Small Groups Are Communities That Apply The Scriptures

small-groupsSeminary was a sort of nerdvana for me. It was hours upon hours of intense study in the Scriptures, theology, and history. I loved the study, uncovering some nuance, learning about some historical debate, clarifying some doctrinal point. But it wasn’t always easy to discern the application of these details to life. Theology often could feel academic, but not super relevant. For some people, the concept of Small Groups carries a similar frustration. It can feel like intense Bible study without a lot of practical discussion about my life and how the Bible helps me live it. That is not what I want for small groups. If Small Groups are to be life-giving then they should be communities where the Scriptures are applied.

In order for small groups to be truly effective we have to ask more than just the “how” question. How we do small groups is important, but if we don’t start with “why” then we won’t have a clear goal. Why do churches have small groups? For churches that don’t have a strong pulpit ministry it may be important to utilize this means for doing more instruction. But groups that are simply about the dissemination of information will not be as effective as they could be. We want to see small groups focus on comprehensive discipleship, and that means more than just giving information. It means helping each other apply the content of the Scriptures to the specific parameters of our lives. Small groups provide us with an amazing opportunity to maximize our discipleship potential as a church. We can do this primarily by combining a strong pulpit ministry with the intimacy of small group fellowship.

The preaching of the Word of God on Sundays is a foundational part of the corporate life of any church. Paul commands Timothy, above all things to “preach the Word” (2 Tim. 4:2), and the apostles in Acts 6 state plainly that they need to focus on preaching the Word over against managing internal food distribution matters (Acts 6:2). When the church gathers they need to be prepared to hear from God’s Word, and a man of God needs to have done the hard work of studying it, preparing to communicate it clearly, and helping people to understand how it can apply to their lives. But, in a mass meeting it is hard to communicate the application of the Scripture in specific ways that are relevant to where every person in the room is at. That’s where small groups can be useful. When we build on the teaching of the Scriptures and focus more specifically on their application to our individual lives we can do several important things: (1) we can move the sermon beyond Sunday mornings, (2) we can apply it specifically to more people in the congregation, (3) we can help each other think through difficult details.

As important as the sermons of our corporate worship setting are, we must be careful to be realistic about the sermon. One thirty-minute message (or 40, or 60 depending on who preaches) cannot do the whole of our church’s discipleship. Brad House is correct when he writes:

The danger of a church that relies heavily on the pulpit is that we can be lulled into being content that our people have heard the gospel day in and day out. James reminds us, however, that if our faith does not produce good works, then it is not faith at all…With this in mind, we need to have a holistic approach to the way we “do” church. In many churches that I talk to, I see a disconnect between the gathered church on Sunday and the scattered church during the week. This disconnect weakens the church as a whole as energy and resources are not working together for the same goal. (Community, 55)

We need to take the sermon beyond the Sunday morning, beyond our corporate worship. It is important because if gives us the necessary information and introduces us to big picture ideas of application to our lives. But if we don’t do more with it then come Monday morning we will have forgotten it and moved on.

At Cornerstone we have attempted to use small groups to help us build upon what we hear on Sunday mornings. This year we switched to sermon guided questions. Based on what we learn Sunday mornings we are seeking to ask more pointed and pronounced questions about how those details apply to our daily living. We are probing into one another’s lives, lifting the windows and beginning to let light shine into dark places. That’s why we have summarized our small group ministry as “Applying Sunday’s Sermon to Our Every Day Lives with Help from One Another.” Our pastor does a great job of helping us to understand the text and see where it connects with the big picture of how we live. Small groups then in turn take us the next step and challenge us to apply its lessons in even more specific ways. Groups can also follow-up with us, hold us accountable, make sure we are in fact being “doers of the Word” and not simply hearers (James 1:22). House reminds us again of the benefits of this model, he says:

By leveraging one-on-many preaching with one-another discipleship in community, we get the advantage of clear teaching and the intimacy of community. (53)

It’s the best of both worlds and it maximizes our discipleship efforts.

For small groups that only do study, that never get into more personal application the impact of the ministry will be minimal. The information is important, but the danger in focuses solely on disseminating information, solely on study, is that we can become full of knowledge and shallow on life. We can become a church of know-it-alls (1 Cor. 8:1). We can become a church with little intimacy, little accountability, and little activity. It’s easy in such a setting to think that we are, that I am, growing spiritually simply because I am learning more information. That, however, is simply not the model of healthy discipleship reflected in the Scripture. Christ urges the disciples teach men not simply what I say, but to obey all that I have said (Matt. 28:20).

Small Groups provide us an opportunity to do comprehensive discipleship, built off of good teaching from the pulpit. They provide us an opportunity to focus on application and clarification when we build upon the Sunday sermon. If the answer to the question “why do we have small groups” is “in order to make disciples,” then the answer to the “how do we do small groups” question is “by applying the Scriptures to our lives.” This gives us a clearer vision of ministry and methodology. Simply put, it makes small groups more effective.

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