By Mutua Mahiaini
Before Stephanie and I moved from Kenya to Colorado Springs in 2012, I had the privilege of experiencing the transforming power of a God-centered small group of friends. The group of Navigator leaders decided to go beyond our work responsibilities and to meet regularly in Nairobi. Our goal was to help one another grow in Christ.
We did indeed grow. What made this group so important in my life was the spirit of humility and vulnerability that grew in our hearts. We confessed to each other, sought to understand each person’s deepest needs, and prayed fervently. We inspired one another onward in our work, and encouraged each other through God’s Spirit working in us. This was indeed a community of grace.
This cherished group of friends illustrates an important biblical principle: Although we each have a personal relationship with Jesus, we need a small community of believers to fully mature into the likeness of Christ. Spiritual growth does not occur in isolation.
The New Testament speaks approximately 60 times about the “one another” dynamics of spiritual life. Clearly, strong relationships are at the heart of God’s will for us. In Ephesians 4:2-3, Paul writes: "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." Paul speaks here of keeping something that we already have. And he calls us to “make every effort” to protect that unity. Our relationships really matter to God.
Community is essential for sustained encouragement, love, and service. The wife of one member in our group inspired us as she went through a prolonged illness that caused extreme fatigue. Just making breakfast left her exhausted. But despite her physical struggle, she continued her outreach work in God’s strength. She saw every relationship in her circle as an opening to share the life of Christ. Today the Gospel continues to spread through those relational networks.
Seeing our friend remain passionate for ministry even during a debilitating illness rebuked us (in a healthy way). She demonstrated that we should not focus on our limitations, but on God’s power. She invigorated our hearts and reminded us that God can use simple acts of service to have a lasting impact.
In this way, a community of grace demonstrates what Hebrews 10:24-25 says. "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching."
We also need a community of grace to be victorious over sin. Notice the counsel that Paul gave young Timothy. "Flee the evil desires of youth, he said, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart" (2 Timothy 2:22).
Because we are all sinful, falling short of God’s holy nature, the tendency is for us to isolate ourselves. Isolation is a way of coping with shame and guilt. But hiding is the opposite of what’s needed for healing and growth. That’s why the grace of God is so important. It gives us the freedom to come out of hiding. Grace is the foundation for a safe community in which we can grow and be healed.
Communities of grace, like the one I experienced in Nairobi, are foundational to everything we do in the Navigator work. The International Executive Team and our Regional Directors have embarked on a long-term, in-depth study of community life in the New Testament. May God lead us together so that we can serve our Worldwide Partnership according to His Word.
Please pray that our Navigator communities around the world will be known as Christ-centered, safe places where people find healing, growth, and unity. And may Jesus be revealed through these communities among the lost.
Mutua Mahiaini is an International Vice President of The Navigators. Mutua and Stephanie led our work in Kenya, then Côte d’Ivoire, and then the Africa Region for the last 13 years. Mutua and Stephanie now live in Colorado Springs. They have four adult children.