Sunday, April 11, 2010

Building Community in Small Groups - Part 3

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this three-part series on Building Community in Small Groups I looked at how two small groups in my church are doing an outstanding job of building community, and growing as disciples in the process. Their methods were often quite different, but I saw several principles at work for building a sense of biblical community. I also learned a lesson on leadership that I'll share here.

Sometimes when a leader thinks they know how to do something, or if they have done something well in the past, they are eager to share what they've done, and let other people know what methods work. If you look at a number of small group books you'll find no shortage of methods that others have found to be successful... for them anyway. More often than not if we try these in our groups or in our church, things fall flat. Why do such methods not translate well to other groups? Why can't we figure out the best practices for small groups and teach others what to do? Why can I fail to see solutions to the challenges of other groups?

The other small group leaders I've described here have done a super job in helping their groups gel and grow. In fact, each one has done a far better job than I could have with their groups, even though they have quite a bit less experience. Actually, had they switched and tried to lead the other's group, things would not have gone nearly so well. Here's the thing...
Every group is not merely different, it is unique. Life transformation flourishes in a climate of biblical community. For this to happen, the leader must love and understand their group: who each individual is, what their needs and hopes are, where they're at, what they're hoping to be, what they're struggling with. Group members can't be led where they don't want to go, but they will walk alongside someone who cares for them and can help them take a next step along the journey. Methods don't replicate well because groups are unique. Biblical principles do apply broadly because they reflect God's universal wisdom.
Ø We must be intentional about building Christ-centered relationships - because this is exactly what Christ modeled and taught. It's not enough to meet new people, to be friendly, or even to be a friend - our fellowship comes from being united in Christ, and only through Christ-centered relationships can we help one another grow as disciples.

Ø We must desire to love God more, to grow, to reach out, to serve one another - not just out of duty, but out of love for one another, and because God has shared from His own heart that this is *the* most important thing He wants us to do.

Ø We must be vulnerable, to admit our struggles, and to be open enough to risk being hurt, and to allow others to do the same and ask tough questions, because failing to do this destroys any chance of building true community, shuts down life-transform, and turns us into white-washed fences who merely play at church.

Ø We must see ourselves as equal member of Christ's body with Him alone as the head. This is what the Bible teaches and what Christ died for. Equal members, different gifts. That's why the more the group owns their responsibility to growth, to service, to outreach, and to loving one another - together - the more we can grow as a body.

I believe it's good and right to boldly declare these prescriptively ("we must") for these are biblical principles. As a coach I want to strongly encourage small group leaders to consider these principles, check them against Scripture, and to pray what it would look like to see them lived out in their group. When it comes to specific methods, I need to be careful not to go beyond being descriptive - i.e., as some ideas found to be useful sometimes, consider prayerfully if they would make any sense for you.

After writing this post, I realized something else pretty cool. The principles described in these series were seen in the practice of several groups, generalized from method to principle, and checked with Scripture. They're pretty much the same principles I came up with about a year and half ago, coming at it from a more academic angle. At the time I concluded that to build disciples our approach needs to be TRIM - Transformational, Relational, Intentional, and Missional. Is it any surprise that what is essential for community is the same as what is essential for discipleship, and that what Christ models and teaches actually works in practice?! Shocking!

Lord, may I be more bold in encouraging others, and in teaching the principles I find in your Word, and may I have a greater spirit of humility and ears more eager to listen, as I walk alongside others who also seek to draw close to Christ and to build your Kingdom.

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