It is not what a man does that determines whether his work is sacred or secular, it is why he does it. A. W. Tozer
I haven’t always been a small group addict! Hard to believe I know…
My adventure in small group ministry started when I was leading a fast-growing thirties married ministry we affectionately called “Boomers.” My Lead Pastor read a book, had a liver shiver and announced, “we are going to shut down Adult Sunday School and become a church “of” small groups. He didn’t have a clue what this decision would mean for our church, but it had plateaued for 15 years and our Pastor wanted to shake things up a bit and I’m glad he did.
I knew this was a sea-change in how we did ministry and I wanted to lead well, so I read every book on the subject I could get my hands on and talked to consultants and visited other churches to learn what I could.
Ultimately, I realized that I needed to gain the experience of leading a small group myself. I heard all the hyperbole of the potential for small group ministry and how it worked in other countries, for discipleship, community, experiencing God, finding soul brothers and sisters and reproduction of small groups through birthing!! That scared me. I had five children, my wife actually, and it was scary even with the blowing and ice chips and focal points.
I struggled with all sorts of doubts if this was even a good idea in our individualistic, gated community culture. I heard about pastors who were fired and churches that split over small group ministry philosophy. No one opposes small group Bible studies as an option, but make it front and center of a ministry, where people have to to honest and accountable to others, becoming intentional about making great followers of Jesus, serving and praying and dealing with strongholds, “spurring one another toward love and good deeds,” is not very politically correct.
People like being an audience, where they come for the show and go home. But this is not what Jesus commanded for His followers when He commissioned us, “go and make disciples of all nations.” We are to teach people to obey, not just sit and listen. It all starts with knowing the truth, but Jesus wants us to “be” the truth. He want to change hearts, not just heads. Then he wants us to do something with our faith, to serve somebody.
So what is the uptimate goal for small groups?
- Are small groups simply for community, for social connections?
- For social action? Meeting the needs of the community? The homeless?
- In-depth Bible study for believers only?
- Closing the back door?
- For serving as a team?
- Meeting felt needs? Cancer-care, Divorce-care, Grief-share (for Dodger fans), Celebrate Recovery?
- Reaching neighborhoods?
- Connecting people with common life experiences, singles, couples, family groups?
- Is it for prayer?
- Connecting people through special interests/causes, bicyclists, scrap-bookers and geriatrics for Jesus?
Having a church “of” small groups seems simple enough, until we talk purpose.
One thing can be assured, Jesus promised to show up when people meet in His name…
Matthew 18:20 (ESV) For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
Is that enough? Yes! Simple? Yes! Simplistic? No! When Jesus shows up everything changes!
So Robin and I recruited two couples from our Boomers group and launched our first small group. An older pastor on staff told me that these two young couples were “NOT” leader types, but I recruited them anyway.
The first night of our group, God arranged for my wife to visit the ER at the hospital where she almost died and suddenly these two “NOT” leaders were thrust into the leadership role of our Life Group, whether they were ready or not… Baptism by fire…
Because I was unable to lead the group, caring for my wife and five children, God ordained that I have a ring side seat observing what two “NOT” leader couples could do with a group, with a little guidance from me. They were willing and I wasn’t able, so I did what I could by coaching them in how to lead the group in our absence.
- God taught me that a crisis brings a group together, I just didn’t expect to BE the crisis.
It took several months for my wife to recover, and I don’t know how I would have gotten through that season without our loving Life Group, who became family to us. As the group brought food by and helped with our children, we bonded together spiritually, relationally and emotionally.
These “NOT” leaders did an amazing job of mobilizing a small group of people to gather in Jesus’ name and minister to a needy pastor in their midst. God has always specialized in using unexpected people, the unschooled and ordinary, the “NOT” leaders to change the world!
If you are a strong leader, with a great education and pedigree, God can use you too… Just consider Paul!
In the next 10 months we saw 30 couples step up to lead groups and soon 85% of our congregation was connected in small group ministry. It was an amazing ride!
Joel Comiskey writes, “I’ve researched small groups around the world. Here’s what I’ve discovered: Small groups are not the answer. In fact, there is danger in thinking that small groups are the answer. Small groups come and go; they rise and fall over time. Unless small group members are converted into small group leaders, little long-term fruit remains. Churches do not reap the harvest because they have small groups.
They reap the harvest because they have harvest workers. Churches that have no plan to develop leaders have, by default, planned to lose the harvest.” (Leadership Explosion, Page 16)
Matthew 9:37–38 (ESV) Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
Why do I love Life Group Ministry? Because I believe it is at the heart of what Jesus said to Peter…
John 21:17 (ESV) He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.
Most importantly, I never get tired of hearing the “NOT” leaders report for duty and find out that availability is the most important ability, and I get to hear them say, “God used me to make a difference in someone’s life.” I love that!
So much more gets accomplished when pastors equip others to do the work of ministry and sometimes God has to hobble us before we really get the message.
Now do you understand “why” I’m a small group addict?
What about you?