By April Nevels Icsman
A six-year-old girl awakens in the middle of the night. It is storming and dark. She runs to her parents’ room and wants to stay there. “I don’t want to be alone.”
Her mother says, “You know God is always with you, even in the dark.”
She replies, “I know, but right now I need someone with skin on.”
To me and countless others, a small group is God with skin. Each one is different. Some meet weekly, some monthly, some bi-weekly. Some have topic studies, some study a book of the Bible, some meet primarily for prayer or for outreach.
However, the outcomes are the same. Praying and studying together, these groups end up being the hands and voices of God to members and non-members alike. God with skin.
No man is an island and we are commanded to meet together for fellowship and not “forsake the assembling of ourselves together” (Hebrews 10:25). A small group becomes accountability and as Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend” (NKJV). When encouraged, our very visage changes. Note also what the website Bible Gateway has to say. In the Hebrew, the word translated “countenance” also involves keeping in countenance, giving “assurance or courage to, support, and “to prevent from shame or dismay.”
I have been involved in small group Bible studies and accountability groups since I was in Sunday School as a child. As I think back through the years of my life , those times I was not in an accountability group were the times I made decisions regretted later and/or I did not live my Christian life to its potential.
In the 1980’s, when I was a young military wife with no family close by, the Monday night Bible study associated with the young couple class at First Baptist Church, Norfolk, was my family.
In the 1990’s, as a young mother, the small group which was part of the three-pronged SuperMom program I directed in Sherman, Texas, was my support and accountability as Jim and I raised three children.
But never before have I needed a small group as I have in the past few years with our move to Pittsburgh. (As the bumper sticker says, “I wasn’t born and raised in Pittsburgh, but got here as soon as I could!”) Having experienced the benefits of an accountability group and being committed to contributing to others’ growth, we knew how important is was to start serving in a church and small group.
After our move, we searched for a church for many months. Around two years ago in the summer of 2016, we joined the Chancel Choir at Christ Church at Grove Farm which sang at the 10 AM service. Finding a church with a traditional anthem choir and blended service was an answer to prayer, and we were thrilled to join Christ Church. We quickly found out the church’s commitment to small groups and because of several choir members’ recommendations and invitations, we ended up in one of the Sewickley Ridge groups, although we actually live in another neighborhood.
This Sewickley Ridge group has weathered many losses and transitions with us. There were, of course, the usual activities involved in an intrastate move—leaving the family house where we spent 16 years, leaving a great church (Crossroads CMA in Copley, Ohio) and its Praise Team and small group Bible study , leaving friends and jobs. In addition, the move coincided with the empty nest and the death of my father-in-law. Just within the past few months, I lost both parents and a beloved family pet as well as experienced trying situations with adult children and relatives.
Jim and I have been supported in prayer, in cards, in hugs. This from a group of people from all different spiritual and personal backgrounds, some members of Christ Church, some not-- most of whom I did not even KNOW a year ago.
In turn, we have supported them, weekly rejoicing, laughing, and crying as we share our lives together. We have been able to “speak the truth in love grow as a family toward Christ” (Ephesians 4:15) and have experienced the life Paul describes in Ephesians 3:16-21. God grants us, “according the riches of his glory to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man, “ and we are able to “comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height, and to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge and to be filled with all fullness of God.”
We have experienced God with skin.