A Big Deal about Small Groups
By Chris McRae, BCI Discipleship Team Leader
Continuing this series of articles about the possibilities for church life with a well done Small Group ministry, the emphasis of focus today is the aspect of perseverance. No matter how many times we “start over,” it seems there is a tendency for our enthusiasm to flag and our efforts to wane. Getting started may be the hard part. Keeping on is harder still. Fresh enthusiasm fuels early efforts and carries us through initial struggles. However, when the days grow long and the hours weary the soul, it is natural to cut corners, to take the easy road, or simply to sit down and rest. Troubles inevitably enter our lives and we can do nothing to avoid them. During these times our primary need is someone who will come alongside us and exhort us or encourage us to carry on towards becoming the person we know God has called us to be. In Small Group there is discussion about the truths we know, we then join together in a greater integration of truth to life. And real spiritual maturity results in bearing fruit.
Small Groups Aid Ongoing Growth
In an address to a group of students at a Back to the Bible Camp in Nebraska during the 1950’s a young man spoke on the topic of productive ministry. The title of his message has become the classic: “Born to Reproduce.” In this “Passionate Call to Maturity, Spiritual Reproduction and Spiritual Parenting to Help Fulfill The Great Commission,” Dawson Trotman outlined three reasons for an organism’s failure to reproduce. The first, he noted was an inherent immaturity. There is a right and natural time for procreation. It comes with spiritual development. Additionally, Trotman pointed to debilitating sickness as a reason for the lack of reproduction. A believer deficient in spiritual health will not reap a harvest. Finally, he observed that a simple unwillingness can keep one from generating offspring. One must be regularly engaged in the activity that brings about the fruit of righteousness. Each of these hindrances to spiritual reproduction is addressed in a vibrant connection of like-hearted men and women who are committed to living life together and urging one another toward the love and good deeds to which they’ve been called.
If there is a measure of maturity, if there is inherent health, if there is a willingness, then reproduction is the expected, normal outcome of life. It is anticipated that the growing, healthy, willing Christian will produce spiritual fruit.
The question becomes: What is meant by spiritual fruit? There are four ways that Small Group life can assist the believer in his journey toward becoming a fruit-bearing disciple of Jesus.
Bearing the Fruit of the Spirit
When we live according to the Spirit rather than according to our own self-seeking desires we experience life as the Father intended. To the people of the church in Galatia, Paul wrote that living God’s way brings about godly results. He observed that when the Spirit of love permeates our lives, we bear the fruit of joyous days and tranquil nights. We are empowered to hang tough in the tough times. With a gentle spirit, we are able to visibly demonstrate the presence of God in acts of kindness and compassion. We can order our lives and direct our energies in holy ways towards the wholeness of life for which we were created.
In Small Group covenant relationships, we connect with others in loyal commitments that see us on our good days and in our bad ways. We don’t need to push others aside to make our own way in the world because others make room for us as we do for them also. We don’t have to demand attention because we are able to give attention to the one who is truly in need.
Bearing the Fruit of Christ-like Character
The attitude of Christ is born in the fruit of the Spirit out of a transformed character. We not only think as Jesus thought and do as Jesus did, but we also become as Jesus is. He taught with authority commanding obedience, demanding allegiance. These were in line with his own character. He also talked of the qualities that marked his character and were to be evident in our lives as well. When we empty ourselves of our self we make room for God’s reign. When we put aside the things that we most desperately cling to, we find our souls most deeply satisfied. When we learn deep contentment in this world, we find out that we can neither be bought nor sold by the world and we are set free indeed. When our hunger is for God, we learn to tame the cravings for attention and power and ease.
In group life we are able to turn our attention away from ourselves onto others and in the process we find that others genuinely care for us as well. With our hearts put right in community, we begin to see God at work in our larger world. Then, finding our place in God’s family, we begin to show others the way of peace.
It would be dishonest to suggest that authentic biblical community is an ideal utopia. Commitment to God and his ways will always provoke troublesome responses. But together, we are drawn deeper into God’s presence. The world will attack but heaven will applaud. No matter what the world may say or think — others may forget, and lose confidence, or turn their backs, but we stand strong together.
Bearing the Fruit of an Effective, Productive Life
The world tells us we need to go along to get along. We must never rock the boat or make waves. But the great transformation, the great exchange of his life for our life, means that everything has changed. A life of pleasing God is the call and the charge we’ve been given. But we haven’t been left alone to accomplish the miraculous. Everything necessary for this life has been given to us by the One who invited us to God. Participation in the life of God means that we build on what Christ has done, complementing his completed work with our simple faith. By faith we are molded into his good character.
In Small Groups we observe, learn, practice and live out this spiritual transformation confirming God’s invitation to life as he intended. This is no solitary pursuit. With like-hearted brothers and sisters we grow in passion and reverence and understanding and discipline and love. We are to live effective, productive lives marked by practical behaviors that comport to the character of Christ. We can do this in community because we witness to the reality that the old way of living has been done away with in Christ.
Bearing the Fruit of Multiplied Influence
A disciple of Jesus Christ makes disciples of Jesus Christ. It cannot be more simply put than that. Having responded to the call of God the Father and in faith having been born again according to the will of the Holy Spirit, we find our identity in Christ. In counting the cost of our commitment to him we make the choice to love our God above all else, to prefer him over any other enticements and to align our lives according to his character and his commands. We do this by making his living, active word our native land, the place in which we choose to dwell. In that land we learn an abiding love for other believers who also have been brought out of the kingdom of darkness and into this land of light where together we productively harvest the fruit of righteous living. As a result, we eventually learn that the world will have none of it and will rise against us in utter hatred. Though our tendency is to strike out and hit back, we relinquish our rights, take up our cross and follow Jesus to the death. Having taken on the heart attitude or our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ we there await the resurrection of the dead and life eternal.
This is about community. None stands alone in the kingdom of our Savior. We are brothers and sisters together. We assist one another along the way. We need each other. And the things which we’ve heard and seen and known, which we’ve observed lived out in real life together, we pass this reality on to dependable individuals who in their turn are competent to teach others too to obey all that Jesus commanded. It is thus that our influence is multiplied.
A Fruitful Life
A fruitless life is one that is marked by self-effort. A fruitless life comes from relying on natural abilities, skills and talents. A fruitless life is a frustrating life, akin to chasing the wind — we were created to bear fruit, abundant fruit, lasting fruit. Abiding in the Vine is what it’s all about. Connected to the source of Life, drinking from the fountain of Living Water, we experience real life as the Father intends for his children. In Small Group experiences we are moved from a barren life of fruitlessness to a fertile life marked by abundant ministry in this world for the glory of God.
An audio copy of the address “Born To Reproduce” is archived at: http://turret2.discipleshiplibrary.com/1A.mp3