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Consider Biff, a regular small group attendee. Biff asked his group’s leader if he could meet him for breakfast. He wanted to share with him a complaint about their little group. Biff felt the group was not progressing toward any meaningful goal, and, from his perspective, he knew why.
The following week they met, and Biff shared several illustrations about how the group seemed stuck in what he called “the superficial mode.” He said no one showed any interest in getting real. This complaint from Biff is one of the more common ones that I hear about small group life.
Many small group participants have vocalized similar concerns. Here are a few of their grievances, which is not an exhaustive list. If you belong to a small group that wants to mature in Christ, it would be an excellent opportunity for you all to discuss this list. Perhaps you have others that you could add to your discussion.
Several years ago, I led a small group, and over 12 months, every couple in the small group came to me complaining about the lack of transparency in the group. It was humorous that everyone in the group voiced the same concerns, but no one in the group knew what the other members of the group were thinking and saying about each other.
Fortunately, God gave us the grace as the group changed into a dynamic community that was willing to delve into nearly any personal problem. And each individual strengthened the others in that context of loving, maturing, and caring friends. We did not get to that point by accident.
For us to change into a dynamic small group, there were several things we needed to do. Even though all the folks were complaining privately, it was apparent they wanted something different. Thus, I had my marching orders to start setting a new tone. We were not going to be just another innocuous social gathering but a Christlike caring community of disciple-makers.
I’m not boasting in any ability that I may have because it’s the grace of God that must be there if any person, group, or situation changes. But you cannot dismiss that the most vital person in the group is the leader. If this person does not have the vision, intentionality, or skillset to lead well, your group will never rise higher than who this person is.
Before you can enjoy a loving, meaningful, and intrusive relationship with another human being, you 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 your life, it will be nearly impossible to have a sustaining and meaningful relationship with another person.
My vital point here is that you always export who you are, and if the Gospel is not your animating center, you will impart something else to your immediate connections, and it will always be less than God’s good intentions for you. Perhaps it would be wise at this juncture to define how I’m using the term, Gospel.
The Gospel is Christ. It’s all that He was in eternity past. It is all that He was while living on earth. And it is all that He is in eternity. The Gospel is the person and work of Christ. The more you understand Christ, and the more He affects you, the more adequately you will “apply the Gospel” to your life. The Gospel (Christ) will transform you and impact your relationships in ways that nothing else can.
Perhaps it would serve you to think about what the “Gospel” (Christ) while He lived here. For example, Christ humbled Himself (Philippians 2:5-11) by leaving the relationships that He was comfortable with, which is the first small group (Trinity), and entered into a context where we needed His help. Simply imitating that one data point from Christ can transform lives. Are you that intentional when you’re with others?
Some Christians (Christ-followers) are passive. They had rather wait, defer, and let someone else take the lead. That attitude is less like Christ and more like an anti-Christ. Jesus had a “gospel initiative.” He lived in the expectation that people needed help, so He was always looking for opportunities to insert Himself.
The first step to have a dynamic small group is to commit to building a vibrant personal relationship with God. Do not begin with the group, but start with you, and how you relate to and imitate Christ, the Gospel. The question you want to ask yourself is about the effect that the Gospel has had on you. Again, you export who you are. Christ exported who He was, and your goal is to transport Him to your world.
The Gospel is God’s plan for changing His church; it is the power of God unto salvation and sanctification, and a small group of friends is an excellent place for Gospel (Christ) transformation (Romans 1:16). You cannot be an agent of Gospel-change until the Gospel changes you.
Let’s talk about this “exportation thing.” Whatever you want your small group to be like, you must model that kind of life before them. This principle is not limited to the functioning of small groups; it has as much to do with the running of small groups as it does with running every other part of the Christian race.
For example, consider the issue of parenting. Parents must practice what they preach. How effective would it be for a parent to ask a child to confess and repent of their sin if the parent does not model and practice the same? How hypocritical for a small group leader to call the folks to holiness when he’s not practicing the teaching?
The Bible is clear that if a parent wants a child to love God with all his heart, soul, and mind (cf. Matthew 22:36-40), that parent must own this truth, by modeling what he hopes to export. The “call to imitate” is for every person who names the name of Jesus as their Savior and Leader. Reflect on these verses.
Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1).
Therefore be imitators of God as beloved children (Ephesians 5:1).
What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you (Philippians 4:9).
Do you want your children to have a dynamic relationship with Christ? Do you want them to be honest and transparent with God and you? Do you want them to walk in humility and integrity? Do you want them to be accountable to you and others? These are not the first questions that you want to ask. Start here: “I must not teach them what to do before I show them how to do it by my example.”
For a moment, let’s consider the small group the Savior led. It was a thirteen person men’s group. The members had no vision for what He wanted. They were selfish, conniving, sinfully ambitious, critical, and easily swayed toward the sinful opinions of others. All of them defected, and one of them never changed, even committing suicide. I’d say that He had a rough group of misfits.
Christ was the only person who had the right vision for the small group. Thus, you want to think about how He brought biblical shape to His group. Reading the four Gospels with His leadership style in view would be beneficial. We do know that Jesus patiently exported His life to them. It took Him three years to whip this bunch into shape. It would be an understatement to say it took a lot of blood, sweat, and tears (Luke 22:42-44).
Despite the cost, Jesus patiently and carefully loved and served His disciples as He shaped them into the most dynamic small group in the history of the Church. In time, all of the members (except one) of His small group became small group leaders. As they modeled what Christ taught them, they forged other leaders, which has been the plan all the way to today.
The message and life of Christ did not lose force on their generation. Listen to how one of the leaders of that generation spoke about himself and the work of Christian discipleship—as he coached another leader.
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 fundamental. It was essential to the Father—or else we would not have had the earthly ministry of His Son. It was necessary to the Son—or we would not have had His ministry to His small group. One of the exciting things about the four Gospels is that none of the authors wrote them as those events were unfolding. They were all written after the fact. And what did they write?
Those Gospels talk about what they saw Jesus do and say. Their observations were of paramount importance. They felt the necessity to deliver to us the life that the Savior modeled before them. Christ affected people by His words, actions, and example. If you want to see your small group go from a superficial social gathering to a Christ-centered, caring community of disciple-makers, let me urge you to begin with these two ideas:
Key Idea #1 – Before you will enjoy a loving, meaningful, and intrusive relationship with another human being, you must have an in-depth understanding, experience, and practice of the Gospel (Christ) in your life.
Key Idea #2 – In whatever way you discern that a member of your small group ought to change, you become the picture of that changed life before that person, as you prayerfully and dependently expect God’s strength and timing to help him.
Many people will read this and think that it’s for the leader of a small group, but not them. Do not make that mistake. All Christians are leaders. You may not be a small group leader, but God has made you an ambassador for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20).
That call is a leadership position. It does not matter what your sphere of influence is or even your age. We never stop leading until the Lord takes us home. Thus, all of this content applies to you. With that perspective in mind, how would you answer these questions?