(This article is a sidebar to Michael Mack’s Letter from the Editor, “The Power of Authenticity,” in the March/April 2022 issue of Christian Standard.)
By Michael C. Mack
I’m blessed to have been part of many authentic groups that God used to transform my life. The following is one example—the first Christian church and small group I attended. As you read this narrative, see how many examples of authenticity you see.
When I first started attending church services at Centerville Christian Church (now called SouthBrook Christian Church) in Dayton, Ohio, I was alone and a brand-new Christ follower. I lived by myself and had no family in the area. My only acquaintances were people I worked with, most of whom were not Christians. I read through the Gospels and the book of Acts, but I had no idea how to incorporate my new beliefs into my everyday life. God had filled the void in my heart, but I sensed something else was missing. When I walked into the church building that first Sunday, my hope was that I would make friends with Christians, grow in my new faith, and find direction for my life.
An older couple named Harvey and Shirley greeted me warmly and asked me about myself. They told me a little about the church and then they invited me to their house for iced tea on their back porch. When the service concluded, they greeted me again and introduced me to some people my age, who in turn invited me to their small group. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so accepted.
When I got to the house for that first small group meeting, I drove around the block three times before finally parking my car and summoning the boldness to walk into that stranger’s home. I don’t remember what kind of snack was served, what we studied, or the prayer requests shared that night. But I do remember feeling very, very good about this group of people, and I wanted them in my life.
Over the next couple months, I enjoyed doing everyday things with these people. These weren’t just once-a-week-at-the-meeting acquaintances, but real friends who invited me into their lives. This is exactly what I was hoping to find as a new Christian. I didn’t know what to call it back then, but I was searching for authentic biblical community.
A week after my first visit to the group, two guys from the group, Paul and Eric, met with me to talk about where I was in my new faith. They asked more questions than they provided answers, but they took me to God’s Word as we talked about how I could grow in my faith. They taught me from the Bible about baptism, and two weeks later, Tom Jones, the minister at CCC, immersed me into Christ.
At one group meeting after I met with Paul and Eric, I shared that I was confused about God’s will for my new life. Now that I was “a new creature in Christ,” what was I supposed to do? I wondered out loud if I was in the right career. The group encouraged me and prayed with me to know God’s will.
Within a month of joining that small group, the company I worked for went through a takeover and my whole department was eliminated. I went to the group that night and told them what had happened. “What do I do now?” I asked. Again, they supported me and challenged me to seek God’s direction. I sensed that God wanted me to use my passion for writing, and they urged me to pursue it. When I was offered a seemingly great leadership position in a Chicago firm, they continued to help me seek God’s will. When I turned down the offer, they were there with me, supporting me through a tough decision. Then when I started packing up my apartment to move to attend Cincinnati Bible Seminary, they came and helped me load the truck.
It was hard saying goodbye to these friends God had brought into my life, but I knew he put them there for a season and for a reason. I ventured out of my comfort zone with a new relationship with God and a community of friends I knew would continue praying for me.