One of the most important elements in church life, is building relationships with other believers. We can often come to church and enjoy great worship and a great sermon, but without our relationship with other believers we are severely stunted in our calling in the commission of God and can even stunt the growth of the church.
So, why are close relationships important? Close relationships among believers in the family of God, provide a context of applying biblical truth, promote unity, care among the members, meet spiritual and emotional needs, furnish a setting for lifestyle evangelism, and ultimately it demonstrates the Body of Christ in action. In order to accomplish this in our christian walk, small groups provide the ideal format and setting to put the Body of Christ into action.
Now that we know the importance of small groups, how can we as leaders or potential leaders of small groups have the most impact and see fruitfulness in it? The best way to do this is to become more like Jesus, modeling what Jesus Christ did while He was in this world. By striving to become more and more like Him, we grow in character when we apply His principles in ministry and begin to bear fruit by the work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus after washing His disciples feet said to them in John 13:15 “For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.”
When we closely examine the life and ministry of Jesus, it becomes clear that one of the key methods that Christ used was “small groups”. Small groups provide the structure with which a platform is provided for instruction, support and the challenge we need to become Christlike, and will enable us to follow His pattern for personal ministry.
Firstly I would like to encourage anyone leading a small group. I believe this is one of the greatest callings we can be involved in. You are doing this, because this is God’s plan for you, and also this is where you can personally impact peoples lives by being a positive role model, building and maturing those who are under your care to be more Christ-like and eventually disciple them to go forth and start another small group, building the church and the body of Christ.
Jesus showed us the model of a healthy small group when He called, taught and sent out His group of twelve. He invested time, into a group of men who turned the world upside down. As we lead or form small groups of our own, here are four ways we can follow the example of Christ with His followers:
- He Invited Them (small groups are formed intentionally)
- He Invested in Them (small groups are opportunities to learn God’s word)
- He cared for them (Small groups provide a place of refreshment)
- He served with them (Small groups reach beyond their small groups)
How do we imitate Jesus as a small group leader?
1. He Invited Them (small groups are formed intentionally)
From the very beginning, when Jesus began His earthly ministry, He started by establishing His “small group”, the apostles. His very first acts was to form a small group. We read in Matthew 4:18-22 “While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fisherman. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him.” We also read the account in Luke where Jesus chooses His disciples, Luke 6:13 saying “And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles:”
Jesus was intentional about inviting and discipling. Those who were willing listened to His call, left everything behind and followed Him. For three years Jesus had invested His time completely into the lives of the 12 disciples He had chosen, and they were to eventually take up the work that He had begun. The call of Jesus can be summarized into the following:
- gave them a call (follow me),
- he commanded and taught the (love as I have loved),
- he commissioned them (make disciples).
So, when the church forms small groups today, we are actually following the pattern given to us by Jesus for building His Kingdom. The uniqueness of the small group is that when we gather together, we are not gathering for the sake of the church’s programming success or for our name sake, but we are gathering in the name of Jesus. We also don’t gather together just for social interaction or intellectual stimulation, but for spiritual growth and maturing in Christ.
What are some of the characteristics of the small group Jesus formed?
When Jesus invited His small group of disciples, it broke all socio-economic boundaries.
Jesus gathered men from all different backgrounds to form His small group:
- Simon Peter, James, John, and Andrew were all fishermen (Mark 1:16–20)
- Matthew, or Levi, was a tax collector (Mark 2:13–14; see Matthew 9:9)
- Simon the Zealot was part of a movement that advocated throwing off Roman rule by any means necessary
- Outside of the regular band of 12 disciples, Jesus had many other men and women such as Mary Magdalene, Susanna and Joanna (Luke 8:1-3)
Notice that it is only Jesus that brings unity to such a diverse body. Not only did the disciples of Jesus come from different social backgrounds, but they also would have had opposing philosophical and political viewpoints. For example, Matthew the tax collector would have been content with the Roman rule, as he was representing the government in an official capacity, and it would have benefited him financially. Whereas you have Simon the Zealot who was part of a group that sought the expulsion of the Romans and the regaining of Jewish independence.
The key fact here is that Jesus brought together into one body two men who could not have disagreed more politically when they were initially called. It was nothing but the call of God on their lives and their common faith in Jesus that brings such people together. It is still the same today, Jesus alone can unite people from varying backgrounds and who hold varying opinions into one body in service to God.
Jesus also regularly mixed with people that did not fit the profile of proper religious people.
Mark 2:16 says “And the scribes and the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
This is what is special about being a small group leader. You have your small group which you can impact with the word of God, and then in your workplaces, you are able to mix with people from all walks of life and shine the light of Jesus into their lives. This is our mission field, where we can bring the people from the world into our small groups and ultimately to salvation and into the Church. This is what Jesus did when He was mixing with the sinners and tax collectors.
When we are in our small group, the main aim and purpose for our gathering is for spiritual growth. This includes our relationship with God and our relationship with each other. This was the focus of the message of Jesus and His example to us and to the small group He led was. In fact Jesus said this in Matthew 22:37-40 “And he said to them, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it : You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”” So loving God and loving each other is the most important factor in our Christian lives.
In order to do this, let us look at some points that will enable our small group to be rooted in Christ.
Firstly we need to ENGAGE. Today’s society is very individualistic. There are many people around us that are either lonely or afraid to build strong relationships. We must gently encourage people towards developing relationships with a purpose. We must encourage our members to trade their isolation for interaction and their selfishness for serving one another.
Secondly there must be an open EXCHANGE where people can share their ideas and struggles. Many times people are afraid to express any spiritual doubt. The small groups must be a safe place to voice and process doubts and fears. Many people have questions and doubts and this is a place where we can talk about these in order grow in our faith and experience God’s peace.
If we can be honest within our groups about spiritual doubts or fears, then the members are on their way to a great destination, a place of great depth and full confidence in the word of God. The shallowness of our society can be fought by sharing our struggles with one another.
Thirdly we need to EXECUTE the word of God. In James 2:14 it tells us “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” So, what good is it if we meet regularly as a small group in the name of Jesus, and if the world never sees the results of the members growth.
Small groups are a perfect place to inspire, encourage, and pursue God’s will for our lives. To seek God’s plan for a lost world. A place of accountability and encouragement with one another.
The true purpose of the small group is to change the lives of its members, impacting the world for Christ through their individual callings and collectively as members of the body of Christ.
2. He Invested in Them (small groups are opportunities to learn God’s word)
Not only was Christ deliberate in inviting members to his small group, but he was also deliberate in teaching them as well. The disciples enjoyed fellowship with Him and many meals with Him. Most importantly, they could learn the word of God. They got to eat of the true living bread of life.
Matthew 5:1-2 says “Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.”
We also see in Luke 11:1 “Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”
Once Jesus finished His public ministry and coming towards his death and crucifixion, Jesus spends a large amount of time with His disciples. We can read this in John chapters 13 to 17, where Jesus spends time with His disciples alone.
We must note here that, there was a lot of other things that Jesus could have chosen to do in this time, such as healing the sick, continue calling on the crowds to be saved, call for faith and repentance, continued to turn the Pharisees to embrace their Messiah, but Christ does none of these things, rather He spends time alone with His disciples investing all that He has into them.
The practical impact of this cannot be overlooked in any way. In fact Jesus teaches them to be servants and humble by washing their feet. In John 13, we can read the account of Jesus washing the disciples feet, and in John 13:13-16 says “You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.”
He models for them a life of service and love. He also teaches them how to abide in Him, how to abide in the Word. Our aim also must be to invest into our members the word of God so that they may be totally rooted in Christ and built on the strong foundation of the word of God.
This shows us that if we want to be small group leaders that has an impact on those who we have invited to our groups, then we must also spend time investing in them. We must invest the word of God, our time and our lives in a similar fashion. We must be willing to invite people into our lives even when it is inconvenient.
We must be willing to give away our time and experiences to others in order that they will grow in their faith in Christ and learn what it looks like to follow Jesus. We must have a heart to invest in others, because Jesus Christ invested everything in us.
3. He cared for them (Small groups provide a place of refreshment)
Jesus recognized the need for rest and refreshment away from the crowds and offered His small group a retreat. In Mark 6:30-31 it says “The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.”
Jesus knew the human needs, and paid close attention to it. While the disciples were with Jesus, they saw Him heal people, feed people, calm the storms, witnessed His compassion for the people. Not only that, but here we see Christ extending that same compassion and care for His very own disciples ensuring that they also had time to rest and refresh themselves.
We too must follow this example in our very own small groups. We must be aware of the needs of our members and love them through their storms of life. When we get together to study God’s word, pray and fellowship, deep feeling surface and develop into friendships who are always there for you and for me.
As we read in v31 earlier, Jesus was showing His disciples, that even those who work for God are permitted to take a break. It is not a sin to have a break or a holiday from the Lord’s word from time to time. In fact it is very important that this is done in order to be most useful in your calling and for the extension of God’s kingdom. If we are to do our best work, whether for the Lord or for man, we need to have a break.
Let us notice, that this concept of having a break was not something newly introduced but it is actually the basis of the Ten Commandments as well.
In Exodus 20:8-11 it says “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heavens and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
Now when we read in Mark 2:27 Jesus tells us “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” The Sabbath was given so that man would have a day of rest to recharge. There was to be no physical work done on the Sabbath so that the weary bones and muscles could rejuvenate.
This principle of rest on the Sabbath for the purpose of being refreshed was shown by God to Moses. We read this in Exodus 31:17 saying “It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.'””
The Lord is showing here that by resting one day each week would give us refreshment of body and spirit. We should remember this principle. The Lord does not expect us to work all the time. He took the disciples apart so that they could rest and recuperate. We too need to rest so that we can function properly and do the work we have to do, and by taking a rest we will do it better.
We need to allow times for rest and refreshment within our small groups as well as well as to sometimes come together and be relaxed in the presence of one another.
4. He served with them (Small groups reach beyond their small groups)
Jesus always led by example. He took His group members with Him out into the surrounding communities and towns and demonstrated to them how to lovingly share with people in need and they served together.
Luke 8:1 says “Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him,”
Each and every small/connect group has the opportunity to serve. There is tremendous power when believers work together for the greater good of the Church and the community. Leading and being part of a connect group you can show God’s love in many unique and special ways.
We must understand that small groups are not just for the benefit of its own members but it is also an avenue to minister to others that are outside of the group as well.
The time that we spend together as a small group PREPARES us to reach beyond ourselves as part of the body of Christ, and to fulfill the calling upon each members lives.
We can sometimes get so used to our small group where we build strong friendships and relationships that we become too comfortable, not wanting anything to change with the group. We must always keep in mind that small groups are never “just for us”, rather it is a place to equip us to minister to others. This might mean that when the right time comes, the group might change to accommodate new groups blossoming out of the existing group, maybe growth in various other areas.
We must become intentional about showing hospitality, starting small groups, teaching God’s word and also being “flexible” enough to encourage members to move into new ministries when the time is right. We also need to be acceptable of changes that might happen to your small group for the better whatever shape or form it might take.
Our mandate is not limited to an internal focus only, but it is a place to help us fulfill the great commission in reaching the world. Small groups play a significant role in this as it provides a person-to-person setting rather than a program-to-person agenda.
In conclusion, let us follow the example of Jesus in leading our small groups in order to prepare and build our members to fulfill the call of God on their lives and to extend the kingdom of God, through teaching, encouraging and building one another in Christ.
As we follow the example of Christ, we will see growth and expansion of our small groups. Also as leaders or potential leaders of a small group, here are a few habits that we can all get accustomed to, helping in the growth of our groups. These habits can take a small group leader and its members to a new level of fulfilling the purposes and plans that God has for them.
Ensure you place great importance and get into a practice in the following 10 points:
- Have a passion and dream of leading a healthy, growing and multiplying group
- Pray for group members daily
- Invite new people to visit the group weekly
- Contact group members regularly
- Take time to prepare for the group meeting, and provide living bread from the word of God
- Disciple or mentor an apprentice leader
- Plan group fellowship activities
- Be committed to your personal growth
- Remind the group of the vision of the group
- Be outward focussed
Neal McBride (How to Lead Small Groups – NavPress 1990)