Small Group FormatEach group session should consist of four phases covering a time frame of an hour and 15 minutes. The four phases are Introduction, Self-Awareness, Spiritual Awareness, and Application. There is a reason for each phase. The facilitators should always plan each session with this format in mind. Karl Menninger states:
The early Christian church cells were comprised of small groups of people who met regularly-often secretly. The order of worship was, first of all, self-disclosure and confession of sin, called exomologesis. This was followed by appropriate announcements of penance, pleas for forgiveness, and plans for making restitution. A final period of friendly fellowship (koinonia) closed the meeting (25).
Introduction. Begin with prayer. The facilitator may pray or may ask one of the group members to lead in prayer. After the prayer, a sharing question helps put the group at ease and makes them more comfortable in being a part of the discussion. The lead facilitator should respond to the sharing question first, followed by the co-facilitator. This causes the group members to feel safer in participating in the exercise. After the facilitators have shared, the group members will share one after another around the circle. Always remind group members they are not expected to share if they do not wish to do so. The rule is that everyone works within his or her comfort level and is welcome to pass.
This is not the time for detailed conversation, so ask the members of the group to keep their comments brief. If a person is obviously in pain during the exercise, the facilitator should interrupt the sharing and pray for the person in pain. After prayer, the exercise may resume.
Self-Awareness. After the sharing question, the facilitator will lead the group into the self-awareness phase which is a time to practice James 5:16, "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." It is important to stay on the subject matter. This is a time to focus on needs and healing, not to have a "martyr" or "pity party."
It is suggested in self-awareness that the facilitators ask the group members to share as they wish rather than going around the circle as in the introduction phase. This is because people are at various comfort levels, and they should not feel pressured to self-disclose if they are uncomfortable. As the group continues to meet, members will feel more and more comfortable in being a part of the discussion.
Remember, prayer is always in order. If a group member is hurting during this phase, stop and pray. One of the facilitators may lead in prayer or ask another group member to pray. This says to the group members that each member is important and that you care about each individual. Spiritual Awareness. After the self-awareness phase, the facilitator will lead the group into the bible study time. Having briefly explained the topic, the facilitator should assign scriptures listed in the Facilitator's Guide to group members. When each scripture is called by the facilitator, the group member should read the verse(s). After the verses are read, give time for discussion.
Application. This part is actually a continuation of the spiritual awareness phase. Ask for volunteers to share their reflections on the question. The facilitators should emphasize the importance of the group members' applying biblical principles to their lives. Help for life-controlling problems begins with right thinking. The Bible says, "Be transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Romans 12:2). Obedience to the Word should follow with right behavior. Right feelings will follow right thinking and right behavior.
Small groups where Christ is the focus can bring wholeness in Christ to those who are struggling with life-controlling problems. Although it is true that believers can meet together and help each other overcome life-controlling problems, there should always be an emphasis on spiritual growth. To accomplish this, it is important for groups to have a planned curriculum that focuses on biblical principles. Without goals and facilitators to help implement these goals, the group will probably lack direction and may even develop a sickness mentality ("I am sick and will always be sick").
Help for an individual with a life-controlling problem begins with truthful thinking (thinking that yields to biblical principles). "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Romans 12:2). As people begin to change their behavior in obedience to God's Word, they will begin to experience right feelings. Although the development of a better understanding of one's self (self-awareness) is important, growth in Christ (spiritual awareness and application) should always remain the primary focus.
Three principles are provided in 1 John 3:18-20 which help us understand this process: principles of facts, faith, and feelings. First, the person should understand the facts. "Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth" (v18). Are our love and actions based on truth-on God's Word which is true (see Psalms 119:160)? Jesus Christ is actual, factual, and truthful (see Acts 1:3).
Second, a person's faith should be placed on the facts of God's Word. "We set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything" (1 John 3:19-20). Faith is accompanied by action (see James 2:17). To walk in faith, a person sets thoughts and feelings at rest in God's Word.
Third, a person's feelings will conform to the truth of God's Word. "If our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God" (1 John 3:21). It is important to rest in God's promises when thoughts and feelings of condemnation come. (If an individual is not walking in truth, he or she should immediately get things worked out between himself or herself and God and get on with recovery.) Feelings are not the foundation of the Christian walk. Even after walking with the Lord for a long period of time, feelings may bring condemnation at which time a person will need to apply faith to the facts and then rest in God's presence. "But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin" (1 John 1:7).
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