The most important thing you need to know as a small group leader is the biblical foundation for your ministry. We'll look at the biblical roots and requirements, then briefly consider additional facts that support the need for groups. Pay close attention so that you don't miss anything, because this information will help you grasp the significance of your role as a small group leader.
In fact, of all the potential ministry formats available to the local church, small groups have the greatest biblical support! Consequently, it is important for you as a small group leader to understand and appreciate the rich biblical heritage that precedes you.
OLD TESTAMENT ROOTS
The basis of today's small group ministries can be traced back to the Old Testament. The small group begins with the very nature of God. Genesis 1:1 launches the biblical record with a simple yet profound statement that God (Elohim) is the Creator of all that exists. The word Elohim is plural, designating or incorporating more than one person. Our own needs for and use of groups is a logical extension of the fact that God exists within the divine form of a small group. Of course the term small group is not used in Scripture, but neither is the word Trinity.
From the entire nation down to the smallest family unit, a large and small group mentality permeated the Jewish existence.
Nation - The Israelites were a chosen people; God set them apart from all other peoples on the face of the earth (Deuteronomy 7:6). They where chosen not because they where large in number, but because they were few in number and God loved them (Deuteronomy 7:7-8). They formed a great family called "the house of Israel" (Exodus 40:38). This family identify served as the model around which the nation was internally organized.
Tribe - The house of Israel, by virtue of its descent from the twelve sons of Jacob, was divided into twelve subgroups or tribes (Genesis 49). Tribes provided the leaders with a method to administer and guide the people. These tribal sub groupings were established clearly by the time the land of Canaan was divided among the Israelites according to their tribes and families (Joshua 13-22).
Family or clan - Tribes were broken down further into groups of relatives known as clans or families. By the last year of the Israelites' wilderness journey, fifty-seven families existed among the twelve tribes.
Household - This literally means "house." The various clans were divided down into family subgroups or relatives living in the same dwelling, including servants and dependents. Households typically incorporated several generations of relatives and servants.
Fathers or men - A specific man, including his wife and children, was the smallest group within the Jewish identity. A single family unit could exist as part of a larger household or as a separate entity. Individual family units were the heart of Jewish society--the primary small groups.
JESUS AS A SMALL GROUP LEADER
Jesus is pictured as the the greatest small group leader in history. He is our model. Ephesians 5:1-2 (NIV) admonishes us, "Be imitations of God...and live a life of love." Clearly, the primary idea of the Apostle Paul is becoming Christlike in our character. However, to focus solely on character formation is to catch only half of the author's intent. We also must seek to imitate Christ's walk--His behavior or actions that were marked by love.
For me, Jesus' involvement in a small group is the most convincing rationale for why local churches need to seriously consider including group as an integral part of their congregational lives.
As a small group leader, you are involved in a form of leadership in which our Lord and Savior also participated. You are walking in His footsteps. So, increasing your knowledge and understanding of small group leadership is essential. The heart of what you need to know about Jesus as a small group leader can be summarized in seven key statements.
1. Jesus began His earthly ministry by establishing His "small group," the disciples. (Matt. 4:18-22, Matt. 10:2-4, Luke 6:13-16).
2. Jesus was actively involved in both large and small group ministry contexts. (Mark 12:37, Matt. 26:6).
3. Jesus' ministry to large groups was preceded by and proceeded out of His small group context.
4. Jesus spent the majority of His time with His small group.
5. Key statement about Jesus as a small group leader is theat relationships, not organizations, were central in His method. His message, the gospel, was of greater concern to Him than establishing and running a human institution. He chose to spend His time with people, caring, healing, listening, forgiving, encouraging, teaching, and preaching. Because of His emphasis on people, not programs, the only organization that merited Jesus' continuing time and attention was His small group.
6. Jesus used the small group context to teach and model spiritual knowledge, attitudes, and behavior.
7. The small group was Jesus' method for leadership training.
THE EARLY CHURCH AS AN EXAMPLE
Acts 2:42-47 gives us a glimpse of how the Jerusalem household of God (church) functioned. It was an exciting time. We are given an outline of their activities: "They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer" (verse 42). A balance existed among instruction, fellowship, common activities (meals), and spiritual responsibilities (prayer). The atmosphere was charged. A sense of awe, unity, and praise prevailed. People looked out for one another. They sold their property and possessions, sharing the proceeds with those in need. This dynamic situation brought the approval of all people. Spiritual and numerical growth were evident. God was at work in their midst.
NEW TESTAMENT MANDATE
Much of the New Testament, if not the majority, deals with the attitudes and actions God would have characterize the members of His household, the community of believers. Consider some of the "one another" verses:
"Be devoted...[and] give preference to one another." (Romans 12;10)
"Accept one another." (Romans 15:7)
"Care for one another." (I Cor. 12:25)
"Bear one another's burdens." (Galatians 6:2)
"Forgiving each other." (Ephesians 4:32)
"Encourage...and build up one another." (1 Thess. 5:11)
"Stimulate one another to love and good deeds." (Hebrews 10:24)
"Confess your sins to...and pray for one another." (James 5;16)
"Serving one another." (I Peter 4:10)
"Love one another." (John 4:11)
This list provides only a brief taste of the standards that should govern the household of God. Even so, the obvious question must be asked: What is the best setting or ideal method to pursue these biblical attitudes and actions? Certainly more than one answer is possible, but based on the biblical evidence, a logical answer is small groups meeting in homes. This ideal context stresses relationships on an informal setting, which in turn helps us understand and implement the New Testament mandate. This fact was true for the early church, and it is still true for us today.
The words of Jesus found in Matthew 18:20 are very important: "For where two or three have gathered together in My name, there I am in their midst."
(Discipleship is the most important part. Spending time with people is 75% of being a small group leader. This is where the bonding of your group will come from)
Evangelism--and the larger issue of discipleship---is greatly enhanced in the relational context of small groups. Groups provide a people-to-people setting rather than a program-to-people agenda. This more natural, interpersonal context readily lends itself to sharing the gospel.
THE HOLY SPIRIT AS A GROUP MEMBER
An important foundation undergirding your role as a small group leader is the place of the Holy Spirit within the group. Simply put, He is the unseen but present group member and leader. You serve as His co-leader, the human instrument of His guidance and direction. Your primary role is to facilitate the Holy Spirit's ministry in the members' lives through planning and guiding the group activities. Please weld this reality into your thinking and actions, because it is vital to your success as a leader and to the group's success.
In condensed form, here are seven ministries the Holy Spirit performs in your group.
1. He indwells - The Scriptures are clear that the Holy Spirit dwells in every person who has accepted Jesus Christ as Savior. (Romans 8:9-11)
2. He guides - As with individual believers, the Holy Spirit also provides guidance within small groups. Whether the issue is making scheduling decisions, selecting a format, responding to the Word, dealing with an obstinate member, rejoicing over one person's personal success, or anything else, we must remain sensitive to His guidance and direction. (John 16;13)
3. He teaches - The Holy Spirit is our teacher. Through His illumination of the biblical text, we can come to know and understand spiritual truth. (John 14:26)
4. He convicts - When we are confronted with the demands of Scripture, it is the Holy spirit who bears witness with our spirits and convicts us of our wrong attitudes and actions. (John 16:8)
5. He intercedes - The Holy Spirit intercedes with God the Father on our behalf. (Romans 8:26)
6. He enables - Spiritual gifts are God-given abilities to serve the Body of Christ wherever and however He may direct. The Holy Spirit is the source of our spiritual gifts. Through His gifting us we have the ability to serve one another, specifically our fellow group members. (I Cor. 12:11)
7. He unifies - As God's children we are one people. Our practical unity as a group is possible on the basis of our spiritual unity through the Holy Spirit.
DEFINING SMALL GROUPS
Generic definition - A small group within the church is a voluntary, intentional gathering of three to twelve people regularly meeting together with the shared goal of mutual Christian edification and fellowship (through knowing, showing and growing together).
Within the church -- The focus of our definition, and this book, is on groups within the context and ministry of the church, the Body of Christ (Romans 12:5)
Voluntary -- People cannot and should not be forced to join a small group. Potential group members must choose to participate.
Intentional gathering -- Small groups are premeditated, planned gatherings of people.
Three to twelve people -- Group size is very important. When group membership expands beyond twelve people, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain effective interpersonal relationships and accomplish the group's goals.
Regularly meeting together -- Groups can exist only on paper and never meet. Such groups fall outside our definition. We are concerned with groups that gather together on a consistent and frequent basis.
With the shared goal -- The purpose of the group is not a secret for the leader to know and everyone else to find out. Members participating in groups that fit within the ideal definition understand, accept, and actively promote common goals.
Mutual -- The familiar adage "one for all and all for one" captures this aspect of the definition. Every member of the group actively must accept the responsibility of the group's success.
Christian edification -- The Greek words for edify (oikodomeo) and edification (oikodmome) literally mean to "build" or "building up." Add the word Christian and the meaning focuses on the idea of strengthening or reinforcing the spiritual lives of believers.
Fellowship -- Our definition recognizes fellowship (koinonia) as the dynamic that builds and holds a small group together. Biblical fellowship carries the idea of communion with one another as an expression of our relationship with Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:9).
BIBLICAL GOALS FOR SMALL GROUPS
Nevertheless, let me suggest that all types of groups in the church share four basic goals that are foundational to our corporate, over-arching purpose of glorifying God (1 Cor. 10:31).
• Foster biblical love. Remember, biblical love is demonstrated love. (John 13;35; 1 Cor. 13:13; Gal. 5:13; Eph. 5:2; I John 4:7,11,21
• Promote fellowship (koinonia) and unity. Unity should characterize the fellowship or communion of a community of believers. God is one; likewise, we should be one. (Acts 4:32; Rom. 12:5; I Cor. 12:12,25; Eph. 4:3,5,13; I John 1:3,6-7).
• Build the Body. Whether it is evangelism or discipleship, (mentoring), the goal is to present all people mature (complete) in Christ (Rom. 14:19; Eph. 2:19-22; Eph. 4:11-16; Col 1:10-12,28; 2:6-7).
• Nurture spiritual gifts. Ministry is a shared task--a task for which we are all responsible. Each of us needs to find a suitable expression to exercise his or her spiritual gift(s) (Rom. 12:6-8; I Cor. 12:4-11).