April 28, 2016

The Joys of Small Groups

by Scott Hollingshead

I love my small group–and I’m not just saying that because I’m the pastor and I’m supposed to. Sure, I have weeks where I barely get everything together in time to attend small group in the first place. But within minutes of the group starting, I’m overwhelmed; not by the stress of another activity on the schedule, but by the sheer blessing of redemptive relationships.

The small group I attend isn’t made up of a bunch of long-time friends or people who naturally have a lot in common. In fact, my group is quite varied in age, occupation, experiences, and life stage. And I think it’s better that way. Despite all of our differences, the gospel has drawn us together and freed us to be transparent with one another. Like any relationship, this didn’t happen from day one but has gradually grown as we submit to God and He uses us in one another’s lives. And the growth I’ve witnessed has been incredible.

Here are three reasons I love being part of a small group:  

Time in God’s Word

First of all, discussing God’s word always provides a mixed bag of possible outcomes. You could have the awkward interaction where no one speaks up…ever. It’s can be so quiet after a question is asked that you could hear a pin drop. This makes the leader feel awkward, so he tries to fill the silence with his own thoughts and the conversation trails off from there. Have you been there? Or you could have the group where one person pretty much takes over the conversation as if it were a monologue and not a dialogue.

But all that is simply a natural part of trying to start a conversation with people of different personalities and backgrounds. Personally, I’m learning to embrace the messiness of this reality. But more than that, I’ve learned that this reality seems to fix itself by God’s grace in time as comfort is built in relationships. I’ve loved watching our discussions turn into full-blown corporate conversations where everyone participates.

And they’re not just talking about their own thoughts but how the verses themselves actually apply to their lives. Additionally, I’ve appreciated the quality of questions people ask. Sure, at times, we have to circle back around to one that’s off topic but many of them are on topic and very helpful. I’ve been so stretched and encouraged and ministered to by the Spirit of God speaking through God’s people as they are drawn deeper into God’s word. The time in God’s word makes the seasons of awkwardness worth it.

Praying together

Admittedly, I have done a poor job as a leader at times of providing enough time to pray well as a group. The result is that most of the prayer requests stay on the surface, and we don’t have the time to get to the heart. Don’t get me wrong: I’m for prayer requests that are for cousins and friends and jobs etc., but I enjoy it even more when prayer gets to ways people can grow personally in light of what God’s word is teaching. Over time, a small group’s prayer life will change significantly. It grows and eventually will become one of the most exciting parts of the time spent together. What was once a little forced becomes a highlight for the group. As we let the scripture we’re discussing guide our prayers, the quality of communion with the Lord becomes the result of time in the word.

Transparency

Sin is anti-social. Your flesh would naturally prefer to ward off any relationship that doesn’t already naturally appeal to you. What I find so amazing about small group is that it wages war against that mentality. It calls us to truly be what the Bible calls us…family. Matthew 12:46-50:

While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak with him. But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.

When you give your life to Jesus, you’re not only saved from sin but you’re saved into family. And this kingdom family is there to help you walk in faithful obedience to God and His word. We need each other, and my group is embracing this truth. We don’t try to come off pretty. We don’t wait to share with other people outside of our church family. We seek to create an environment in which the burdens and struggles of life can be openly shared and adequately cared for by our kingdom family. I love my small group and thank God for the mutual encouragement they are to one another and to me.

Through prayer, transparency, and time in God’s word, it is obvious that God is at work in small groups. It may not be noticeable in the short term, but over time you see the fruit of what God is doing. It is not that small groups are a necessity of church life–but it it is true that if you do not have these kind of spiritual relationships in your life, you are missing out on a powerful way that God grows his kingdom family.

Scott Hollingshead

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Scott is the Senior Pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel in Sacramento, CA.