A Big Deal about Small Groups
By Chris McRae, BCI Discipleship Team Leader
This is the third in a series of articles that examines reasons for the dynamism that takes place in the life and ministry of a church through small groups. When a church commits energy and resources to implement and support a small group strategy, effective engagement occurs. In the previous post we considered the observation that small groups effectively answered the real need for authentic community. In small group life, people get to know one another well, their lives become interconnected in positive ways, and they end up genuinely caring for one another — fulfilling Christ’s command to love. In today’s edition we will consider the reality that lives are changed and Christ-likeness results, as churches commit themselves to doing small groups well.
Small Groups Facilitate Life Transformation
Making a commitment to follow Christ as a believer is not the end of the journey. We are called to something far grander. Indeed, it is the expectation of God our Father, we become like his son Jesus. Born again, re-created as it were, we are to be conformed to the very image of Christ. This means that we cannot stay the same. We must be changed. By the power of the Holy Spirit, now alive in us, we are to take on the same heart as Christ himself displayed. We are to become someone different than we have been before. As valuable as small groups can be for true community, perhaps the greatest value is seen in how these are used as means to accomplish the ultimate goal of making disciples of Jesus.
All too often Small Groups are sold short of what they can best accomplish. Many churches want a group ministry because it is seen as a way to foster a sense of fellowship and genuine caring for each other in the church. Indeed, these are good and worthy goals. However, of as great, if not more significant outcome, it the change in heart and life that can take place this setting. It is said that we practice the Christian life. We don’t absorb it by osmosis. Information is the easy part. Practicing what we’ve learned is far harder. The essence of transformation comes as we are trained in the ways of the Lord. With a Small Group of friends we are encouraged in our practice and cheered in our transformation.
There are at least four areas that small group ministry can positively affect life transformation. In the instructions from the ancient Hebraic law to the reiteration and affirmation of Jesus himself, we are exhorted to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength. As natural men in the fallen world we are incapable of such without the empowering Spirit and the encouraging fellowship of others who urge us toward the love and good deeds that have been prepared for us.
Transformation is about the Heart
It is never simply about behavior. A parent wants their child to obey, but even greater is the desire to capture the child’s heart. People can be “forced” into doing the right thing. The right thing can be done for all sorts of wrong reasons. Doing wrong can easily be justified with a goal of doing right. We don’t just need to change behavior. We need to be transformed from the inside out. Jesus reminds us that it is out of an overflowing heart that words are formed and spoken aloud. This change begins with humility. In his letter to the Philippians, the Apostle wrote to exhort us to have the same attitude as Christ had when he set aside the rights and power of being God and took on the form of a servant.
In small group life there forms a band of like-hearted brothers and sisters who yearn for and strive toward such heart transformation. We encourage and cajole one another. We provide real-life examples of the possibilities of change, as well as being cautionary tales against remaining embroiled in unrepentant sin. A new heart, a heart of flesh replaces the rock hard heart we had.
Transformation is about the Mind
The world and Satan are continuously sending messages that run the gamut from half-truths to outright lies. When we believe the utterances of deceit, we yield to the Serpent who convinced our ancestors that God had lied…and they chose a path, a way of thinking that led to despair and ruin. We continue walking along that same path. Our thoughts need to be taken captive by Christ. We need to be taught to think differently…and rightly! The Living Word, Jesus and the Written Word, Scripture — are Truth. They are of the Father; they come from the Father and are useful, benefitting us by revealing truth to us, exposing our wayward ways, correcting our egregious mistakes, and training us to live according to God’s way. God’s Words are full of power, effective at cutting through all the “noise” of this world in order to get to the heart of the matter. They expose our wrong thinking and, as judge over our thoughts, will correct our thinking.
In small group life we center our conversations on the Word of God. We look for Jesus in every passage examined. It is in such discussions that our way of thinking is changed and we are transformed. Paul instructed the believers in Rome, that it was by having their minds made new, that their new creature-ness in Christ would be made evident. Thinking holy and right and pure and beautiful and good and true thoughts, we are given wisdom for life. From there we are able to discern the right path to walk.
Transformation is about the Soul
In changing the way our mind thinks — from a self-focused “me-orientation,” to a Word-centered world view, we become more readily equipped to make right choices. The problem is that it “feels” good to satisfy our personal desires. In our natural, fallen state we often act out of our emotions that have been instructed and (mis)informed by the axis of evil (the world, the flesh and the devil). As the Spirit of God works in us to mold us in Christ-likeness, we need a renovation of our decision making process. We need to change from emotion-based decisions to Scripture-informed choices. We live in an age that values “feelings” before all else. Such is an enslavement of Egyptian proportions from which our generation needs a second exodus!
It can be in small group life that the church will be led to the promised land of freedom and power to live rightly, as we know we ought, as we deeply desire. Don’t make the mistake that information is equated with transformation. When we “live life together” we have the opportunity to truly know and learn to care for others. Changing how we think leads to a change in how we feel and a change in the quality of the decisions that we make. This involves a change in our choices and our emotions. Without a small group of people who know me and to whom I am known, I can securely retreat to a safe space where I touch no one and no one touches me. In small group living we are connected and committed to one another, caring for each other together in life.
Transformation is about the Body
Faulty input leads invariably to false outputs. Often, we wonder why life has dealt us such a bad hand. For most of us, most of the time, we don’t have to look far to discover the reason for so many of our troubles. With a misguided heart, wrong thinking, fickle emotions and unwise choices we have done destructive deeds resulting in the attendant consequences. To reverse this downward spiral requires a totally different approach to living. If we are going to use the strength of our physical wellbeing to honor God and advance his kingdom, we need to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice. One of the key ways to do this is by serving others needs ahead of our own.
In body life, we watch others living in ways that honor God. It is in this area that practical Christianity is put into practice. We can see godly examples of men and women who lead by serving. The theory of Christ-likeness is tested as we strive to “lay down our life” for another. It is encouraging to see others set the example. They become “heroes” to us. And so we are empowered to emulate them.
The change we truly long to see is in the totality of our lives. We can’t simply compartmentalize our faith and say that it only touches some parts of our lives and not others. Living life together in authentic biblical community we see genuine transformation taking place. We sharpen one another. We are encouraged and cajoled to honestly assess our spiritual state and to strive together toward the upward, high calling of God in Christ Jesus. This is another one of the reasons we make a big deal about small groups.