When I was candidating to be your pastor I specifically mentioned that small groups had been, still is and would be a major factor in my philosophy of ministry for any healthy church. I didn't say that because it's been a popular fad in the church world but because I believe it is biblical and particularly necessary in a culture such as ours. In Acts 2 you can see for yourself that small groups were a vital part of the structure of the early church and it remained so for at least the first three hundred years of Christianity.
So I am thankful that the vast majority of our church family has signed up to be involved in this ministry that meets twice a month. Frankly, I would love to see us meeting weekly but I understand the principle that you have to walk before you can run so the structure we have now is a good start and I am thankful. All of our groups have now met together and the ministry to one another through small groups has officially begun.
Let me remind you that small groups are NOT just a smaller way to have Folds. These are not Folds although there are some elements shared by both. Small groups are intended to take our adults (members and regular attendees) to a deeper level in their walk with Christ, their relationships with one another and mutual accountability. We actually shepherd and care for one another as we pray together, study God's Word together and fellowship together. If you are still not a part of a small group then I cannot encourage you enough to get plugged in. Rita is available to assist you in that process and let you know what groups have room for more.
Now, in God's providence, I opened up one of my emails today and it was one I regularly receive from John Piper with whom many if not most of you are familiar through our adult study last quarter and other venues you may have come across. As I read his email (which actually goes to the people of Bethlehem Baptist where Dr. Piper serves) I thought that it was very well worded and reflected my own heart so I'm passing it on to you for your own edification. Here is a portion of what John Piper wrote...
"Last Sunday when I met with the small group leaders of the Downtown Campus, I tried to show them how essential their role is at this church by giving them seven reasons my preaching is not enough-seven reasons why perseverance in faith and growth in faith call for Christians to meet regularly in a face-to-face way to "serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace" (1 Peter 4:10). God intends to do things in you which he will only do through the ministry of other believers.
7 Reasons We Need Small Groups
He has given pastors to the church "to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ" (Ephesians 4:11-12). I believe in what I do. And I believe that it is not enough. Here are the seven reasons I gave the small group leaders.
The impulse to avoid painful growth by disappearing safely into the crowd in corporate worship is very strong.
The tendency toward passivity in listening to a sermon is part of our human weakness.
Listeners in a big group can more easily evade redemptive crises. If tears well up in your eyes in a small group, wise friends will gently find out why. But in a large gathering, you can just walk away from it.
Listeners in a large group tend to neglect efforts of personal application. The sermon may touch a nerve of conviction, but without someone to press in, it can easily be avoided.
Opportunity for questions leading to growth is missing. Sermons are not dialogue. Nor should they be. But asking questions is a key to understanding and growth. Small groups are great occasions for this.
Accountability for follow-through on good resolves is missing. But if someone knows what you intended to do, the resolve is stronger.
Prayer support for a specific need or conviction or resolve goes wanting. O how many blessings we do not have because we are not surrounded by a band of friends who pray for us.
So please know that when this small-group ministry of our church is lifted up, I don't think it's an optional add-on to basic Christian living. I think it is normal, healthy, needed, New Testament Christianity. I pray that you will be part of one of these small groups or that you will get the training and start one. This is the main strategy through which our pastors and elders shepherd the flock at Bethlehem: Elders > small group leaders > members to one another." [Quotation is from the September 20, 2009 Email by John Piper entitled "The Love of Human Praise as the Root of Unbelief." Desiring God Ministries]
The seven reasons that Piper gives on why small groups are so critical in the life of a Christian is anything but superficial. It is probing and in-depth because our growth in Christ is not to be taken for granted nor taken lightly. How should we live? What do the Scriptures say? Something about our lives not being our own but we've been bought with a price and therefore we must glorify God in our bodies (our lives). That sounds about right. That is anything but "playing" at Christianity. So, I contend (and I think Dr. Piper would agree) that small groups play a big part in our growth in grace and thus these gatherings are not just another program of the church but something that must be endemic to its very existence. Small groups are not just for the fanatics in the crowd but for everyone who claims to love Jesus and is seeking to follow Him as His disciple. Therefore, I urge you to make it a priority in your monthly schedule and may the Holy Spirit teach you much and grow you strong in the knowledge of and obedience to all His holy will. God bless you.