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The best small groups provide both structure and spontaneity. Similar to the Bible where there are lines we should not cross, but a freedom to walk in the Spirit.
If the Bible were just rigid, there would be no relationship. We would be lifeless robots, checking the boxes. If the Bible were all about spontaneity, chaos would ensue. The Bible gives us a balance: we live pneumatically within the Canon (rule) the Lord provides.
There is a mysterious freedom within these two concepts. If you don’t navigate them well, you’ll err on one side or the other.
Both groups miss out on revealing valuable information because the freedom to share the actual realities of what is going on in their lives is not present.
Too Much Structure – You’ll know if you’re working from a structured script if the same questions are asked to the group each week. E.g., what did you learn from the sermon? This query is followed by five minutes of bowed heads, staring into their mobile devices.
Finally, to fill the silence, someone says something. And off we go into another night of filling the air space with words that vaporize about the time the last person leaves for the evening.
Too Much Spontaneity – You’ll know if you embrace the chaos, spontaneous worldview when everyone is talking about what God “has laid on their hearts,” and you feel like you’re inside a “verbal snow globe.” After a while, you check out from the noise.
Everything that is said is cobbled together in your short-term memory. It, too, vaporizes about the time the last person leaves for the evening.
Common Result – The result is that people don’t change the way they could change if the small group had a clearer direction. A worldview that had structure, but was open to sound pneumatology practically lived out in the context of friends.
If you are thinking about leading or participating in a small group, these eight ideas will help you move the group experience into the deeper waters where life-change happen.
1 – What are you doing? Determine the point of your group. Is it a Bible study? If so, study the Bible. If its purpose is to transform lives, make sure everyone knows it’s a “sanctification group.” For this podcast, I’m working under the assumption that the purpose of your small group is the biblical transformation of the members in the group.
Question – Does everyone know the purpose of your group? Three ways to measure this are:
2 – Learn to share incrementally. A “sanctification group” is not safe, in the sense that people are afraid to share the details of their lives. Openly sharing is not a call to blurt out the worst facts about yourself the first night you’re in the group, but if you want to transform, you must be willing to reveal more and more of yourself to the other members.
Question – Are you holding back from sharing the story God is writing in your life? If you are, why are you?
3 – You need the Bible plus. Don’t fall into the trap that says the Bible is all you need to change. If the Bible is all you needed, the Ethiopian would not have been flummoxed in Acts 8, as he was reading the Bible. If the Bible is all you needed, there would be no need for teachers of the Bible. If the Bible were all you needed, there would not be all the “one anothers” in the New Testament.
The issue here is not minimizing God’s Word but maximizing the community of faith that is called to come alongside each other to help work the Word of God deep into their souls.
Question – Do you know how to bring the Bible to bear on your most recurring sin problem? Do you know how to walk a member of your small group through their most recurring struggle?
4 – Application of the gospel requires effort. We tend to be lazy when it comes to messy, hardcore sanctification problems. It’s easier to read the Bible in a silo than work it out in a community, i.e., marriage and family, specifically. Burden bearing is not a job for the lazy person.
Question – Are you genuinely interested in the plight of those in your small group?
5 – Sanctification is dangerous. Once you open the “sanctification can of worms” in an individual’s life, all bets are off. It can go to some weird places, which is why people are tempted to bury their noses in the Bible. It’s less dangerous than opening the heart of a struggling soul. It is even possible to use the Bible (or any other book) to hide in plain sight of your small group.
Question – What do you use as a shield to keep from revealing your true self to others?
6 – Don’t fall into the “nugget-ology trap.” We can feel spiritual when we talk about “what God taught me today.” But it can also be deceptive. We can hide our “sanctification garbage” behind the nugget of the day from the meme you read on Facebook, Instagram, or Sunday’s sermon.
Question – Is the motive of what you share in the group designed to reveal more and more of yourself because you want others to know you so they can help you transform?
7 – Ignorance may play a role. Simply stated, we don’t know any better. “This is how we’ve always done it.” That’s knowledge gone bad. It doesn’t keep up with a person’s progressive sanctification or other changes in the lives of the group. The Gospel never changes, but we must be changing always or our religion will go stale.
Christ wants us to learn the Bible facts and then learn how to apply them to our lives practically, which means as we grow, we will change in our understanding and practice. We cannot become stale like the Pharisees, who disdained change.
If you want to be in a safe place, you must die to man-centered ways of being safe. You will find true refuge (safety) in Christ and His body, where we’re all knitted together, nourished by Him, and nourishing one another for His fame and our benefit.
Question – How is the practical gospel transforming you and your relationships? The gospelized person has nothing to protect, nothing to hide, nothing to fear. For freedom, He has set us free. (Galatians 5:1)
8 – Refrain from the “magic approach” to the Bible. If you “just read it” you will change. While that is true—to a degree—it is not true if you want sustained and comprehensive change. Yes, there is passive obedience (sit and soak), but there is active obedience: be doers of the Word or work out what God is working in you. The “mystical approach” may make you feel better because you shared some Bible facts, but that does not change you.
Question – What does active obedience look like in your small group, particularly how you are actively engaging your friends at the core of their souls?
The best way to benefit from this podcast is to use the podcast and notes for your next small group discussion. Also, it would help you to read my little booklet on communication, which you can find here. There is a chapter dedicated to redemptive communication in a small group context.
Rick Thomas leads a training network for Christians to assist them in becoming more effective soul care providers. RickThomas.Net reaches people around the world through consulting, training, podcasting, writing, counseling, and speaking.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology, and in 1991 he received a BS in Education. In 1993 he was ordained into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University in Santa Clarita, CA. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).