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.
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.
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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