How to-equip-envision-experience-small-group

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How to-equip-envision-experience-small-group

  1. 1. Small Group Life Rick Thomas Envision - Equip - Experience
  2. 2. Dedicated to the faithful members of The Counseling Solutions Group, Inc. Membership Site.Your gracious partnership in the Gospel has made this work a reality. I thank God upon every remembrance of you. 2
  3. 3. Small Group Life Envision - Equip - Experience The Counseling Solutions Group, Inc. A 501(c)(3) Rick Thomas Competently Training & Compassionately Counseling for the Glory of GodCopyright © 2011 by Rick ThomasPublished by The Counseling Solutions Group, Inc.120 Goodridge CourtGreer, SC 29651www.RickThomas.NetScripture taken from the English Standard Version. Copyrighted © 2001 Crossway,Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.This publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted inany form or by any means without the express written permission of TheCounseling Solutions Group, Inc.You may not alter its content or reproduce in any way that alters any of its content.Printed in the United States. 3
  4. 4. Small Group Life How to Equip, Envision, & Experience a Dynamic Small Group Rick Thomas Introduction!............................................................................................9 Chapter One!.........................................................................................10The perfect place to be imperfect!...............................................................................10 Carl, the angry guy!............................................................................................11 Jerry, the addicted guy! ......................................................................................11 Brice, the humble guy!.......................................................................................12 Suppressed transparency!................................................................................13 Break the rules of etiquette for the glory of God!............................................14 Questions for reflection!....................................................................................16 Chapter Two!.........................................................................................17What is your group about?!..........................................................................................17 Progressive sanctification!................................................................................18 Take this quick test!............................................................................................18 Your union with Christ!......................................................................................18 Mutual care! .........................................................................................................19 Questions for reflection!....................................................................................21 Chapter Three! .......................................................................................23Fellowship!.....................................................................................................................23 Here’s the Scoop on Fellowship! .......................................................................23 What is biblical fellowship?!..............................................................................24 4
  5. 5. Fellowship requires community!.......................................................................25 Two caveats:! .......................................................................................................26 Questions for reflection!....................................................................................26 10 questions to spark biblical fellowship!........................................................27 Chapter Four!.........................................................................................29The ministry of the Spirit!.............................................................................................29 #1 – Regeneration!..............................................................................................29 #2 – Humility! .......................................................................................................29 #3 – Serving!........................................................................................................31 Pursuing the gifts!..............................................................................................31 Commune and expect - Don’t grieve and quench!..........................................33 Questions for reflection!....................................................................................34 Chapter Five!.........................................................................................36The cure for shallow small group life!.........................................................................36 Understand and live in the Gospel! ...................................................................37 Model the Gospel!...............................................................................................38 A picture is worth a thousand words!...............................................................38 Questions for reflection!....................................................................................40 Chapter Six!...........................................................................................41 How to do small group life together!................................................................41 Enjoying, sharing, and doing life together:! .....................................................42 Things that will keep you from doing life together! .........................................44 Questions for reflection:!...................................................................................46 Chapter Seven!......................................................................................48 5
  6. 6. Rent to own!...................................................................................................................48 Take the rent or own test!!.................................................................................48 Why does it matter?! ...........................................................................................49 The gift of poor leadership! ................................................................................49 Guess what?! .......................................................................................................50 How to complement his limitations:!................................................................50 Questions for reflection!....................................................................................51 Chapter Eight! ........................................................................................53Your leader’s job!...........................................................................................................53 Plus, he is your small group leader!!................................................................53 The leader’s purpose: application! ....................................................................55 The small group is about application!..............................................................56 Tips for a small group leader! ............................................................................56 Questions for reflection!....................................................................................58 Chapter Nine! .........................................................................................59Budget sin into your small group experience!...........................................................59 An uncertain sound!...........................................................................................59 Small groups are conflict opportunities! ..........................................................60 All in the family!..................................................................................................60 Embracing conflict!............................................................................................61 Deniers, avoiders, and the fearful!....................................................................61 To ignore sin is to neutralize the Gospel!.........................................................63 Questions for reflection!....................................................................................64 Chapter Ten! ...........................................................................................65Care-filled confrontation and correction!....................................................................65 6
  7. 7. Confrontational tips! ...........................................................................................66 Humble perspective! ...........................................................................................67 All correction is speck fishing!..........................................................................68 Let’s get practical!!.............................................................................................69 Questions for reflection!....................................................................................70 Chapter Eleven!.....................................................................................71Gospel-motivated discomfort !.....................................................................................71 The Gospel assumes discomfort!.....................................................................71 People with problems! ........................................................................................71 Uncomfortable questions!.................................................................................72 Inviting personal change!..................................................................................72 The problems observed!....................................................................................73 10 ways to freak out your small group!............................................................73 Change is here to stay!......................................................................................74 The birthing process!.........................................................................................75 Just when you thought it was safe!..................................................................76 God is about change!.........................................................................................76 Questions for reflection!....................................................................................77 Chapter Twelve ! .....................................................................................78The local church!...........................................................................................................78 The dearest place on earth!...............................................................................78 It’s a body thing! ..................................................................................................82 Acts 2:42-47 revisited!........................................................................................82 An appeal from your pastor!..............................................................................83 The similarity between your employer and your church!...............................84 7
  8. 8. Questions for reflection!....................................................................................86 Chapter Thirteen! ...................................................................................87How do your friends help you to mature? - A Final Appeal!......................................87 How do you want to do life?!.............................................................................87 How friends are chosen?!..................................................................................88 The quality of your friendships!........................................................................89 The small group antagonist!..............................................................................90 It’s bigger than you think!..................................................................................90 Sin’s progression will take its toll on you!.......................................................91 I need to be rescued!..........................................................................................92 Help your friends!...............................................................................................93 Questions for reflection!....................................................................................94 Conclusion! ............................................................................................95Sample Application Questions For Rick’s Small Group!...........................................95 Dearest Small Group!!........................................................................................95 Think about a specific person who annoys you!! ............................................96 Let’s get personal by digging a bit deeper:! .....................................................96 For Further Reading! .............................................................................98 Meet Rick Thomas!...............................................................................99 8
  9. 9. IntroductionWhile the Bible does not formally command the institution of “small groups,”the idea of a collection of likeminded believers who desire to come togetheron a weekly basis to spur one another on to a greater depth of love andaffection for our Savior is an excellent idea.The kind of activity that happens in small groups has always been afundamental part of the work of the church, as many biblical passagessupport: And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts (Acts 2:46). As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace (1 Peter 4:10). And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near (Hebrews 10:24).Lucia and I had been considering and praying about starting a small group atour local church. God blessed that desire and answered our prayer. After ourinitial launch meeting we began a seven week study through the book WhySmall Groups? Published by Sovereign Grace Ministries.This book was helpful in getting our minds focused on what a small groupcould look like. During that season I began writing an adaptation to WhySmall Groups? for our small group. This eBook represents that adaptation.Because there is some overlap between my thoughts and the thoughts fromWhy Small Groups? I am offering this eBook as a free gift. You are welcometo pass it along to anyone you think it may minister to. 9
  10. 10. Chapter One The perfect place to be imperfectWhat do all of these things have in common? • Failure • Community • Hypocrisy • Friendship • Lust • Reconciliation • Confession • Anger • Humility • Dysfunction • Repentance • Sin • Body of Christ • Prejudice • Arguments/disagreements • Disciplines • ForgivenessThere are probably several good answers to the question above. I can thinkof at least two: • The list represents the commonality of the human condition: all Christians have these things in common. • The list also represents some of the things you should be talking about with your closest friends. 10
  11. 11. Now read the list again. How many of them belong to you? You should havesome familiarity with everything in the list. Lust caveat - Lust could mean anything from sexual lust to jealousy, envy, anger, and an assortment of other things that represent what you don’t have, but desire to have. Anger caveat - Anger has many synonyms like frustration, disappointment, criticism, huffing under the breath, rolling of the eyes, and grumpiness.The big idea that we need to grapple with is what does community look likein our lives and how are we contextualizing ourselves in community in orderto mature in true righteousness and holiness. Put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. - Ephesians 4:24 (ESV)Carl, the angry guyCarl has been a small group member for over two years. From an outsidelooking in perspective, he seems to have it all together.That is most definitely his goal, as far as how he wants to be perceived; heloves to be perceived as having a stellar reputation.What his small group does not know is that he is an angry man. His wifeknows it. His kids know it. His anger has leaked out among a few friends,but his group does not know the real Carl.He is very much stuck on himself and craves people’s approval. It is veryimportant to him to be in control, on top of things, and to have it alltogether.Carl is a Christian. He is also a fake.Jerry, the addicted guyJerry has been a porn addict since he was seventeen. He’s thirty-one now.He’s been in his small group for a little over a year. He and Carl are friends. 11
  12. 12. They spend many weekends together because their wives, Sherree andJanelle, hit it off.Jerry sensed that Carl is not what he claims to be, but Jerry is thinking,“Shoot, who am I to judge him. I’ve got this secret porn addiction.”Jerry’s plan is to be clean for six months to a year before he tells Janelle, hiswife. His thought is that if he can kick the habit, then he can talk about hisaddiction as though it was something in his past, rather than a currentstruggle.In his twisted thinking, he wants to maintain his reputation, project humilitybefore the group, and then gain some accountability just in case he istempted again.His plan, like Carl’s, keeps him in control of the situation; rather thansubmitting to and being humbled by the foolishness and weakness of theGospel—both Carl and Jerry want to maintain a certain amount of control (1Corinthians 1:18-25).Brice, the humble guyThen enters Brice to the group.Brice is a young Christian who has not learned the ropes yet. What I mean isthat he has not been contaminated by Carl’s and Jerry’s hypocrisy.He has not embraced the value of hypocrisy or the art of deception. He isstill naive enough to believe the Bible and to talk as though it is really real.He’s a newbie to small group life.Carl and Jerry have measured transparency. They “leak out” certain thingsabout themselves during small group in an effort to show their humility.They give the perception that they are part of the group, while not trulybeing in the group.Brice is amazed at their honesty and openness. From his perspective, it isradically different from the nonsense in his office. As the saying goes, “It’seasy to impress the fifth graders.” 12
  13. 13. Brice is impressed and he is grateful for his new group.Suppressed transparencyYou can imagine what a surprise it was to Brice the night Carl’s wife,Sherree, blurted out, “I can’t take it anymore. I’m leaving Carl. He’sintolerable.”From that point, she shared through tears his many unexposed secrets. Shetalked about the threats, his condemning ways, and even the physical abuseto her and the children.It was not a pretty picture. Sadly, it did not have to come out the way it did. Behold, you have sinned against the LORD, and be sure your sin will find you out. – Numbers 32:23 (ESV)All of us struggle with suppressed transparency. Just like Adam before us,our native tendency is to grab the fig leaves and cover up the shame in ourlives (Genesis 3:7).In one sense, it is a form of insanity. Read the list at the beginning of thischapter again. That is your list. It is my list. It represents only part of whowe really are. • Why do we want to pretend that those things do not belong to us? • Why do we want to suppress our transparency?It is even more mind boggling to think that we can add many more things tothe list above. Here are a few more of my sinful companions. Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” – 1 Corinthians 15:33 (ESV) • Arrogance • Self-righteousness • Self-deception • Dishonesty • Impetuousness 13
  14. 14. Please explain to me why I would want to hide these things from my friends?It is even more insane to participate in a small group that talks aboutsanctification, yet refuses to let the group in on our dirty little secrets.Break the rules of etiquette for the glory of GodHere are three things you should know when it comes to participating insmall group life, or with any close group of friends.Everyone is afraid - Rarely will someone be like Brice; most people willhide their shame.There is a difference between talking about intentional sanctification andactually practicing it.If you want the kind of vision that I am describing here, then you’re going tohave to stop complaining about it and start pursuing it by your humbleexample.When we began the process of looking for a small group, we prayed thatGod would bring a few likeminded people into our lives: people who wouldembrace a transparent pursuit of mutual sanctification for the glory of God.Value the community - Don’t settle for anything less than a group offriends who want to do intentional sanctification together.Did you know that it’s okay to be humbly dissatisfied with superficiality? Youdon’t have to be mad about it, but you can be righteously dissatisfied.Ask God to give you the grace to where your fear of being exposed trumpsyour desire for this kind of community.Carl and Jerry were deteriorating by the day with their relationship withChrist and their respective families. They were living in unexposed sin, whileparticipating in a small group that was designed to fight sin.It’s like becoming sicker while in the hospital. It is not supposed to be thatway. Carl and Jerry did not understand or want to understand the value ofcommunity life. 14
  15. 15. Fortunately, Carl’s wife had enough gumption to spill the beans. Though itwould have been better for Carl to humble himself, mercifully his wifebrought his need before the group.In time, he was able to get some help through his community of friends.If you try to grow in your sanctification outside of the body of Christ, thenyou need to adjust your view of the body of Christ and how it can be aninstrumental means of grace to change you.Resist the temptation to dismiss this eBook - Some of you reading thischapter, have hidden sin in your lives.It may be hidden from your spouse. It may be hidden from your group. Yourealize the truth of what is being said here, but you are afraid of beingexposed. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. - Hebrews 4:12-13 (ESV)I appeal to you to pray right now and ask God to give you a grace that willenable you to email your small group leader or close friend immediately soyou can confess your sin and work through its crippling impact on your soul.There is no sin that has taken you that is not common to all of us and thereis no sin that has taken you that is outside of God’s grace to repair. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. – 1 Corinthians 10:13 (ESV)Will you do something about it today? Trust God. Die to yourself. Be honestfor the glory of God. You are no different than me or any person in yoursmall group. 15
  16. 16. The list above belongs to all of us.Questions for reflection 1. As you read this chapter, how did the Spirit of God speak to you? 2. Will you share how He spoke to you with a close friend? 3. Name at least two practical ways you can change in order to be a more effective member in your small group. 16
  17. 17. Chapter Two What is your group about?As Christians, one of our main objectives in life is to move further andfurther away from the sin that impacts our hearts and lives, while at thesame time, becoming more and more conformed to the image of our greatSavior.A strong and purposeful small group is a wonderful context for this sortprogressive change to take place.Sadly, a common complaint that I hear from some Christians is that theirsmall group life is more about socializing and less about compassionatelyand competently getting into each other’s personal struggles.They talk about a lack of intentionality from others in helping them fight agood fight against sin, and of how they get so little help in understandingand applying Gospel-centered solutions to their lives.In cases like this, the small group actually becomes something of adetriment to the lives of the individuals in the group—and to the overallhealth of the local church.In response to the lack of care in small group contexts, some members aretempted to think along these lines: I do not need another context or opportunity in my life to reinforce, marginalize, or neglect the sin that is present with me. There are too many places and opportunities for me to either be tempted by or become involved in sin.This kind of thinking tempts them to underestimate or devalue the role ofthe small group in their lives. They become apathetic and find themselvestempted to leave the group or shrink back from participation with the group.Unfortunately, far from contributing to the growth and restoration of thegroup, this sort of thinking inevitably ends up reinforcing the problem. 17
  18. 18. Progressive sanctification Sanctification is a progressive work of God and man that makes us more and more free from sin and like Christ in our actual lives. (Wayne Grudem)The main purpose of a small group is sanctification, but sanctification will nothappen if the members are not envisioned and equipped to serve each otherin their sanctification.Take this quick testLet’s see if you are ready for a Gospel-centered, Gospel-shaped communitythat is focused on your personal sanctification: If someone in your grouppointed out what she thought was a sin in your life (without first gettingwritten permission), how would you feel? 1. Become offended and express it? 2. Become offended and internalize it? 3. Dissolve into tears? 4. Point out the obvious sins in her life? 5. Thank her for her care and concern, while asking more questions about how you can change?Your union with ChristAs a Christian you will never be more justified than you are today; there isnothing you can do about it—or should want to do about it. Being in Christ isan indissoluble union that your good or bad works cannot alter.However, justification is not the same as sanctification. Once justified(saved) you then have the opportunity to change in a progressive way(sanctification). Justification is a work of declaration: God declares yourighteous because you are in Christ.But sanctification is a work of transformation: because you are in Christ (andthe Holy Spirit is in you), God gradually makes you righteous through theoutworking of the Spirit. 18
  19. 19. The more you cooperate with God’s Spirit in the matter of sanctification, themore you will be conformed to the image of His Son.One of the ways you can cooperate with God’s Spirit is by contextualizingyourself inside a small network of believers who have a singular desire toengage each other in the wonderful work of sanctification.Mutual careIn the Why Small Groups book, C. J. Mahaney quotes an illuminatingpassage from Bruce Milne that highlights the biblical motivations for meetingtogether in small, tightly knit communities: The Christian life is inescapably corporate. Teaching on Christian holiness has frequently concentrated almost exclusively on the “holy man” or the “holy woman,” to the neglect of the biblical concern for “the holy people” or the “holy church.” The ideal of the “omni-competent Christian individual,” able to meet every spiritual challenge and live a life of unbroken victory over sin and the devil has undoubtedly produced remarkable examples of Christian character; but, as every Christian counselor knows, this emphasis has driven many to a lonely struggle ending in despair and disillusionment, or, worse, in the hypocrisy of a double-standard life. This whole approach needs re-examination. The bulk of New Testament teaching on the Christian life, including the major sections on holiness, occur in letters addressed to corporate groups, to churches. All the major exhortations to holy living are plural–”we,” “you” (Ro. 6:1-23; Gal. 5:13-6:10; Eph. 4:17-6:18). Similarly all the New Testament promises of victory are corporate (1 Cor. 15:57; 1 Jn. 5:4; Rev. 15:2). In other words the apostles envisaged the Christian life and Christian sanctification in the context of a loving, caring fellowship. (Bruce Milne, Know the Truth, 94)In the place of the omni-competent Christian, we have an omni-competentChrist who zealously cleanses His imperfect Bride, the Church—for His sake,for His Father’s sake, and for the sake of the members of that Church. 19
  20. 20. And so the local church is intended to be one of the primary means of andcontexts for sanctification in the lives of individual Christians.Sadly, from years of counseling experience, I can say the overwhelmingmajority of people who come to me for counseling are not connected to alocal church in a way that practically, daily, impacts their sanctification. Stillothers are connected, but not affected.For these, I have commonly found that their local church either has (1) a lowor limited view of the process of sanctification, (2) fails to teach them how toprovide deep, caring contexts where sanctification can happen.The importance of these contexts should not be underestimated, as R. C.Sproul says, It is both foolish and wicked to suppose that we will make much progress in sanctification if we isolate ourselves from the visible church. Indeed, it is commonplace to hear people declare that they don’t need to unite with a church to be Christian. They claim that their devotion is personal and private, not institutional or corporate. This is not the testimony of the great saints of history; it is the confession of fools. (The Soul’s Quest for God 151)On the contrary, one of the core evidences of being a Christian is a uniquedevotion and affection for other Christians (cf. John 13:35). There are over30 “one another” passages in our “corporate training manual” that we callthe New Testament.You can download a list of these “one another” passages by clicking OneAnother. 1. How are you engaging your brothers and sisters in your local church, as it pertains to the one another passages? 2. Have you given your friends in your local church permission to engage you at a practical level of your sanctification as it pertains to these one another passages? 20
  21. 21. Simply reading your Bible or listening to sound preaching will not be enoughfor you to change. The Bible does not teach this idea. (Re-read the Milnequote.) In fact, the ability to engage in private study is becomingincreasingly more common and is contemporaneous with the rise of literacy-enhancing devices such as portable audio and the computer.Instead, the New Testament teaches a distinct corporate, active, andmutually engaging dynamic where change can take place. While smallgroups are not the only way to pull this off, they do provide an excellentcontext for sanctification to happen.Teaching should not be the primary activity of a small group. There is a timeand place for the teaching of God’s Word, Sunday services. But small groupsare different.Small groups are application groups: where a person takes what has beentaught on Sunday and begins to work it into the lives of people who are partof a smaller, trusted community where they are known more intimately.Incidentally, this is why a “bible study” is not a good replacement for thesmall community group.It is rare for me to counsel someone who does not know the truth (theBible), or some form of the truth. What is more common is the person whohas the knowledge, but has never been discipled to practically apply what healready knows.Too many times small groups become just another teaching venue wheregood people are filled with more knowledge, but they have not beenpractically and lovingly challenged to change and grow. This kind of mutualcare is what a small group ought to be about.Questions for reflection 1. What is the primary point of your small group? How does progressive sanctification fit into the purposes of your small group? 2. If you are married, you are part of another kind of small group, God, husband, and wife. Apply the “Quick Test” above, as it pertains to your relationship with your spouse. How does serving one another in your 21
  22. 22. sanctification workout in your marriage? Is there a freedom to care at a level that matters?3. Are you more apt to complain about your small group or more apt to seek God to help you help your small group as it pertains to building into each other’s lives at levels where change should be taking place?4. Is there biblical support for a Christian unwilling to change or uninterested in personal growth?5. Do you have a passion to change? Then you should be glad when you are challenged to grow by another Christian. Are you glad?6. Do you give permission to your small group to ask you questions, to seek explanations regarding your thoughts, motives, and actions where appropriate? Why or why not? 22
  23. 23. Chapter Three FellowshipNo matter what local church you attend, you will be challenged to find acontext where people are willingly desiring to be humble and opentransparent, honest, vulnerable, and self-disclosing about their lives withyou.This is not meant to be a harsh critique of any one church as much as acommentary on the fall of Adam, as well as my personal self-disclosureregarding how I struggle with transparency. Being humble and transparentcuts against the grain of my proud heart.It’s important to know that people will never love you the way you need tobe loved. You will have to press the issue in order to get the real help thatyou need.Here’s the Scoop on Fellowship Fellowship is a Spirit-led, humble, transparent, reciprocal community, that focuses on what God is doing in the lives of the participants.After a quarter century of being a believer, I am still challenged as I fightagainst my pride, while pursuing humility in this area of biblical fellowship.Pride easily wins out if I do not fight back. I must resist the temptation tokeep others out of my life.Several years ago I repented of my self-righteousness--and I continue torepent of this life-dominating sin--and began looking for a community ofbelievers who not only wanted to be pursued, but were willing to pursue.Rather than sitting around, expecting others to pursue me, I had to becomethe pursuer in order to find these kinds of relationships. True fellowship isnot a passive activity. True fellowship is not for the timid and true fellowshiprequires a biblical honesty that is typically uncomfortable.Sadly, many of us have come from backgrounds where this kind of honestyhas been held against us. Maybe you have not lived in grace-motivatedcontexts and, therefore, are generally untrusting of others. Maybe yourinterpretative grid on the matter of fellowship is flawed. 23
  24. 24. It is easy to be more about self-protection than self-disclosure and it cantake many years to get comfortable enough to let people into the real worldof your thought life. Unfortunately, some people never get to that place, buthopelessly choose to live in that self-torturing, dualistic life where there isdiscordance between who they know themselves to really be and the personthey project themselves to be.What is biblical fellowship?In a secular sense, I suppose it’s true that to fellowship with someone, youmust have something in common with that person. If you want to talk aboutbaseball and your friend wants to talk about Popular Mechanics, you wouldnot be able to have very strong fellowship.Inevitably, one or both of you would become frustrated because you wouldwant to talk about what interests you and he would want to talk about hiscurrent passion.Fellowship requires a common, mutually agreed upon topic in order for twopeople to benefit from the interchange.In my illustration above, I have loosely portrayed fellowship as a give-and-take that occurs when two or more people discuss any common topic thatthey both enjoy. Some people could take fellowship to mean any kind ofmutually encouraging interchange.But neither description of the word is what the Bible means when it uses theword fellowship. Biblical fellowship is an entirely different matter: biblicalfellowship does not necessarily cater to our non-sanctifying interests.In biblical fellowship, we table whatever topics we are passionate about sothat we can focus on topics that the Bible is passionate about. In fact, if wetalk about topics that we are naturally passionate (e.g., baseball, politics,etc.) at all, our goal should be to allow those topics to be a launching pointto explore and enjoy topics that the Bible is passionate about. Allow me tomove from the abstract to the personal: What do you think is the most important discussion topic in the world? 24
  25. 25. If you answer this question biblically, then the most important discussiontopic in the world is God, the central point of the Bible.Is there any topic more important than God? Of course not. Nothingsurpasses Him. No topic is better than Him. Nothing should displace Him asour main passion.As John Piper frequently points out: If we are really committed to Christ—and to our own happiness, if we really believe all of that stuff in the Bible,the most important thing in the world is knowing God and loving Him andserving Him.There is no such thing as lasting, significant joy (or lasting significantchange) outside of treasuring this truth.The common denominator in biblical fellowship is God. Fellowship means to participate together, or to communicate things we hold in common. The greatest common denominator between us as Christians is our relationship with God the Father, through God the Son, by God the Holy Spirit. This forms the content of true fellowship. Our relationship with God should be the main topic of communication within our small groups as we participate together to fulfill his purpose in the local church. (Why Small Groups? 11-12)So how do we practice this? What should our context for biblical fellowshiplook like?Fellowship requires communityFirst, let’s note that fellowship requires community. Just as you cannot havebiblical fellowship without God, you cannot have biblical fellowship without atleast one other human. And as we saw above, you can’t have biblicalfellowship without talking about God.Unlike Sunday services, small groups are excellent contexts for God’schildren to talk about Him. They are not as programmatic, which means that 25
  26. 26. group members are free to explore and probe questions that might distractfrom a service.Unlike sermons (which are like lectures in that just one person talks aboutGod), everyone gets to talk about God.Small groups provide extended time periods for believers to come togetherand dialogue about their faith. This makes it easier for believers toencourage each other. It also makes it easier to correct wrong ideas aboutGod: because wrong ideas come to the forefront in the context of a dialogue.Additionally, the limited size of the small group makes it easier for believersto keep tabs on practical ways to serve each other. Similarly, it makes iteasier for believers to see how God is at work in their lives over time. Asmall group is a robust context for God to change you and for you to makemuch of how God is at work in your lives.Two caveats: 1. God must be the central theme of your small group meetings. While no doubt a shame, it is altogether too common for Christians to come together for an extended amount of time and not talk about the most important Person in their lives. 2. You can only talk about God to the degree that you understand and experience Him. If you do not have a passionate relationship with God outside of your small group, you will not be able to participate in or enjoy the benefits of biblical fellowship within your small group.Questions for reflection 1. Do you think giving your small group permission to probe, encourage, and challenge your heart is a once and for all permission? Or is permission something that you need to give again and again? 2. Consider your own behavior: Are their non-verbal cues that give your small group a “back off” attitude? 3. What are you most passionate about? (This is a different question from “What should you be most passionate about?”) 26
  27. 27. 4. Given that a small group’s conversations revolve around the passions of its members, what do you think your small group values most? 5. At your next small group meeting ask your small group to share with you what they have observed about your passion? Ask them to tell you what you are passionate about? 6. How often does your conversation with friends center on what God is doing in your life and how you are experiencing Him? 7. When you spend extended time with another person do you purposely try to move the conversation from small talk to biblical fellowship? 8. Is it wise or biblical to seek out a small group that looks just like you? To what degree, should age, gender, race, class, or political affiliation affect your ability to enjoy biblical fellowship? Explain. 9. Are you experiencing biblical fellowship with your spouse? If you are single, do you experience this kind of biblical fellowship with your closest friends?Please make every effort to answer all the Questions to Think About, even atthe cost of moving more slowly through this ebook.10 questions to spark biblical fellowship 1. What is God doing in your life? 2. How is the grace of God working in a particular area of sin? 3. How can I help you fight the fight against sin? 4. What have you read lately that is helping you in your sanctification? 5. Will you help me in this specific area of temptation in my life? 6. How can I serve you in a specific area of sanctification in your life? 7. What has God taught you recently? 8. How have you applied to your life what God has taught you? 27
  28. 28. 9. What does it look like for a Christian to believe in the Holy Spirit? The Father? The Son? 10.How does the work of the Spirit practically manifest Himself in your life?The more you genuinely aim to practice the “one anothers” through askingthese kinds of questions, the more you will enjoy your small groupexperience. 28
  29. 29. Chapter Four The ministry of the SpiritThe gifts of the Spirit are a controversial topic in some Christian circles.There is one of two main arguments or positions that most people takeregarding the gifts of the Spirit: • Continuationist - a person who believes the gifts have continued after the days of the Apostles. • Cessationist - a person who believes the gifts ceased shortly after the time of the Apostles.I am not going to bring an amicable solution to the problem of the gifts here.That is too far-reaching and not the intent of this chapter, but I would like tobring a priority to some of the gifts of the Spirit.The real controversy seems to swirl around how many gifts are available tous today and which ones represent the more important ones. This chapterwill discuss the more important ones, by giving you my top three gifts of theSpirit, plus how and why we should pursue the Spirit of God.#1 – RegenerationI think most of us can agree that regeneration is a gift of the Spirit and if itis not possessed by someone then nothing else really matters. If I amunsaved and on my way to hell because the Spirit of God has notregenerated me, then whether I am nice in this life or can even run a smallcountry through my administrative gifting really does not matter.Jesus said, “You must be born again” (John 3:7). He was right. You must beborn again. Can we agree on this?This is the first and most blessed gift that you will ever receive from theSpirit of God. This gift allows you into a relationship with God and it also setsthe stage for you to receive all of His other gifts.#2 – HumilityI believe humility is the automatic, expected, and unstoppable heartresponse to God’s amazing grace, as experienced through the gift of 29
  30. 30. regeneration--the first gift. A Christian who really understands the first giftshould be truly stunned and amazed by the transforming power of the Spiritof God.Those who understand the Gospel and have been regenerated by the Gospelnever really “get over” the Gospel.This Spirit-given heart response to the Gospel is the primary characterquality of the heart which enables us to do everything else in life (James4:6).It most definitely sets the stage for how you practice the other gifts of theSpirit. Humility is often overlooked and generally not regarded as somethingthat needs to be pursued. At every step of our Christian development and in every sphere of our Christian discipleship, pride is the greatest enemy and humility our greatest friend. –J. R. W. Stott We cannot free ourselves from pride and selfish ambition; a divine rescue is absolutely necessary. –C. J. Mahaney Humility is honestly assessing ourselves in light of God’s holiness and our sinfulness. –C. J. Mahaney It is evident that man never attains to a true self-knowledge until he has previously contemplated the face of God and come down after such contemplation to look into himself. –John Calvin Every time we look at the cross Christ seems to be saying to us, “I am here because of you. It is your sin I am bearing, your curse I am suffering, your debt I am paying, your death I am dying.” Nothing in history or in the universe cuts us down to size like the cross. All of us have inflated views of ourselves, especially in self-righteousness, until we have visited a place called Calvary. It is there, at the foot of the cross, that we shrink to our true size.” –J. R. W. Stott Fill your affections with the cross of Christ. –John Owen 30
  31. 31. I do not ever want to forget what God did for me at the cross. It ishumbling. I am grateful for His kindness to me.#3 – ServingWhile humility is the expected and stunning heart response to the first gift ofregeneration, serving is how we model or mirror a behavioral response tothe first gift.Jesus said that He did not come here to be served, but to serve (Mark10:45). The Savior was constantly observing, looking for how He could blessothers. The most profound act of service the Savior performed for the worldwas giving His life on the cross. This act set the stage for us to receive thefirst gift of regeneration. It also gave us an example to follow (1 Peter2:21-25).What more profound thing could any person do than give his life for you?There is no love greater than this: a man who would die for others (John15:13).Though we probably will not be called to die for another person, we can giveour lives up on a daily basis for others.In our home we talk about this by saying, in a tongue-in-cheek fashion thatno one is allowed to “out serve” the other person. We call it a “race to thebottom.” We’re continually on the prowl, seeking how to “out serve” theother person.This kind of serving is impossible to sustain in a grace-filled enviornment,and I do mean impossible, without the first gift of regeneration and secondgift of humility.If you hope to have a dynamic small group experience, then this kind ofministry of the Spirit must be your life’s breath.Pursuing the giftsWhile I hope to not neglect the pursuit of any gift that God has for me, I doseek to maintain a steady effort regarding the practical implications andapplications of these first three gifts. 31
  32. 32. These first three are the ones that set the table for how I respond to life.And because it is so hard to accomplish this, I ask my wife and small groupto help me in this endeavor to do these three things: 1. Never forget the Gospel - Gift #1 2. Seek to walk in humility - Gift #2 3. Constantly find opportunities to serve - Gift #3Though I cannot lose the first gift, because it is a gift, I can be less affectedby this gift. When this happens, the second gift tends to lose itseffectiveness in my heart and mind.Drifting from the cross not only loosens humility’s grip on me, but I becomemore self-absorbed, self-centered, self-promoting and self-serving.I believe that if every Christian wholeheartedly pursued these three gifts,that it would radically change our families, churches, and nations, whilebringing unimaginable glory to God.The Spirit of God is not only the Father’s gift to His church but the Spirit inturn gives us many other gifts in addition to the three I have mentioned.Take a minute to read these passages regarding the gifts of the Spirit: • 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, 28; • Ephesians 4:11; • Romans 12:6-8; and • 1 Peter 4:11.There are many gifts of the Spirit and, as you may have surmised, theSunday corporate meeting can be limited as far as providing a context forthe entire church body to exercise and encourage one another with thesegifts of the Spirit.Small groups, however, is a much better context for each member of thebody to express their giftings. 32
  33. 33. Commune and expect - Don’t grieve and quenchI’m not sure how much time Christians have invested in thinking about theHoly Spirit. In my small Christian world, discussions about the Spirit of Godtend to be fear-motivated argumentation rather than exploring how to berobust Trinitarians.I’m not (necessarily) speaking for the larger body of Christ, but too manytimes we affirm the doctrine of the Holy Spirit intellectually, yet in practicewe treat Him like a weird uncle.All the while, Trinitarian passages like the following tend to be overlooked: The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:14)Let me draw your attention to four imperatives that ought to permeate yourpractical interaction with the Spirit:Commune – Do you commune or have fellowship with the Holy Spirit? Doyou appreciate Him? Do you talk to Him? Do you love Him?Do you thank Him for His work in your life? In order to fully express the giftsthat He has given to you, you must have a vibrant relationship with Him.Expect – When you attend your small group, do you expect the Spirit ofGod to work in the lives of the members of the group? Are you eagerlyanticipating the Spirit to do something? What a difference expectation can make as we begin our small group meetings! It can be the difference between a life changing encounter with God and a superficial time together with no immediate or eternal benefit. When each member comes expecting the Holy Spirit to reveal and refresh, together we taste the power of the age to come. (C. J. Mahaney)Don’t grieve – By not responding to our sin (as we are made aware of it),we grieve the Spirit of God. If we are enjoying biblical fellowship with eachother, in the context of a small group, then there will be many God-ordainedopportunities to have your sin exposed. 33
  34. 34. In these moments of conviction we can experience the privilege ofresponding to God by not grieving His Spirit. It is very instructive that it is in the context of inter-personal relationships that Paul wrote his warning, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God” (Ephesians 4:30). (Jerry Bridges)Because small groups are inter-personal relationships, the group context canbe a boon or a bust, depending on how we respond to the work of the HolySpirit in our lives.Don’t quench – Are you stirring up the gifts that the Spirit has given toyou? Are you exhorting and encouraging others to use the gifts that theSpirit has given to them?Wayne Grudem urges us to cultivate a mindset that notices and highlightsthe activity of the Spirit in the lives of believers: We must recognize that these activities of the Holy Spirit are not to be taken for granted, and they do not just happen automatically among God’s people. Rather, the Holy Spirit reflects the pleasure or displeasure of God with the faith and obedience–or unbelief and disobedience–of God’s people. The Holy Spirit gives stronger or weaker evidence of the presence and blessing of God, according to our response to him. (Systematic Theology 635)You should take note, as my Baptist brothers say, “God laid something onmy heart,” that when He does, it’s time to respond to Him. Without theempowering activity of the Holy Spirit, our small group meetings will becomeshallow (as we flounder aimlessly toward unknown goals) or else over-wrought (as we bludgeon each other into conformity with the Word of Godby sheer grit).Questions for reflection 1. Gospel - Has God regenerated you? NOT have you asked Jesus into your heart, but have you been regenerated, born from above? 34
  35. 35. 2. Humility - Are you daily amazed at what God did by regenerating you? How does your salvation impact your heart? Answer this last question practically.3. Serving - Are you daily seeking to model his humility by serving others, particularly those in your immediate family? How do your family members reflect you in the area of serving? Ask your spouse or close friend to help you to answer this last question. 35
  36. 36. Chapter Five The cure for shallow small group lifeConsider “Joe.” A regular small group attendee, Joe asked his group’s leaderif he could meet him for breakfast. He wanted to share with him a complaintabout their small group: Joe felt the group was not progressing toward anymeaningful goal and, from his perspective, he knew why.The following week they met and Joe shared several illustrations about howthe group seemed to be stuck in a superficial mode. He said no one showedany interest in getting real.This complaint of Joe’s is one of the more common complaints about smallgroup life. Through the years I have heard many small group participantsvocalize similar concerns. Here are a few (imaginary) grievances: “We meet to go through a book or watch a video and nobody really says anything. I keep my mouth shut and leave frustrated.” (Sue) “My husband and I have been struggling for years, but there is no way I would say anything about it in our group. We’d be the only ones with problems.” (Carol) “It’s a lack of transparency, if you ask me. These guys ain’t about to get transparent.” (Jim) “I would say something, but if they knew what was going on in my heart, they wouldn’t associate with me.” (Glenda) “I shared one time, when I was really struggling through something and the group gave me pat answers, shared some Scriptures, but weren’t really any help. I felt embarrassed for weeks after sharing. I learned from that experience to keep my mouth shut about things that mattered.” (Wallace)A number of years ago I led a small group and over a 12-month period everycouple in the small group came to me complaining about the lack oftransparency in the group. I found it a bit humorous that everyone in the 36
  37. 37. group voiced the same concerns, but no one in the group knew what theother members of the group were thinking and saying.Fortunately, God gave us grace as the group changed into a dynamiccommunity that was willing to delve into nearly any personal problem as wewere strengthened by the context of loving and caring friends.There were several things we needed to do in order to turn this group fromjust another innocuous social gathering to a Christ-like caring community ofdisciple-makers.Understand and live in the GospelBefore you can enjoy a loving, meaningful, and intrusive relationship withanother human being, you both need to have an in-depth understanding,experience, and practice of the Gospel in your personal lives.If you do not have a personal and practical experience of the Gospel in yourlives, then it will be nearly impossible to have a sustaining and meaningfulrelationship with another person.The Gospel is Christ—all that He was, is, and will be, plus all that He did, isdoing, and will do. In short, the Gospel is the person and work of Christ. Themore we understand Christ, are affected by Christ, and apply Christ to ourlives, the more our relationships will be transformed by the power of theGospel.Look at what He did: He humbled himself (Philippians 2:5-10) by leaving therelationships that He was comfortable with and entered into a context wherethe relationships needed to change. Christ is a great model for us as weparticipate in His Church.Rather than waiting and expecting these new relationships to changethemselves, He showed Gospel-initiative by being the one to bring aboutchange and did so primarily by discussing, teaching, and modeling what itlooked like to have a dynamic relationship with God, because you cannotmodel what you do not have.So the first step in having a dynamic small group is to commit to building adynamic personal relationship with God. In order to have a dynamic 37
  38. 38. relationship with God you must be affected by the Gospel. The Gospel isGod’s plan for changing His church; it is the power of God unto salvationAND sanctification!But there is a definite sense in which you cannot be an agent of Gospel-change until you are changed: If you don’t possess it, you can’t export it.Model the GospelWhatever you want your small group to be like, then you must model thatkind of life before them. This principle is not limited to the functioning ofsmall groups; it has as much to do with the running of small groups as itdoes with running every other part of the Christian race.For example, consider the issue of parenting. It is obvious that parents mustpractice what they preach. How effective would it be for a parent to ask achild to confess and repent of their sin if the parent does not model andpractice the same?Moreover, the bible makes it quite clear that if a parent wants a child to loveGod with all his heart, soul, and mind, (cf. Matthew 22:36-40) then thatparent must own this truth by modeling what she is trying to export (1 Cor.11:1; Eph. 5:1).I want my children to have a dynamic relationship with Christ. I want themto be honest and transparent with me and God. I want them to walk inhumility and integrity. I want them to be accountable to me and others.Therefore, I must not only teach them what to do, but I must show them theway by my example.A picture is worth a thousand wordsWhat is true of the household is also true of the small group. For a moment,let’s consider the small group the Savior led: It was a 13 person men’sgroup. The members had no vision for what He wanted.They were selfish, conniving, sinfully ambitious, critical, and easily swayedtoward the sinful opinions of others. Christ was the only person who had theright vision for the small group. 38
  39. 39. How did the Savior shape this group? Jesus patiently exported His life tothem. It took Him three years to whip this bunch into shape. It would be anunderstatement to say it took a lot of blood, sweat, and tears.But in spite of the cost, Jesus patiently and carefully loved and served Hisdisciples as He shaped them into the most dynamic small group in thehistory of the church.In time, all of the members (except one) of His small group became smallgroup leaders. As they modeled what Christ taught them, they forged otherleaders. This message was not lost on their generation. Listen to how one ofthe leaders of that generation spoke about himself and the work of Christiandiscipleship—as he coached another leader of his generation: And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. (2 Timothy 2:2)The issue of modeling the Gospel is very important. It was important to theFather—or else we would not have had the earthly ministry of the Son. Itwas important to Son—or we would not have had the ministry of Hisdisciples.One of the interesting things about the four Gospels in the New Testament isthat none of them were written in “real time,” as the stories were unfolding.They were all written after the fact. And what was written? All that thedisciples saw Jesus do and say. They considered it of paramount importanceto deliver to us the life the Savior modeled before them.Christ affected people by His words and by His example. If you want to seeyour small group go from a superficial social gathering to a Christ-centered,caring community of disciple-makers, then let me encourage you to beginwith the following key ideas: Key Idea #1 – Before you can enjoy a loving, meaningful, and intrusive relationship with another human being, be sure you have an in-depth understanding, experience, and practice of the Gospel in your life. 39
  40. 40. Key Idea #2 – In whatever way you discern that a member of your small group ought to change, you model that changed kind of life before him or her—in prayerful dependence on strength and timing from God.Questions for reflection 1. Are you amazed that Christ died for you? Why? 2. Do the realities of the Gospel practically affect your daily life? 3. The more you realize the depth of your darkness before Christ came into your life, the more your appreciation for the Gospel will shine. 4. What are some particular ways that God has forgiven you? 5. Jesus said that whoever has been forgiven much loves much. How has God’s grace grown your gratitude? 6. Does receiving the grace of the Gospel in the particular ways you have received it inspire you to penetrate the “darkness” of others in order to impact them for Christ? 7. Do you see yourself as a person on a Gospel-centered mission when you go to your small group meetings? 8. How would you like to see your small group whipped into shape? Are you leading the charge? The adage is “practice what you preach.” 9. When you think about modeling the life you want your small group to emulate, what fears run through your mind? What doubts? 10. What specific ways do you need to change in order to model the life of Christ before your group? 11. Do you see the weaknesses of your group as “their problem,” “our problem,” or “my problem?” Explain your answer. 40
  41. 41. Chapter Six How to do small group life togetherJoe was genuinely concerned about what he termed the “shallowness” of hissmall group. Though shallow was probably not the best way to describe hisgroup, I understood what he was trying to say.Joe cared for the people in his group and was seeking a way to be part ofthe solution for a group that was not going anywhere as far as personal andgroup sanctification was concerned.Here’s what I got out of Joe’s description of the group: The group was stuckand no one knew how to change it. With that in mind, I suggested a simple“three step” process for Joe to consider. The first two “steps” are the twoprinciples I shared with you above: Step #1 – Before you can enjoy a loving, meaningful, and intrusive relationship with another human being, be sure you have an in-depth understanding, experience, and practice of the Gospel in your life. Step #2 – In whatever way you discern that a member of your small group ought to change, model that changed kind of life before him or her —in prayerful dependence on strength and timing from God. Step #3 – To go beyond shallow interactions, a small group must do life together and openly exalt the wonders of God in both speech and practice.Consider J. I. Packer’s take on these three steps: Fellowship demands that we share with our fellow-believers the things that God has made known to us about himself, in hope that we may thus help them to know him better and so enrich their fellowship with him. Fellowship is, secondly, a seeking to share what God has made known of himself to others, as a means to finding strength, refreshment, and instruction for one’s own soul.Notice how Packer makes a priority of broadly sharing what God has donefor us, to us, and through us. 41
  42. 42. Enjoying, sharing, and doing life together:We will now consider some important ways to share our Christianexperience:Worship together – A small group cannot rise above a person’s personalrelationship with God; and how you express your affection to God, in thecontext of your small group, is an indication of the true nature of yourrelationship with God.Do you have the freedom to lift your hands and worship God in the companyof your spouse, children, and small group? Though it does not really matterwhere you put your hands, it does matter where your heart is regarding yourpersonal and corporate worship of God.I’m using the word “hands” more as an idea of an untethered, uninhibited,and unashamed lifestyle that reaches far beyond the sound of music. This isa matter of the heart and how it is linked to the Father.Are you more concerned about what others may think of you when you areexpressing your affection to God in a corporate context or are you morecontrolled by the opinion of God?Pray together – Spiritual intimacy will be enhanced or exposed by thequantity and quality of the praying that goes on in your life, family, andsmall group.Do you have the freedom to go to any person in your small group and askthem to pray for you regarding specific issues in your life? Would you saythat the relationships that you have with your small group are characterizedas prayerful relationships?Carry each other’s burdens – Closely tied to praying with and for yoursmall group is the task of carrying each other’s burdens. Recently I askedone of the couples in our small group to share their longstanding conflict intheir marriage.Because they are humble, they willingly shared how they have regularlystruggled for over two decades in their marriage. Every marriage has atleast one issue that they regularly have to work through. 42
  43. 43. Are you aware of those issues with each couple in your group? You cannotcarry their burdens unless you know what their burdens are.Confess your sins to each another– It is impossible for a group to be realwith each another if there is not a mutual agreement to be transparent.Imagine going to a hospital and refusing to tell the medical staff the natureof your sickness or injury. It is just as illogical to attend a small group andnot share your sins and struggles.Are you the number one sin confessor in your group? Does your small groupknow your sin? See James 5:16.Correct each other – Continuing my “hospital analogy” above, imagine ifthe medical staff knew what the problem was, but withheld the informationfrom you, the information that would aid you in recovering from your illness.Similarly, it is sinful not to serve your brothers and sisters when they needyour loving and appropriate correction. Do you have the freedom to lovinglycorrect your brother or sister in your small group? Do you make it yourpractice to be compassionately bold for the sake of the Gospel with fellowbelievers?Serve each other – When you go to your small group meeting or thinkabout your small group members do you immediately begin to think of waysyou can practically serve them (outside of carrying burdens)?You will serve them according to the degree that you know and love them?How would you describe your knowledge and love for each member of yoursmall group?Do you lovingly press into them, in order to get to know them so you caneffectively and practically serve them?Use your gifts with and for each other– How has God gifted you? Whatare your gifts? A small group is like a machine with many parts— each parthas a significant role.There is no place in small group life for passivity. How aggressive andspontaneous are you in sharing the spiritual gifts that God has given you? 43
  44. 44. Sit down with your spouse or a dear friend and reflectively walk through thelist above, beginning with worship together. Share with them your fears andconcerns regarding areas where you need to grow and change.Then give them permission to speak into your life about their observationsregarding the elements above. If you do this, then you will be doing lifetogether at a level that really matters.Things that will keep you from doing life togetherWhile it is crucial that every small group member knows how to be proactivein building healthy small groups, it is just as important that they becomeeducated about what can kill a small group.The book Why Small Groups? covers this topic well, but I would add to thegood beginning laid down there by providing another vantage point on thefour problematic attitudes that John Loftness lays down in chapter two:1. Self-sufficiency – Two common traits of the self-sufficient person are alack of prayer and a lack of intimate human relationship. The former says, “Ido not need God, therefore I do not pray consistently.”The latter says, “I do not need people, therefore I do not allow others intomy secret world.”Both of these individualistic attitudes will isolate a person from God andman; they can kill any small group. You cannot “do life together” if you donot press yourself into the life of God and others.This is part of how the two greatest commandments work out in our lives.Jesus said we should love God and our neighbor as the two greatestcommandments (cf. Matthew 22:36-40).One of the ways we do this is by humbling ourselves so we can developmeaningful relationships with God and man.2. Formality – Cultural expectations and practices can be death to a smallgroup. While politeness can be appropriate, it can also be deadly. I’ve heardpeople say, “Don’t talk about your private lives with other people.” There isno biblical warrant to support this notion. 44
  45. 45. In fact, the purpose of the Gospel is to intrude into lives in order to redeemthem. Similarly, the point of a Gospel-centered small group experience is togo beyond the superficialities of our lives in order to get deeply involved witheach other.Furthermore, biblical fellowship is a spiritual activity. It requires theSpirit. John 3:8 gives us a hint as to the work and ways of the Spirit of God: The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.Though you plan and have an agenda for your small group meetings, a wiseleader will be listening, observing, and responding to the Spirit of God.Counseling is the same way: You have a plan, but you are subject to God,who may want to take the meeting or counseling session in a differentdirection.At times rigid expectations and formality must acquiesce to the work thatGod wants to accomplish in your group.3. Bitterness – The following is a list of some of the more common bittercomments that can kill a small group: • I studied for the meeting and we never talked about the book. • They spent the whole time talking about Jim’s issues. I never got a chance to talk. • Marge dominates the conversation. It doesn’t matter what the topic is, she always has something to say. • Why can’t we start on time? • I don’t like any of those songs. • It doesn’t make sense that they let Bill lead this group. • I think her husband (or her wife) is _________. • All the mature people should get together in a different group so that we don’t get hung up with all of these “basic” problems that the new people are having. 45
  46. 46. Notice how these bitter comments are dominated by a fixation on self.Somehow, the bitter person has been marginalized—he or she didn’t get hisor her fair share, or wasn’t able to shine, or found that their expectationsweren’t met. At its root, bitterness is wounded pride. Consider how humilitycould redress the situation—or have prevented it in the first place.Also, mark how restoration could not occur unless the bitter person openlyadmitted his or her bitterness.4. Elitism – As the last sentiment on the list of the bitter comments abovemakes clear, bitterness is often tied to elitism. The biblical term for elitism isself-righteousness. Self-righteousness is a “greater than” or “better than”attitude that chokes the life out of a small group.One of the more common ways elitism makes its way into small group life isthrough a lack of sharing. Typically a man who does not share the real issuesof his life is overly concerned about how others will think about him.The non-sharer takes a high view of himself and he does not want others tothink less of him. This, of course, is a mockery of the Gospel.The Gospel says we are the worst of the worst. We are broken and none ofus are righteous at all. The non-righteous man will cry out for thetransforming power of the Gospel.He couldn’t care less about what anyone thinks of him. His desire is to statethe obvious regarding the reality of his soul so he can experience and enjoythe grace that God offers.Questions for reflection: 1. Self-sufficiency – Do you really believe that you need the members in your small group? 2. Do you believe that God thinks this too? 3. What real circumstances could you point to that demonstrate how you have relied on and yearned for the care of others in your small group? 4. Formality – Are you sensitive to the work of the Spirit? 46
  47. 47. 5. Can you discern Him and are you comfortable going with Him, especially when He goes in a direction you did not anticipate?6. Bitterness – Are you more apt to complain about what is wrong with your group?7. Or are you more apt to pray for your group, while engaging them to help them change?8. Elitism – Is there anyone in your group you do not care for?9. What if God treated you that way? Share your thoughts with another.10. Will you ask God to change your heart toward that person and then seek to build a relationship with them? 47
  48. 48. Chapter Seven Rent to ownAs you have no doubt noticed, small group life is not a spectator sport. Inorder for a small group to thrive, it requires every participant to be fullyinvolved. Without complete involvement by all of its members, the smallgroup will not flourish.Ponder this striking insight from Greg Somerville: Suppose R. C. Sproul taught your small group, Larnelle Harris led worship, Billy Graham oversaw evangelistic outreach, and Mother Teresa coordinated your service projects. Wouldn’t that be fantastic? Can you imagine the potential your group would have? Actually, by my definition, the group would almost certainly fail. For in the shadow of such gifted leaders, you would be tempted to leave ministry to “experts” and neglect your own responsibility. And small groups don’t succeed unless the entire group is working together. (Why Small Groups? 34)A successful small group does not necessarily need a gifted leader. Asuccessful group must have committed participants who are activelypursuing one another in practical love.If the members of the group are practically applying the Word of God to theirlives, enjoying biblical fellowship with each other, and are passionatelydevoted to pursuing God, then the chances of the group being healthy andvibrant are high (Somerville).What this implies is that you must own your small group. Giving andreceiving care is not for the experts. It’s your job; it’s your small group.Take the rent or own test! 1. Do you own your small group or are you a renter? 2. Do you show up on time for small group? 48
  49. 49. 3. Do you prepare during the week for your small group meeting? 4. Do you pray for your small group members? 5. Do you expect God to do wonderful things during group? 6. Are you ready and eager to share in your group? 7. Are you aware of your role and expectation as a small group member? 8. Do you regularly confess your sins to your small group? 9. Do you regularly encourage other small group members who are struggling? 10.Are you quick to volunteer for serving opportunities?Why does it matter?While most small group members are well aware of the role of their leader,they are usually not aware of their responsibilities, roles, and jobdescriptions as members.Too many small group members do not understand the simple and clearteaching in Scripture about how the whole body must “step up to the plate”in order to ensure the overall health of the body. As Paul urges, [Model yourself after Christ] from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:16) And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25)The gift of poor leadershipIt has been said that a chain is no stronger than its weakest link. Similarly asmall group will be held back by its weakest member. If small group life isgoing to be dynamic, then all of the participants in the group must becommitted to the vision and the purpose of the group. 49
  50. 50. Guess what?My children say to me often, “Hey Daddy, guess what?” Their question putsme on the defensive. I have no clue as to what they want me to guess.I realize their question is a colloquial way of saying, “I’m about to tell yousomething that you do not know.” They are not really asking me to “guesswhat.”However, in a small group setting, you do not want to keep your small groupleader on the defensive, unsure about what you are thinking. He’s not thatgreat of a leader. He cannot read your mind.Don’t leave him guessing, so go ahead and tell him what is on your heart;let him in on the secrets of your life so he can serve you. Only God knowsthe thoughts and intentions of your heart, not your small group leader. Wemust learn to cry with David, Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139:23-24)Do not let pride deprive your small group of your contributions. Open yourmouth and share with your group what is going on in your heart and life.Your group leader is not your pastor and, therefore, his gifting is not asbroad and deep as your pastor. Let him off the hook by coming alongsidehim through group participation.How to complement his limitations:Open your mouth in group – Dead air can be death to a group. Whilebeing quiet is not a sin, cowardice is. If you are struggling with the fear ofman (Proverbs 29:25), then ask God to give you the grace to speak up inyour group. Plan on being the first one to comment at your next small groupmeeting.Meet with your group members outside of your group – Buildingoutside of your group is a great way to make your group meetings dynamic.The better you know your group members, the easier it is to participate in 50
  51. 51. the group. Pray and plan for ways you can meet outside of your group withthe people in your group.Be constructive, not destructive – Are you more apt to complain orexpress gratitude? The answer to this question will reveal the condition ofyour heart. Are you more grateful or more critical?Tell your small group leader what you like about your group. Encourage him.His job is not easy. He is more aware of his limitations than you are. A littleencouragement can go a long way.Be dependable – Do you value your small group? Do the weekly orbiweekly meetings have priority on your calendar? Have you ever planned anevent and people were either late or did not show up or showed up abouthalf the time?This can suck the energy out of small group life. Be on time. Let others knowhow much you value and cherish this time. Your faithful attendance will go along way in encouraging your small group leader.Volunteer to serve – Use your gifts in your small group. Ask your smallgroup leader how you can serve the small group. Open your home formeetings. Volunteer for the childcare rotation.Use your administrative gifts to assist your small group leader. Sendencouraging emails to members of your group. Pray for your group membersand let them know that you prayed for them. How can you serve your smallgroup according to your gifts?The most gifted head is useless without a body. Bless your small groupleader by working hard to make the group a success!Questions for reflection 1. From the list above, how do you need to change? 2. Will you share with your small group how God spoke to you through this chapter? ...through this eBook? 3. What is the greatest need for improvement in your group? How can you help? 51
  52. 52. 4. Ask your group their perception of you: are you a renter or an owner?5. Are you willing to reveal your secrets to your small group? Why or why not?6. Who is more responsible for the success of your small group? You or your leader?7. What are some specific ways you need to change in order to make your small group a success? 52
  53. 53. Chapter Eight Your leader’s jobSmall groups do have—and need leaders. The typical leader is an unpaid,part-time, volunteer employee of his local church. His primary responsibility,outside of his personal sanctification, is the pursuit of his wife in order tocare for her in a similar way in which Christ is caring for His church,(Ephesians 5:25).His next responsibility is to model the Christ-life before his children (if hehas children) in order to motivate them in their relationship with God.Of course with these three responsibilities of self, wife, and children comes avery long list of periphery necessities that assist him in fulfilling his primaryresponsibilities.For example, he works a full-time job to provide for his family. He serves inother ways in his local church. He may mow the lawn, take out the trash,wash the vehicles, belong to a gym, have a hobby, watch TV, have friendsover to his home, and attend events for his children, ad infinitum.And, in his spare time, he jumps in to serve his wife with her unending list ofchores. I’m sure he could add many other things to this list as well.Plus, he is your small group leader!Though you will never hear him complain about his role as your small groupleader (because he carries you in his heart) he does feel the weight ofresponsibility in his care for you as he juxtaposes his affection for you withthe time constraints in his life.His qualifications to be your small group leader are not equal to thequalifications of your pastor. The small group leader’s qualifications revolvearound his… Character: who he is before God; Affection: his love for the body of Christ; and Desire: his eagerness to bring God’s Word to bear on those under his care. 53
  54. 54. Ultimately, he wants to live out the Gospel in his life by modeling the chiefcharacteristic of the Gospel, which is serving others. (See Mark10:45 and Philippians 2:5-11.)You may ask, “What is the small group leader supposed to do?” It isimportant to put his obligations in perspective. The following is a list of someof his responsibilities:He extends the pastoral ministry of your church – Though your smallgroup leader is not your pastor, he is a vital participant in how your pastorprovides care for you.The small group leader is a “mini-pastor.” Ephesians 4:11-12 teaches us thatthe pastor’s role is to equip the Christians so they can do the work of theministry.A wise pastor spends part of his time equipping his leaders (small groupleaders if he has them) so they can do the work of the ministry.This not only prepares more leaders for the overall care of the church, but itallows the pastor to focus on his other duties, especially preparing anddelivering God’s Word.He provides a context where sanctification can take place – Sundaymorning is not the best time and place for real authentic care to happenbecause the Sunday church scene is not designed for that. However, a smallgroup context is an excellent solution to address the sanctification needs ofthe people.Sunday morning is an ideal time for hungry Christians to be fed, but thesehungry Christians need more than Sunday morning in order to work out theirsalvation. A context of loving and caring friends set aside for this purpose isessential not only for individuals to grow, but for any local church to grow.He applies God’s Word to the lives of the small group – Knowledgewithout application leads to empty-hearted arrogance. It is rare for me,through my counseling ministry, to teach the people I counsel newinformation. 54
  55. 55. The majority of the people I counsel know what to do, but they arefrustrated in that they do not know how to apply God’s Word practically totheir lives. Counseling is not a teaching ministry as much as it is anapplication ministry.On the other hand, preaching is more of a proclamation ministry than anapplication ministry. Small groups are an excellent context to take the Wordthat is preached on Sunday morning and apply it to the lives of the churchmembers on small group night. A good leader is an application guy.He facilitates growth, care, and relationships among the members –Success in a small group is not measured by the size of the group, howmany groups you spawn or how many times you meet during the year.A successful small group is a group that is increasingly dying to sin, whileincreasingly growing toward Christ-likeness. This objective will resonate witha small group leader and he will be determined to ensure his group ismortifying and sanctifying.Obviously, this is a tall order for any person—especially considering yourleader’s personal and family responsibilities. Your small group leaderprobably needs a hug. Have you hugged your leader today? He may be tired.Let him know, feel, and experience your gratitude for him.The leader’s purpose: applicationWisdom is the application of knowledge. A wise man not only knows hisBible, but he knows how to apply the Bible to his everyday life.Many Christians know a lot about the Bible, but where we all need help ishow to practically bring the words of that very old book into our modern dayliving rooms and lives.Knowing the truth does not automatically imply that we will live by the truth—the former does not assure the latter.Knowledge acquisition, as profitable as it can be, is a world apart fromknowledge application. Several years ago, a professor I had gave me auseful definition of wisdom. He said that wisdom is knowledge applied. 55

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