In a world of busyness and bad news, smaller communities like City Groups, allow space in a week for a person to be re-energized and re-connected with Christ and fellow believers. Without that connection, we sometimes can go on autopilot. Life takes over with the “busyness” of work, bills, sports, grocery shopping, and all the ‘little things.’ We then find ourselves living on our own accord and not God’s. How then? How do we add another thing like a City Group to our week? Tom and Kristine Houghton know how and have experienced abundant truth, life, and friendship.
“For me, it is so vital to a healthy relationship with Christ to have that regular time aside, to meet and discuss, encourage, and support,” Tom described. “If I am not actively seeking Him, I am seeking something else. If it is not in your calendar and you are not going, you are prioritizing something else.”
Tom and Kristine early on in their marriage stumbled upon a small group community at the church they were attending. Soon after, they were invited to lead one. Since that first group over twelve years ago, they have determined that their life will always have a space for a small group.
“Looking back on the relationships we made in those small groups,” Kristine shared, “just how God worked, despite us, was so fun. We didn’t have to be perfect nor qualified. Also, at the time, we met our best friends through that small group. We still stay in touch with the couples from that group, even though they now live thousands of miles away, and we just pick up where we left off when we get together.”
“They are more than just best friends,” Tom added, “but rather brothers and sisters in Christ. We can have a good time with these friends and encourage one another. Through our conversations we grow with the Lord, with community, and with one another. It’s awesome to have someone you can ask for prayer from when you are going through the ups and downs of life.”
A few years ago, when the Houghton’s visited Citylight for the first time, it ended up being the last Sunday church was opened. For the next few months, along with everyone else, they were doing church online. Connecting with the church body was impossible during the pandemic. As soon as Citylight reopened, the Houghton’s attended with their kids. They were hungry for community.
“Everyone is unsure on how social to be, and we tried to get connected,” Kristine said with eagerness. “We joined a small group around that time, and it was too big for us. So, we switched to a smaller group with four other couples, and we’ve been meeting with them ever since. It’s been so great.”
God has revealed and done a great work in and through a small group community for Tom and Kristine. In a small group space, Tom and Kristine have been able to discuss scripture in detail and have gained more clarity and understanding. They have seen their relationships with people and with Christ deepen to a level that they did not expect. They are both so thankful for this space.
“You have to be an active participant and by doing so there’s an opportunity to process with others what’s on your mind and in your heart,” Kristine enthusiastically described. “You learn the context of what you are reading in the Bible and how that can be applied to our lives. It makes me feel excited, encouraged, and hopeful, and so under-qualified, all at the same time. Which is fine, I am not supposed to do this alone.”
“City Group is a great reminder for me that God can do more than we can do on our own,” Tom shared. “We are grateful to God that He shows up and does the work that we can’t do. We’ve seen that in a tangible way. There’s always going to be seasons of life. It’s those nuggets that you come back to when you are in the valley. God is always working and doing something, and we see this more when we are in community. We are just trying to be faithful followers of Christ. Constantly saying `here we are Lord, use us. Whether or not we get to see the fruit.’ When we do get to see it, we cherish and hold on. God is faithfully working in the background.”
This year, Tom and Kristine started to feel a familiar stirring in their hearts. God was calling them to lead. They have a burden to help be a part of connecting and building relationships within the church and within families. Pastors carry a burden to shepherd the flock and to encourage others to Christ, Tom and Kristine want to help carry this burden.
“We don’t want to leave our City Group that has become a family,” Kristine confessed, “we feel called though. Starting this City Group is from a heart of knowing how hard it was to connect with people, going to a new church or if you’ve been there for a while, and haven’t made that commitment. We want to offer a space for those families, invest in each of them, and to help them know that they are important. Tom and I have enjoyed these kinds of relationships that have been built in small groups. We want to now be intentional in doing this in our City Group.”
Everyone needs a place to connect, and Tom wants to connect with them. Especially the ones who are curious and unsure about everything.
“I can relate to the curious and to the skeptic,” Tom quickly shared when asked who their City Group will be for. “I know firsthand the power of Christ and that if you really seek Him, all that stuff disappears. I remember in my own faith getting to the point where I wasn’t going to second guess anymore. I have seen God’s hand in my life, in my marriage, and I have no reason to doubt His existence and abilities.”
There are 168 hours in the week and Sunday morning gatherings leave 167 hours (unless Chris is preaching.) So, what about the remaining 167 hours? We are bombarded at work, home, online, and with other influences. The tendency is if we are not prioritizing a small group somewhere within those 167 hours, if we are not being held accountable, encouraged, and helped in the seasons of life, then you are going at it alone.
Kristine is reminded of the verse in Galatians 6:2 that states ‘Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.’ She shares and invites others to
“Bear one another’s burdens and live life together. I have experienced first-hand the truth that we aren’t supposed to do this life alone but rather help and encourage one another. Tom and I have grown as a couple and individually in our relationship with Christ. Sunday mornings are a great place to hear the Word, but it can’t be the only place. The relationships that are built within a small group are on a whole different level. The spiritual aspect, the vulnerability, the love and hope and condemnation walking through each text in the Bible together, opens reaches a different level and side of friendship. It’s exciting and a little scary but it’s also the most beautiful thing ever.”
Tom concludes with this,
“the connection the world wants cannot be provided by the world. It’s only through Christ. This is what it’s all about and it excites me as a follower of Christ and as a City Group leader. I want the world to experience that connection. As Christians we can, and you can be a part of it.”
It’s never too late to join a City Group, a small group community. There will always be something in our lives that will make it difficult to either fit it in our schedule or seem more important. And you may feel awkward or not smart enough to attend but ignore those thoughts. Just come as you are. We all have our baggage. No one is perfect. You are welcome.
For more information on City Groups and how to join one, please visit citylightomaha.org/citygroups