Friday, July 31, 2015

P3 What you need for healthy Christian growth - Small group ministry

Ephesians 5:25 "Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another."

Introduction and review
The overall pattern and design of the Christian life is to grow onward and upward in the Lord. Such growth may experience seasonal declines, however the vast majority of the Christian life ought to witness advances and an overall pattern of change. Passages such as 2 Peter 3:18 explicitly command us to grow up in our walk with Christ: "but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen." Peter also writes in 1 Peter 2:2 "like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation." Like the Apostle Peter, the Apostle Paul also explains the need of healthy Christian growth. Romans 12:2 is but one example - "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect." 

The urgency for healthy Christian growth is not up for debate in the scriptures. The question is: what and how do Christians grow in their Christian lives? The premise of these next few posts will be that healthy Christians make for healthy churches. God has prescribed three main ministries in the local church to ensure the spiritual healthy of Christians. Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes 4:12  "And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart." We will be exploring two chapters (Ephesians 4 and 1 Timothy 4) to discover what I am calling "the 3-braided rope" of healthy Christian growth in Christians and the church, which includes the following:

1. Pastoral ministry (1 Timothy 4; Ephesians 4:11-12)

2. Church-body life (Ephesians 4:13-24)

3. Small-groups (Ephesians 4:25-29)

We saw yesterday how church body-life and pastoral ministry are used by God in the spiritual health of Christians and churches. Today we want to focus on an often neglected and third dimension necessary for healthy Christian-growth: small groups.

Small groups, whether Sunday School or some other arrangement, enable church members to Biblically relate to one-another
This third and important dimension for healthy Christian growth is vital in developing relationships among church members. However, before we go any further, the question is: how Biblical is this practice? The design of small group structure pre-dates the church and is found all the way back in the Old Testament. For instance, when Moses' father-in-law Jethro advised Moses to delegate leadership responsibility to others to help share the load of leading over 2 million people, he included the idea of small-groups. Exodus 18:21 states - "Furthermore, you shall select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain; and you shall place these over them as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens." Roughly 1,000 years later, the great scribe Ezra stood up to proclaim the Word of God to thousands of Jewish returnees from exile. It had been 70 years since the people had heard the Word of God proclaimed, and so quite literally Ezra was speaking to a people who were unfamiliar with the first five books of the Law. As Ezra preached, he had a number of assistants who "translated and gave sense" regarding the message and the text being read (Nehemiah 8:8). How do you practically have 25 teachers plus an untold number of Levites explaining God's Word all at the same time to over 42,000 people? By dividing up that mighty throng into managable groups. I love this text because it shows both the ministry of the preacher and the utility of small groups at the same time.

What about the miracle of Jesus' feeding of the 5,000 in Mark 6? If we factor in the detail recorded in the other Gospels of "plus women and children", we truly have a miracle of epic proportions - 20,000 plus! How was it that Jesus was able to distribute the food so quickly to so many people? Mark 6:40 records that Jesus had them sit down in groups of fifties and hundreds. The point of the miracle was to communicate how Jesus alone can feed God's people - with the Jewish nation being of particular focus in this instance. 

By the time we arrive at Acts, the early church was already growing in size. From the church's inception, passages such as Acts 2:46 and Acts 5:42 indicate that the church would meet not only together but also "from house to house". Small groups are seen elsewhere throughout the New Testament letters, indicating that this particular ministry was ordained by God to aid His people in both testaments in building relationships with one another. 

Consequently, the key phrase throughout the New Testament that indicates the need for small groups in the local church (whether Sunday School, home groups or whichever label is used) is the phrase "one another". Over 25 topics in the New Testament indicate how we are to interract with "one another". For instance, people in the church body are to "love one another" (Romans 13:8; 1 Thess 3:12; 1 Peter 1:22; 2 Thess 4:9; 1 Peter 4:8; 1 John 3:23; 4:7,12); serve one another (Galatians 5:13; 6:2) and confess our sins to one another (James 5:16). This "one another" aspect of church life can only be achieved whenever there are small groups of Christians who regularly study God's Word and in the process, help each other out and encourage each other to live the Christian life. 

Small-groups are not to compete nor ever replace the preaching of God's Word nor the body-life ministries that have already been discussed in this blog-series. In tomorrow's post, we will consider how pastoral ministry, church body-life and small groups biblically relate to one another in the local church.

More tomorrow....

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