In The Irresistible Church series we have examined how, despite great struggles and opposition, early Christianity flourished. One reason for this was the early church’s ability to overcome their prejudices and welcome people different from themselves into their community – they were an Inclusive Church. When we step outside of our cultural comfort zones and embrace what the Holy Spirit is doing in others, God can use us to reach the lost.
GETTING THE CONVERSATION STARTED
These questions can be used as ice-breakers in the beginning OR interwoven between the questions below to draw the group into the discussion.
1. Have you ever traveled to another part of the United States, or another part of the world, and experienced a culture unlike yours? What was your experience? How did it feel being different than everyone else? How did others respond to you?
2. Do you have a family member who is completely different than you, despite being in the same family? How do you deal with these differences?
3. Look around at the other members of your small group. What are some clear differences represented among the group? What is the common bond that brings you together?
INTERACTING WITH THE SERMON
1. In 5 minutes or less. Briefly give a synopsis of this week’s sermon. What insight, principle, or observation from this weekend’s message did you find to be most helpful, eye-opening, or troubling? Explain.
2. Read Jonah 3:1-4:2:
1 Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” 3 Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. 4 Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” 5 The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. 6 When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. 7 Then he issued a proclamation in Nineveh: “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. 8 But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. 9 Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.” 10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.
1 But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. 2 He prayed to the LORD, “Isn’t this what I said, LORD, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.
• Discuss the context of this passage. (Jonah 1-2) Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian Empire. In addition to their “wickedness”, Nineveh was also an enemy of Israel and represented a threat to their people. What reasons might Jonah have had for not wanting to go to Nineveh? How might Israel have felt about the people of Nineveh? Can you think of a group of people that you “run away” from? Are you able to see any similarities between Jonah’s possible reasons and your own? Discuss and share.
• This is the second time that the Lord speaks to Jonah. (vv.1-3) Can you recall a time when you’ve dismissed the call of the Lord, but you ended up obeying later on? How did it feel when you finally did what God was calling you to do? How did it feel when you knew you were ignoring God? Share and discuss.
• What was the Ninevite response to Jonah’s message from God? (vv. 4-9) How did the people express their repentance and humility? How did the king of Nineveh call the people to change their behavior? (v. 8)
• Jonah seems to have his own agenda regarding Nineveh. (vv. 4:1-2) Can you think of a moment when your own agenda kept you from ministering to those who were unlike you? How was your own agenda getting in the way? At times, have you treated your agenda as more important than God’s? Share and discuss.
• Why do you think God wanted to include Nineveh? Why do you think he gave them an opportunity to repent? (vv. 3:9-4:2) And today, who is the message of the gospel for?
• God used Jonah’s obedience to reach Nineveh and also to change Jonah. Can you think of some ways that God may want to work in your life as you are obedient in reaching out to others? Discuss and share.
3. In the sermon Craig and Bill talked about how “God’s welcome challenges our cultural barriers.” Spend some time in prayer and consider the following questions.
• Are there areas where my own agenda is keeping me from reaching out to those that are different than me? Can I identify some cultural barriers that God is challenging in me? How can I begin to remove these barriers?
• Ask the Holy Spirit to show you any areas of your life where you may have wounds from encountering cultural differences. Pray for healing in these areas of your life.
• Ask the Holy Spirit how you can begin to step out of your “cultural comfort zone” as individuals and as a small group.