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This last Sunday we announced the launching of our small group ministry. In November, small groups will form together for the purpose of treasuring, reflecting, and proclaiming Christ together. Small group ministry has been a staple in evangelicalism for a number of decades now. This history is a positive in that it is a not an abstract concept, something difficult to grasp for those that have joined our church plant. However, within this familiarity lurks a potential danger. Everyone has their “Best and Worst” stories of former small groups. Everyone has their own preferences for how small groups should be organized, led, focused, scheduled, and multiplied. These differences open up the door for tremendous expectations and potential disappointments as we move forward with this ministry. How do we avoid this negative outcome?
Certainly some protection comes from learning from previous “small group mistakes.” Other safeguards are found in communicating a clear, Christ-centered vision on a regular basis. It will also help for our pastoral team to be consistently hearing from our members about how the small groups are helping them to grow in Christ, and refining and adjusting our vision for greater fruitfulness. There is another element to consider, however.
I believe that one of the greatest keys to a successful small group is frequently overlooked, despite its profound simplicity. It is a culture of brotherly love. Small groups are opportunities for us to express the love of the gospel to one another–those that God has brought into our body, those who are one with us in Christ. Loving one another is a key expression of the reality of our faith in Christ, yet it is impossible to communicate a Christ-like affection in tangible, persistent ways to every other member in the body of Christ. A small group of people gives us an opportunity to pour out on others the love we have received.
With love, our study of the Bible becomes an opportunity to celebrate the insights of others and to point out the gift of God’s Word to them.
Without love, our study of the Bible can become a knowledge contest or an occasion for using Bible quotations as verbal sword thrusts.
With love, our fellowship is an opportunity for encouraging each other in the promises and good commands of the law of Christ.
Without love, our fellowship is a self-righteous investigation into the failures of others.
With love, our relationships together are full of patience for the weakness and failures of others.
Without love, our impatience with others leads to selfish cliques and circling the wagons with “comfortable” friends.
With love, our discussion of evangelism becomes a consistent encouragement to help each other proclaim the faith.
Without love, our discussion of evangelism is a battle ground between those more gifted in outreach and those more gifted in discipleship.
Loving one another requires a consistent reflection on the gospel of Christ. Only as we consider his sacrifice will we be eager to love others as He has loved us. The good news is that because of his death, we have received the gift of the Holy Spirit whose fruit of love is present in the heart of every Christian. Cultivating and encouraging that fruit, and mortifying the fleshly selfishness that still lingers in us, is crucial as we build with a small group of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 1 Corinthians 13:1-7