The question immediately came up in my mind (and often comes up when people are considering joining such a group): Can people with no theological or psychological training really help each other overcome serious character defects? For years I would have said no. But as I have participated in and watched groups operate over the years I have come to realize that a group of ordinary people trying to surrender their lives to God and discover that their own denial and delusion with rigorous honesty can often give amazingly effective help with real-life difficulties (207).Small groups are a way to offer Christian love and support. People are in search of meaningful relationships. With Christ as the center of small groups, a therapy can be provided that is not otherwise available. The ultimate therapist is the Holy Spirit.
Loneliness is one of the major problems of our society. Many people are no more than numbers on their jobs. Since a large number of people move from their homes yearly, friendships among neighbors are not likely to be established. With less emphasis on community schools and get-togethers, people feel more isolated. A person may go to church every Sunday without really knowing the others who sit in the same pew. That person may be carrying hurts no one knows about or much less understands.
Small group ministry can address the problem of loneliness which is even more prevalent among those struggling with life-controlling problems. God deals with man's need for relationships very early in the Bible: "It is not good for the man to be alone" (Genesis 2:18). The Book of Hebrews, which is addressed primarily to Jewish Christians who were tempted to return to Judaism or mix Judaism with the gospel, deals with two important relationships in Chapter 10:19-25. In verses 19-23, the author shows the important need for a relationship with God which is provided by the blood of Jesus. In verses 24-25, the author discusses the need for a relationship with each other:
And let us consider how we may spur [incite, provoke] one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another.Small group ministry is not a new concept. Jesus and his twelve disciples are a paradigm for Christian community. Jesus' regular meetings with his twelve disciples are a clear example of a small group at work. Not only did the disciples benefit from this experience, but Jesus also received close fellowship with this group. "He appointed twelve-designating them apostles-that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach" (Mark 3:14). It is no accident that twelve people or less is suggested for small group participation.
Christians have met together for almost two thousand years with Christ as the focus and the Bible as the road map. These fellowships have included bible studies and prayer. Christians have met in homes, churches, and catacombs. Small groups were active in the New Testament Church (see Acts 2:41-47). Small groups are not to take the place of corporate worship; their function is to complement the assembly worship. Corporate worship and small groups can provide an environment for spiritual healing and growth. Small groups where Christ is the focus are Christian community. When the church is the spiritual hospital, small groups can be the support unit of the church. Small groups worked together with corporate worship in the New Testament for healthy growth. Luke writes in Acts 2:47 they were "praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved." Church history records that many of our modern-day denominations originated from small-group ministries.
Small groups can provide a nonthreatening environment for people to receive help in dealing with their life-controlling problems, a place for them to take a look at themselves and focus on practical steps to grow in Christ. Small groups allow a person to be himself or herself, to take off masks, to receive encouragement, to develop accountability to Christ and to one another. According to Newsweek (February 5, 1990):
A 10-year study by researchers at Stanford University showed that terminally ill cancer patients who participated in weekly support-group meetings in addition to receiving treatment lived nearly twice as long as those receiving only medical care (Leerhsen and Namuth, 52).
In small groups, individual prayer and affirmation personalizes ministry. "Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective" (James 5:16). "We need small groups because they help us to become what we are meant to be-those set free by the love of Christ, who seek to share his love with others" (Hestenes, 10).
Small groups are one of the most effective ways to deal with delusion. In an atmosphere of surrender to the Lord, the Holy Spirit and Word of God help people see themselves more clearly (see Psalm 139:23-24; Hebrews 4:12-13). God also uses believers to help each other expose delusion through encouragement. "But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness" (Hebrews 3:13).
Characteristics of Effective Small Groups
Effective small groups are characterized by Christ's being the center of the group. Having a bonding of ideas is good; however, unless Christ is the center, lives will not be transformed. An effective group will be committed to each member and have respect for the claims of Christ.
Commitment to each other means faithfulness in meeting attendance, participation by members, and adherence to confidentiality. In an effective group, each group member will be committed to pray for other group members. Group members take ownership of their feelings without putting others down; they learn to take a look at their own defenses that may be protecting them from the truth.
Effective small groups depend heavily on the group facilitators (leaders). It is suggested that each group have two facilitators. One should take the lead in the meeting and the other should assist in offering input into the group process. The facilitators should work to create an atmosphere for openness and acceptance. Healthy groups develop deep, caring relationships. "One of the basic working assumptions of all group therapies is that human relationships are not only important but also essential for healthy functioning" (Benner, 319). An effective group experiences learning and growth because Christ, not the group leader or any group member, is the center.
There was a time when aggressive confrontation techniques were used in an attempt to break through a person's delusion. Small groups do not need four-letter words, shouting, or a tear 'em down philosophy to be effective. Groups that are effective recognize the value of a Christ-centered environment where there are no put-downs; instead, there are respect, nurturing, and careful confrontation.
Material from Understanding the Times and Knowing What to Do
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