If you read this column regularly you might have noticed similar articles related to small group ministry in the last two issues.
Some years ago when I began having regular meetings with the small group leaders at our church (Covenant in Fayetteville, GA), I introduced Lyman Coleman’s three legged stool. It’s not complicated: Bible study, share your story, task. Still it was months into the meetings before the leaders could immediately recite those three basic elements.
Years ago the small group model identified with InterVaristy Christian Fellowship focused almost exclusively on Bible study. Today there are small group ministries that de-emphasizing Bible study, preferring to concentrate on fellowship. I believe this is a mistake.
1. We all are painfully aware that people today don’t know the Bible. It’s not just foreign to our culture, it is virtually a closed book to many who profess faith in Christ. Yet it is on the Scripture that we base our faith. Consequently, if a group is to have a Christian focus the Bible must be prominent.
2. With some, there is a question regarding the difference between a small group that does Bible study and a Sunday school class. Because the Sunday school class is usually larger and the small group more intimate, the study of Scripture in the small group can be more personal. If such is the case its message can become more pointed as the Spirit applies the Word through the discussion of those present.
3. Finding materials for the sort of Bible study that will facilitate meaningful personal interaction around the Scripture can be problematic. More and more I find myself doing my own material. It’s time consuming. Some will feel inadequate making such an attempt. But the reward can be great.
I include a couple of other things under the Bible study heading:
1. Singing: there are groups where this is a regular part of their meetings. 2. Praying: at Covenant I encourage each group to have a significant time of prayer. That is our congregation at prayer. In the group I lead, we have practical “conversational prayer” which is basically the group having a conversation with God. This allows members to enter in as often as they like. We can easily spend 15-20 minutes in prayer and to me it seems more like just a few minutes. More importantly, we’ve seen God work in our midst in significant ways. Often the most rewarding part of our evening is the conversation we had with our Father.
In today’s world there is at least one other caution that is important. Too often people looking at a biblical text ask the question “what does it mean to me”? wthout first asking “what does the passage mean”? and asking the first question without dealing with the second is to run a significant risk. That the Bible will be made to say whatever an individual or group wants it to say, the meaning will be entirely subjective. And the truth found in Scripture will not only be compromised it could be lost.
Small group ministry is an important facet of many church programs. But small groups meeting without wrestling with the implications of the Scripture for their lives, individually and corporately, are at the very least deficient.