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If ever there was a time in history when the ministry of the true church was sorely needed, it is now. Though church attendance dropped drastically in the decades following 1960, the rising surge of spiritual interest currently moving across the country suggests that many people are anguishing over spiritual emptiness.
Pollsters attribute much of this rising interest to growing disenchantment with the modern, materialistic lifestyle. In the secret places of their hearts, many people are concluding that there has to be more.
Another reason for the spiritual search is the increasing breakdown of relationships. Marriages are failing, families are fragmenting, and friendships are falling apart. As interpersonal trust levels sink to an all-time low, some people are beginning to look up. Can God be trusted? they wonder. And can He somehow help me put my marriage, family, and friendships back together?
People are waking up to the sobering reality that things are not as they should be, or as we long for them to be. With this awakening, many people are seeking for more. They are hungering for something that will truly satisfy. As people are searching for meaning, the church of Jesus Christ needs to rise up and let the world know that we have something to offer. -Bill Hybels, Rediscovering Church (Zondervan, 1995)
Making the Connection
1. If you were born and raised in the church, what keeps you connected and part of your church community?
If you were not raised in the church, what brought you into the life of the church, and what keeps you connected?
2. Take a moment and envision the ideal church. In your mind, what would have to be part of this church for it to be a biblically functioning community of believers?
What would not be part of this community of people?
Knowing and Being Known
Read Colossians 1:1-8
3. In this passage the apostle Paul gives five trademarks of a biblically functioning community of Christ followers. What are these trademarks, and why is each one essential for a healthy church?
4. Paul begins by affirming the central and core pillar of any biblically functioning community: true faith in Jesus Christ (vv. 4-5). Why is unwavering faith in Jesus Christ on the top of the list when it comes to trademarks of a true church?
When you say "I believe in Jesus Christ," what does this mean to you?
5. What message do we send to seekers when the members of a local congregation really love each other (vv. 4-5)?
What message do we send to God?
What is one practical and tangible way your small group members can show love to each other?
6. Paul lifts up Epaphras as an example of a "faithful minister of Christ." This is a person whose life and faith has impacted the lives of other Christ followers in a positive way. Who has been an Epaphras in your life?
How has their faith and love for Jesus impacted your life as a Christ follower?
Read Colossians 1:9-14
7. What did Paul pray for the followers of Christ in Colosse?
What is one part of Paul's prayer that jumps out at you and seems fresh and new?
8. How can this prayer be used as a model to give direction as you pray for one of these groups:
For your small group members
For your church
For other churches in your community
For the church around the world
9. What are ways we can grow in our knowledge of God's will for our lives and the life of the church (v. 9)?
Describe a time when you had a clear sense of God giving you knowledge of His will for your life.
10. What is one area of your life where you need God's strength and power right now (v. 11)?
How can your small group members be agents of God's strength as you face this situation?
11. How have you experienced the transfer of your life "from the dominion of darkness" to a new place in Christ's kingdom (vv. 13-14)?
Describe one life attitude or action that has changed since you have made this relocation.
Celebrating and Being Celebrated
Take a few moments to make an inheritance assessment. Paul is clear that we have a whole new inheritance once we become children of God (v. 12). Brainstorm as a group and list many of the promises and possessions you have in your inheritance from God, your heavenly Father.
Our inheritance includes:
Pray together and lift up your voices in praise and celebration for the inheritance you have in Jesus Christ.
What Is the Church?
Throughout history many people have tried to answer the question, What is the church? Here are a few efforts to give a concise answer to a seemingly complex question:
To speak of the church as anything other than "the living congregation of the living Lord Jesus" is to miss the whole point and to become meaningless in our understanding of what the church is. -Karl Barth
The church is God's agent on earth ... the medium through which He expresses Himself to the world. God has no other redeeming agency on the earth. -Melvin Hodges
I believe that the Son of God through his Spirit and Word, out of the entire human race, from the beginning of the world to its end, gathers, protects, and preserves for himself a community chosen for eternal life and united in true faith. And of this community I am and always will be a living member. -The Heidelberg Catechism
Praying When Things Are Going Great!
Paul continues the thanksgiving section (1:3-23) by informing the Colossians how he and Timothy had specifically interceded for them in prayer. The initial success of the gospel in Colosse does not lull them into slackening their prayer efforts for the Colossians. Quite the reverse, it leads to even more intense prayer. They have continued to pray for them because of what God has already done for them and because of their faith and love. By sharing this petition on their behalf, Paul reacquaints them with their blessings, their obligations, and their potential in Christ. -David E. Garland, The NIV Application Commentary Series, Colossians/Philemon (Zondervan, 1998)
Excerpted from Colossians by Bill Hybels Kevin Harney Sherry Harney Copyright © 1999 by Zondervan. Excerpted by permission.
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