Moving to a new city can be intimidating. Even for the most outgoing person, there is an inescapable sense of trepidation that you feel when you walk into a room full of unfamiliar faces. I had only been able to call Greenville home for less than 24 hours when I first showed up to Integrity Church and instinctively I was fearful of that which was foreign to me.
I had orientation for graduate school starting the following day and the only other time I had even been to Greenville was briefly for the interview almost a year prior. Frankly, I wasn’t even sure where ECU’s main campus was at the time. Regardless, Greenville was going to be my new home, and so I reckoned I should start looking for a church home also. I was moving from Clemson, SC where I had been the four previous years. While there, I had been a member of a healthy local church, with a great body of believers and strong leaders. Nearly all my close friends were members at this church. But as graduation loomed, I knew all of that was about to disappear and I was doubtful I’d be able to find that again. Fortunately, and as a testament to Integrity Church, I was wrong.
That first Sunday, I was introduced to several of the small group leaders as they strolled in for Sunday worship. All the leaders I met seemed normal enough, but not knowing what I’d find, I decided to try out a different one each evening that first week. This way, I was able to get a better feel of the unique dynamics of each small group. After a few weeks of small group hopping, I settled on the Thursday evening gathering held at the Eiban home.
In many ways, the past year has been one of the hardest periods of my life. School was daunting, familiarity was scarce, and most of my emotions had me missing all that I had left in Clemson. Though I initially attended the Eiban small group somewhat regularly, I didn’t take it seriously. I tried to stay minimally involved, fearing that if I did more, I might be made more uncomfortable or even challenged to change who I was. Although I never doubted the truth of the Gospel, I started to isolate my everyday life, from my “church” life. That is a dangerous life to live! It wasn’t until I realized that if I was to take seriously our church’s mission “…to mature and multiply believers to leave a gospel legacy” then I needed to stop ignoring one of God’s greatest tools in that mission: His people.
If we are to grow in Christ, we are to do so in His body, the Church, as shown to us in Ephesians 4:15-16 (and many other places throughout his Word). With this in mind, I sought to be more involved here and practically, that was best accomplished through our small group. Being able to embrace the role of a small group here at Integrity Church has turned out to be one of the most important and formative things done for my faith. Through its unique place within the structure of our church, small groups provide opportunities not otherwise available through merely attending Sunday morning worship. For example, I have had chances to be discipled. Our small group is composed of people from all age groups and stages of life. It is this diversity that makes it possible to build relationships both with those who are more mature and those who may be younger in the faith, facilitating exactly the type of disciple-making relationships we see depicted in the Bible (2 Timothy 2:2)
Often the term “discipleship” is used ambiguously to illustrate any time spent between believers outside of normal church hours. However, in my experience, discipleship is more reflective of the ongoing relationships that we build with believers, rather than a description of any one particular activity. It is not simply hanging out on the weekends with a friend from small group, or a little extra time studying the Bible at a coffee shop. Although discipleship can certainly include those activities, it necessitates the faithful willingness of Christian brothers and sisters to live a life dependent on one another and ultimately Christ (Hebrews 10:24-25). The Gospel is a humbling declaration of ineptness, and so too is this modeled in a community of discipleship. Regardless of our age, at no point in our walk with Christ, are we too mature, wise, or righteous to not benefit from sanctifying and edifying work of a disciple, mentor and friend! Jesus, the ultimate discipler, was more than a scholar and teacher. He befriended his followers, demonstrating to each how to live out the scriptures along their way. And as Christ did, so also have my disciplers shown me.
It is precisely these relationships that have made my time with a small group here at Integrity so impactful. Beyond just a weekly bible study, I’ve met a tremendous group of people, and been provided countless nights of great fun, fellowship (and of course food) that continually shape and direct my life.