. The people you are shepherding may one day face death for following Jesus.
In the midst of minding the necessary details of group life, setting schedules and securing content and consuming celery, take the time to help your group count the cost. You will be hated by all. It is an intense warning. But it is a warning that reminds us of where we stand. And it is a warning that reminds us of the worth of Jesus. Gaining Jesus means losing freedom and family and life, but disciples in your group today and those thousands of years ago will agree: Jesus is worth it.
Brandon Hiltibidal is a former church planter and multi-site pastor, and he is now part of the Groups Ministry team at Lifeway Christian Resources. He and his wife have two little girls. You can read about his group ministry and his girls on Twitter: @bmhiltibidal.