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Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Why we are passionate about Home Groups / Small Groups

The R-TF Scale ("Religion" to "True Faith")
If there is a scale between "Religion" (= ritual, law, have-to-do-this, safe, do it because we always do, cold heart, distance, etc.) and True Faith, how would you know where you stood, or for love's sake, where someone else stood? What indicators would reveal whether someone was at one end of the spectrum or the other?

First and foremost would be a heart that loves God, longs for more of Him and lives for his glory, for that is the first commandment. But since the movements of the heart are impossible for anyone but the owner to know (and even there, deceitfulness prevents certain knowledge), how can someone on the outside discern where that soul stands on the  R-TF scale?

By their fruits you shall know them, says Jesus. And among those fruit, says his apostle John is love for brothers: How can you say you love the God you can't see if you don't love his people who you can see? (1 John 4:20, Summers' paraphrase).

[The first letter of John is much about the cast-iron connection between vertical love (love to God) and horizontal love (love to brothers and sisters): they stand or fall together.]
The test of fellowship = the test of Love for God
So a big test of spiritual vitality is a love for the brothers. And how do we know we love our brothers? One test is that we want to meet with our brothers and sisters, share our lives with them, and carry their burdens. We understand that the church is a 'body' - that we are an ear they so desperately need and they are an eye or hand which we can't live without.

You don't see yourself as a foot walking solo down the street on your own, or an ear all on its own, you see yourself as part of a body, part of a world of other parts.

You meet with your brothers and sisters, you invite them into your home, you call them up during the week, you serve them, help them, love them, pray for them.

Test yourself
On the R-TF scale, you are at the R end of the scale if all you do is "come to church on a Sunday" without any other living, meaningful connection with brothers and sisters in the church. If on the other hand you give yourself to a fellowship group and are in your brothers and sisters' homes and hearts, it's a good sign that you have the love of God (which always manifests itself in love for his people) in your heart and you are at the TF end of the scale.

Test yourself.

The strange case of Mr. A
I once knew a man who would read his Bible and pray xhundred hours a week and be ever such a close obeyer of the commands of God. I would feel a spiritual pigmy and a godless sinner every time I visited him. He was up there and I was - I knew - down here.

Back then I thought he was a godly man - but I don't any more.

Why the change of opinion? Mr A had virtually no fellowship with other believers, he would move from one church to another (when they did or said something he disagreed with) and was for ever critical of the church.

I have come to see, over the years, from Scripture that such a man is at the R  end of the spiritual spectrum (at least towards P for Pharisee). A safe, but very dangerous place to be, because without the accountability and correction of his brothers and sisters he will continue to spiral further away from God (though he himself thinks he's getting closer to God, such is the delusion of Pharisaism).

Why Home Groups are so important
This is why, at Manor Park Church, we consider fellowship at home group / small group an essential part of discipleship. Jesus did not call twelve men to hang out with him for a sermon on a Sunday, he asked them to follow him in the grit and grime of ordinary life. And in that grit and grime to become more like Jesus.

It's discipleship - not numbers - that matter
It's another reason why we as a church have no interest in numbers. Numbers signify absolutely nothing.  A church of 500 is not one bit more impressive than a home group of 5. Numbers reveal nothing whatsoever about whether God is at work or not. Almost any church leader can get up the numbers (by a variety of methods including good preaching or its opposite, lowest-common-denominator preaching, by manipulation, by entertainment, and what not).

Strange though it may seem from a pastor - it gives me no joy when someone new comes along on a Sunday.

I hope I am polite to them and kind to them but until they are incorporated into the body, via home groups / small groups, I have no joy. Only when they are integrated into the body can we be assured that they have a fighting chance of growing in their faith, with the help of the rest of the body. I know they cannot grow listening to a sermon every week. I know there is no way I can make them grow - the notion that Christians grow by listening to preaching alone is nowhere found in Scripture (it's one of the unReformed legacies of the Reformation and one of the consequences of the church aping the academy, where you learn primarily by attending lectures - listening to stuff).

Pastors are called to make disciples - not waste their time with pew-warmers. That's strong, but it's also true.

Only when a believer is connected to the body (= only when they are serious about growing in Christ) do they give us joy. 

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