Last night, I visited one of the small groups I coach. A while back, this five year old group decided that they really hungered for God's Word and decided to go through a survey of the Bible together.
My wife and I started this group many years ago. We had amazing times of experiencing God in our midst and in our activities with others. Today, it's filled with 35+ year old couples and singles who have been together since we turned the group over to others. Only one original couple remains. Two new people have joined the group since I last visited the group, which is really great news (I was starting to worry about them).
However, after my visit I can clearly see they are now man-made and not yet God made:
• Their fascinating study of Genesis last night (I learned a lot about Lot, by the way) did not move them into a time of personal reflection, application, and transparent sharing and ministry for one another.
• Their prayer time was cursory at best, tacked onto the end of the meeting well after the 9 p.m. finishing time, and the requests made were not personal. Two members asked for prayer for their elderly mothers.
• The group has no plans in the works to reach out to unchurched friends. They do have a gumbo night planned though, so the "inward" component is working but not the "outward" component.
I am concerned that this group may be a man-made group. On the night I visited the group, the were not focusing on the Christ within themselves nor the Christ within the other members of the group, nor were they gathering in Christ's name and for his sake alone... they are gathering for each other and to learn more about the Bible.
I know these people. They value what the man Jesus did for them on the cross 2000 years ago. But on the night of my visit, they did not focus on the Christ in their midst to discover his presence, power, and purposes in their lives. They are also quite comfortable being who they are with no sense of urgency to bring others in or work as a team to reach others for Christ. This is very concerning to me because I've always compared biblical community to manna. If you don't use it at the right time and you try to hoard it, God will not preserve it.
As the coach over this group, I will work hard in the days to come (with both the leader and the whole group) to move them out of man-centered activities and into Christ-empowered kingdom building. I pray they can feel Christ powerfully moving through each of them as they minister to one another and befriend unchurched people. Hopefully, they'll discover the true depths of biblical community when they look not only to their own interests, but the interests of others (Phil 2:4).
I have never been more clear in my understanding of this issue. Editing Christ's Basic Bodies has taken me to a completely new level in my understanding of just how powerful small group life can be when it is Christ-centered. Man forms the small group. However, if each member of the group yields their expectations, comfort level, and agenda to the Christ within them and they all come together simply to meet Christ and experience the 3 P's (see above), that group is transformed into a God-made group much like a caterpillar becomes a butterfly!
If you haven't read this book yet, I challenge you to do so. It's not an easy read because it lays down the theology behind what I'm talking about, but it is nonetheless one very powerful new book on the difference between forming small groups that take the world by storm and scare the fire out of the devil vs. small groups that are doomed to religious mediocrity.
To read a sample of Christ's Basic Bodies and order it, click here.