Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Thinking Small

Small groups are sometimes seen as the panacea for the problems of the modern church. I am opposed to panaceas. But I am still partial to small groups. Where do we find the balance?

The need for smaller groups in a congregation stems from the fact that it is difficult to know and interact with people in a deep way in just the formal church service. To reach the point where we rejoice with one another, cry with one another and pray for one another (1 Corinthians 12:26,27; Romans 12:15,16; James 5:13-16). What is involved here is a matter of trust. You need to know someone to be willing to tell them your real struggles and heartaches and go out of your way to help them in time of need. Also it can provide a forum where people can have their questions regarding the Christian faith answered and their difficulties discussed. This whole issue becomes more acute in the present times. In former days congregations were part of a smaller community and people knew each other outside of the formal service. But we live in a more isolated world where someone can walk in and out of a service unmarked and never relating beyond the superficial level. We need to make a special effort to relate to people and small groups can help make that possible.

But it is possible for small groups to go bad. If they are used simply to serve some agenda not shared by most of the members of the group they can become a battleground.(If you want to convince people of things they are hostile toward a sermon is a better method.) It is possible to carry over the self-righteous mask, the one that will not admit we are sinners into the group (Matthew 23:23-26; Galatians 1:10; Isaiah 65:5), creating a stiff, formal atmosphere. Or forgetting we are sinners (Romans 3:23; Isaiah 64:6; Jeremiah 17:9) not exercise any kind of restrain and end up hurting others by trying to be ourselves. There is also the danger that small groups can become factions within the church and tend to exclude those who are different. At the very least we need the presence of the larger congregation to remind us of being part of something broader and more diverse then our small group.

Like all structures a small group is useful in the right context. But it is no magic formula. It needs to be used in the context of the grace and forgiveness of God (Ephesians 1:7; Romans 8:33,34; Colossians 3:12-14) and of God's power working in us to transform us (1 Corinthians 3:18; Ephesians 2:10; Colossians 1:29). And we also must beware of putting this or any other method on too high a pedestal. For while God can use them to accomplish His purposes, we must not confuse the gift with the Giver.

No comments:

Post a Comment