My new small group course

I could hardly be more excited about a new study I am writing for small groups. I’m going to beta test it first on my own group in St. Petersburg starting in April, and then offer it to others to try out, in Russian and in English, I expect by the fall. Here is the introduction to it:

We talk about being a Body of Christ, but what does that look like in real life? What are the dynamics necessary for a group of Christians to function as a Body? And even when we know them, why are they so hard to implement? What fears are we going to have to face and overcome in order to love each other as the Bible insists we must?

I have come to see that there are three levels of Body life that must be mastered in a certain order. Sociologists speak of three principle aspects of a social order: Social relationships, economic relationships, and productivity, which is also a form of relationships, since without agreement, we cannot produce a given item, at least in modern society that no longer functions on the productivity of what individuals do in isolation.

And so the three courses in this series actually correspond on a Kingdom level with each of these three aspects.

  1. Social relationships in the Kingdom must be governed by basic principles of obedience to God’s word as the standard, and a culture of honor that seeks the best for everyone on the assumption that God is doing something special and important in each of us that deserves our encouragement and support.
  2. Economic relationship in the Kingdom are about the flow of Kingdom capital, and the greatest source and form of capital is love. Love is that which gives value to something. God loved his creation, and he loved us, even while we were sinners, enough to die for us. In this we have a model that spurs us on to love and good works in community. When we allow love to flow between us for a common good, then we are able to serve not only each other, but others out of that love.
  3. Kingdom productivity happens when we harness not only that love but according to a division of labor that allows each to function in team out of gifting. Kingdom productivity is fundamentally helped or hindered by the presence or absence of unity. In the world, mammon provides the basis for productive capacity by given a team a concrete goal that pays off in monetary terms. Because this element is lacking in most ministry ventures, the Church has struggled to find a way to agree on what it needs to do, so that it can allow each to play his or her role to this end.

The first course starts with a one-day seminar called RealTalk. It continues with group meetings once a week for three months, with personal homework and accountability groups of three individuals together in-between. By the end of this course your group will have grown in the values and skills necessary to become what we are calling a “Biblical support group.” There are a lot of support groups out there, but we are defining a Biblical support group as one that has three characteristics:

  1. Members are each actively pursuing a life of being led by God’s Word (through both Logos and Rhema);
  2. Each one is open with the others about that process, both in its successes and difficulties, allowing others to speak into and walk with them in that process;
  3. Each one is learning to provide others within the group the kinds of encouragement, active support, and healthy accountability that will most  facilitate the successful (obedient) walking out of that Word from the Lord.

The second course will take the foundations of the first course to the next level, where the group will learn to become a “Biblical accountability group.” We define this as follows: a group where the values and skills of a Biblical support group are expanded to include all appropriate forms of encouragement, support, and accountability that the group deems necessary to carry out an ongoing task with excellence and the godly character qualities and group dynamics that go along with a Christ-honoring process. Whereas in a support I choose to be open in the one area God is leading me in, in an accountability group I must be open in all areas that directly or indirectly affect the ability of my group to perform its function with biblical integrity.

This course is necessary for all who wish to function within the context of a ministry group that is charged with a certain (generally) repeating job. For example, a worship team would fall in this category, as would the volunteer team who prepares and organizes a weekly fellowship dinner.  Learning and functioning according to gift may be important in such a group, but not as critical as it is for the creative team (below), because whatever specific gift needs are present are already clearly defined, such as the need for a drummer, or a cook.

The third course will expand upon the second by helping the group grow to the level of becoming a “Biblical creative team.” This is defined as a group that is comfortably moving in the dynamics necessary to be an accountability group and ads to these a specific (SMART) goal that they have discerned from the Lord and accomplish through a cooperative mutuality that allows each to function according to his gifts and skills to that end. This is called a creative team, because its function by definition is doing something essentially new. For example, it might set before it the organizing of a conference, or researching community needs, starting a new ministry to the homeless, or creating a strategy for multiplying prayer groups.

Running through these courses is a clear line of spiritual/relational competencies that must be built in order. They are as follows:

Humility

Listening

Obedience

Accountability

Mutuality

Missionality

As the Church, the Body of Christ, we are tasked with being a people on mission, but we short-circuit this mission when we attempt to express our mission in ways that thwart relationship. Our Father placed relationship so high on his priority list that he was willing to sacrifice his Son for it, and then he was, and is, willing to wait for its full realization as a prerequisite for the coming of the Kingdom . Jesus himself charged his disciples, and us through them, with learning how to love each other (Jn 17:2?) as the essential means of bring the world to a saving knowledge of him. These courses simply flesh out that command in the context of group dynamics.

Missionality is the mindset of mission that means we are a people on a mission, which means we are a people together on mission. We cannot do mission alone. Not only does it violate Jesus’ command to love one another, but it diminishes our effectiveness to almost zero. So missionality demands mutuality. Mutuality, in turn, demands accountability, a scary term that when redefined in the Kingdom simply means a willingness to let others speak into our lives in a healthy way to bring out the best in us, empowering us to fulfill God’s dreams for us. Accountability is not healthy or proper where there is no desire to learn obedience to God in the first place. Otherwise, we are striving together to build little Towers of Babel, kingdoms to our own plans and idols. One who is set on learning obedience to the One who created him and gave him purpose is one who must learn first how to listen to the voice of that One. Listening, in turn, implies the humility to say that I am not the center of the Universe. Others are no less important than I, and the One who spoke in the beginning is the One most deserving of my ear.

Two other critical elements of these courses deserve mention. First is the requirement that each course be completed as a group. Implied in this requirement is the further requirement that completion is not merely going through the material and putting in the time. Each group must assess, not only at the end, but along the way, whether or not each participant individually, as well as the group as a whole, has sufficiently mastered the material. This may require pausing on a particular lesson for two, three, or more weeks, or returning to it later on, once it is realized that something is insufficiently mastered. This requirement creates some interesting and sometimes inevitable situations that will require resolution, such as when one person begins to lag behind for some reason.

A second aspect of the course is its adaptability. Not only is it adaptable in terms of making up lessons that have been incompletely mastered, it also allows a group to pause in certain places for longer, at their discretion, in order to deepen their understanding, try some new and creative approaches, and find approaches that meet both individual and group needs for depth and relevance.

The basic approach assumes essentially no skills in any area, except the humility as a child of God to start the process. Therefore, you will cover concepts and skills that you may think you have down personally. For example, we teach a simple method for studying the Bible together that may strike some as beneath them. Resist the temptation to judge or assume that you do not need it. Not only is it likely that you will learn something you didn’t pick up before, but this is also part of the process of developing a common language and approach. To build community and team, we have to slow down and maybe even go backwards for a while to pick up the potential that is hidden in relationships. Likewise, accountability may be a hard lesson for some to learn, who are used to accomplishing so much on their own. You will need to let the Spirit through the process confront your own heart to expose what creates your resistance. People who get a lot done on their own need relationships and mutual accountability no less than others, just in different ways. We sometimes use our productivity to hide those areas of our lives that are lagging behind. You may learn that about yourself.   

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