BIBLICAL FOUNDATIONS FOR SMALL GROUPS
© Rosemary Bardsley 2016
In the context of a Christian church a range of small group meetings or ministries exists. Small groups are identified by either their purpose or their members. [Depending on its purpose sometimes a small group may be called a ‘committee’ or a ‘task force’.]
A group that meets for fellowship
A group that meets for bible study
A group that meets for prayer
A group that meets for all of the above
A group that meets in support of a mission, ministry or missionary
A group that meets for social activities [e.g. craft, music]
A group that meets for sport
A group that meets for outreach, mission or ministry
A group of seniors
A group of young mums
A fund-raising group
A community care group
In some churches home groups are known as LIFE groups:
L – learning the word
I – intimacy in prayer and worship
F – fellowship
E – expressing Christ in the community
In contrast to some other ministries where the leader is of necessity distinct from the target group, in small group ministry the leader is often a member of the ‘target’ group. This creates a different dynamic than, for instance, the adult/child dynamic in children’s ministry, or the expatriate/local in cross cultural mission. This means that small groups usually have a cohesiveness not possible in other ministry areas.
The three years Jesus spent in ministry during his incarnation give examples of both ministry to crowds and ministry to a small group. It was in the context of the small group of 12 disciples that he gave deeper and more explicit teaching, taking them further into understanding the truth he came to reveal and the salvation he was about to achieve. The small group was blessed with God’s truth at a level not accessible by the crowds.
A. BECOMING PART OF A SMALL GROUP
How did the disciples become part of this favoured and blessed group? For the most part, it was by personal invitation.
How did each of the following become part of Jesus’ small group of 12?
Simon Peter [Mark 1:16-18; John 1:41-42]
Andrew [Mark 1;16-18; John 1:15-40]
James [Mark 1:19-20]
John [Mark 1:19-20]
Matthew [Matthew 9:9]
Philip [John 1:43]
Nathaniel [John 1:44-51]
Your Comment: On the basis of the above facts, comment on the potential role of the group leader and other group members in forming and maintaining a small group.
B. FLEXIBILITY – A KEY FACTOR
As we look at Jesus and his small group of twelve disciples we find that they were not bound by time or place. Anywhere they were, anytime, was a potential venue for teaching and learning.
Note the physical setting or venue of the following small group happenings
Matthew 5:1-2 - Mountainside
Matthew 9:10 - Dinner at Matthew’s house
Matthew 13:36 - House
Matthew 16:5-12; Mark 8:13-21 – Boat
Matthew 21:18-22 - Walking along the road
Matthew 24:1-3 - Mount of Olives
Matthew 26:17-18; Mark 14:12-15 - Upper room
Mark 6:31-32 - A quiet, solitary place
C. A CONTEXT FOR TEACHING, EXPLAINING, EQUIPPING, CHALLENGING
In the context of the small group of disciples Jesus deliberately taught deeper truth, and clearer truth, than he taught the crowds. It was also the context for discussing confrontational, controversial or puzzling issues.
How do these passages report the difference between Jesus’ teaching to the crowds and Jesus’ teaching to the disciples?
Matthew 13:10-37; Mark 4:10ff, 34
Matthew 16:13-20, 21
Matthew 17:19-23; Mark 10:32-34
Jesus’ group of disciples was a very mobile group. As such it was a training ground for outreach and mission. In Mark 1:17 when Jesus called Simon Peter and Andrew to follow him, he told them that he would make them ‘fishers of men’.
The time they spent with Jesus was not just so that they would come to know and believe in him, but also so that they in turn would reach others for his kingdom. In Matthew 10:1 and 7 he sent them out to do the same kinds of things that he was doing, and to preach the same message that he was preaching.
D. A TRAINING GROUND FOR POTENTIAL LEADERS
While all who were in Jesus’ small group, except Judas, were apostles, and as such the foundation of the church, Jesus developed three in particular for specific leadership responsibilities. He singled out Peter, James and John for extra teaching and training.
Jesus took these three with him when he went to Jairus’ house and raised his daughter from death to life [Mark 5:37-43].
Jesus took these three up the mountain, where he was transfigured and talked with Moses and Elijah [Mark 9:2-9]
These three asked him privately for an explanation of his teaching [Mark 13:3]
He chose these three to accompany him when he prayed in Gethsemane [Mark14:33]
James was the first of the apostles to be killed for his faith [Acts 12:2]
Peter and John were key leaders during the first years of the church. [See Acts 3 and 4, and Acts 8:14]
Peter and John were present when the first Samaritan believers received the Holy Spirit [Acts 8:15-17] and Peter was present when the first Gentile believers received the Holy Spirit [Acts 10:44-48]. This was significant for the Jewish Christians’ recognition that the gospel of Christ was for Samaritans and Gentiles as well as for Jews, without adherence to Jewish law [Acts 11:15-18; 15:6-11].
Peter and John were used by the Holy Spirit to write parts of the New Testament [Gospel of John, 1, 2, & 3 John, 1 & 2 Peter, and Revelation].