What's So Great About Small Groups? - Part I

I mean, really?

Every church has them, right?

Isn't this just another thing to "do" at church?

They may have had different names in the past (Sunday School, Discipleship Training, Bible Study, etc.) but haven't they always been around?

So why are we talking about it?

Well, I'd like to take the next four weeks, as we ramp up to our Fall Semester launch of Small Groups here at The Grove, to look into the theology of small group ministry, the application and practice of what I will call "tribe-centricity" and the benefits to ourselves and the world that this small group culture can generate.

The Theology

Acts 5:42 (ESV) And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ (emphasis mine).

The first Christian churches were at a unique crossroads. For centuries, the followers of Jehovah would meet on a regular basis in the temple to hear the Scriptures read and taught. But, it seems, they had a significant opportunity before them – continue the way things have always been and ignore the implications of the resurrection of Jesus or cling to it with absurd abandon.

This was exciting news for anyone awaiting the rescue of Messiah. The Torah teachers had taught and wrestled with this for eons. The Sadducees did everything they could to deny it, teaching there was no resurrection. But for the "Earlies", there was no denying. They believed it deeply. They had to. For those who acknowledged the resurrection, it was more than checking a box on an application. This, for many, was their own death. And yet, as the writer Paul says it, "what appears to some as your death is actually LIFE."

Can you imagine? One of the messages coming from the temple was "there is no resurrection." This seems unthinkable in the Christian circles I grew up in. And can you imagine the confusion that must have been spreading throughout their communities? One message from one camp and the inverse from another? How do you reconcile? What do you do when the epicenter of culture is telling you that Jesus the Christ, in fact cannot redeem you from your mortality? What happens to your hope with this kind of news? And with your hope in ruin, what substance does your faith have on which to cling? Who will rescue us now?

Something had to be done. The story being told was partly incorrect and often incomplete. And what better way to get at the heart of a matter with someone than across the table over a meal with a glass (or a bottle) of wine? And this is exactly what the "Earlies" did. In the temple they could be friendly,

shake hands,

"how ya doing?";

you know the routine...

But from house to house, they could get down to the quick. They could talk about what was being taught in the temple and listen to other perspectives. They could present challenging ideals and wrestle together with their applications. They could care for one another. They were nimble, loose and responsive. 

And this was a both-and arrangement. They didn't just go to church or bible study. Both were important. Both were expected by the people of the new Church. Growing up, my church was never very interested in how many people attended the morning worship. They only took a head count at Sunday School. They believed so strongly in the environment of small groups learning together that this is where the bulk of their energies and money was placed. I see strengths and pitfalls to this model. And yet, I wonder if they weren't on to something. 

Small Groups gives us the chance to invite people into our homes to talk about what is being taught, to wrestle with the application and to find practical ways to quickly respond to the needs around us. It gives us a shared platform to help rebuild the hope that so many have lost; the hope that there is Someone who can put it all back together.

And in rebuilding hope, faith can begin to rise again.

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