By Chuck Griffin LifeTalk Editor
Hebrews 10:23-25 (NLT): Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.
Christian, do you want to let go of pain and thrive in faith and love?
One major goal of the Methodist Life website is to encourage a resurgence in small groups as the basis of the Methodist experience. I’m going to take a few days to explore this concept. If you’re not in a Christian small group of some sort, I hope you will sense the restorative power of participating in such a group, which sadly has become a foreign idea for most American Christians.
I suppose this aversion to serious fellowship is not a new problem. Our Hebrews text above, with its phrase, “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do,” is strong evidence that even the earliest Christians could be distracted from the life-changing impact of deep interaction with other believers.
Sunday schools are great, as are other educational and social groups within a church. They have their specific purposes. Don’t confuse these with small groups, however, which were the basis of the original Methodist movement that swept the world.
Here’s the first major small group characteristic: “Small” is taken seriously. Most small group leaders would find that eight members are the maximum if everyone is to participate in a healthy way. The Discipleship Bands program begun at Asbury Theological Seminary recommends even smaller groups of three to five people.
If you don’t fully understand what the experience is supposed to be like, the restricted size should give you a clue. Over time, people meeting in weekly small groups should begin to have personal and confidential conversations about their faith, including their struggles. In this safe environment, Christians can find encouragement and mutual support.
Let’s be realistic—it’s hard to sit in a room with 20 people and have deep conversations about our struggles. We naturally fear that someone will gossip. In fact, when we’re really struggling, one of the loneliest places we can find ourselves is in a room full of people. If we’re going to open up to others, a tight circle of people is better.
That said, I also don’t want to scare you regarding what might happen in that private room (or these days, in that secure online meeting site). If you’ve never been in a small group, don’t think that people are going to put you in a headlock and force you to spill your secrets.
Spiritual intimacy takes time to develop. But when a small group of people understand from the outset the importance of maintaining confidentiality, they will achieve spiritual intimacy more quickly than you might think. Most groups begin by working out a covenant so rules and appropriate behaviors are clear.
Tomorrow, I’m going to explore what might at first seem to be a paradox. Small groups need to stay small, but at the same time, they’re constantly trying to draw new people into deeper Christian discipleship. Once we learn to maintain this tension, remarkable things can happen.
Lord, if you are calling us to a deeper relationship with you as we walk with others, let us sense clearly how we are to respond. Thank you for Christians who are willing to help each other grow. Amen.