As our church's home groups restart for the autumn term, it's a good to reflect on why we meet together every week in homes. Here are the reasons, beginning with some recent history....
"Just come on Sundays and Wednesdays"
It is not so long ago that many evangelical churches in the West would encourage their members to come to a building called a "church" on Sundays and Wednesdays. This was all they needed, they were told, to grow in their new-found faith.
To be fair on that generation, since they had been brought up in a culture radically shaped by the Gospel, where persecution was zero and they already knew "how to live" because the Gospel had shaped culture, this advice was probably just about sufficient, even though not ideal - and certainly lacking, biblically.
Today, with a radically secularised culture, "come to a church building two/three times of week" just will not grow the saints. Why do we need to meet together in smaller groups?
Because Jesus needed a small group
Right at the start of his ministry he chose 12 men "to be with him" (Mark 3:14). He the perfect man, the
Because we are all lacking
The Biblical view of an individual Christian is that of one body-part, an eye, a hand, a foot, and so on. By definition then, a single believer actually cannot function without other parts around us. Not merely around us, but functioning around us in living pulsating connection. I might lack wisdom on certain matters so I need someone who has wisdom to make up for my lack. Or perhaps I may lack knowledge and experience on other things, so I need someone with knowledge and experience to make up for that lack. I lack spiritual discernment perhaps, so I need someone who has that gift, who is that part, to make up for it. You simply can't get those functionings from a large gathering on a Sunday.
Because we all have something to give
The counterpoint to the previous point is that we all have some gift to contribute to others! They need us, as much as we need them. A small group is an ideal place to share the spiritual gift, the experience, wisdom, help, advice or knowledge we have been given.
Because we need encouragement
In an increasingly postChristian culture we need encouragement. A few minutes of conversation over a coffee on a Sunday is surely not enough.
Because we need to be surrounded by examples
"Follow my example as a I follow the example of Christ" says Paul. How do we know what Christlikeness looks like unless we can see it in other more mature believers? As we meet with other believers we are challenged by their Christlikeness to become more Christlike ourselves.
Because we need mirrors
In their interaction with each other, the disciples revealed their own faults, such a pride, prayerlessness and faithlessness. If we have no mirrors around us to admonish us, how can our faults be corrected?
Because we need protection
A sheep on its own will be picked off by the enemy. A rumour about the local church, heard by an isolated sheep can be turned into a mighty lie by the evil one, stumbling that sheep. A sheep all on its own is thus not only a danger to itself, it's a danger to the whole flock.
A tragic legacy of the church aping the academy
One of the most tragic legacies of the church wanting to be like the world, is this legacy of big meetings in big buildings. The western church has aped the world and turned the church into an academy-like institution where all the emphasis is on learning, sermon-style. It took the less cerebral, more touchy-feely, more relational charismatic movement to restore the rightful place of the home group in the western church.
The blessings of home groups
Where they function well, home groups result in more Christlike Christians, for the emphasis when we meet in small groups is on character and grace and Christlikeness, not how much stuff you know. For pastors it means far fewer phone calls from the sheep because the sheep are looking after the sheep.
From a pastor's perspective
As a church pastor, I am deeply unhappy with anyone who joins the church until they commit to a small group, faithfully and regularly. Why? I know that their spiritual growth will be greatly stilted. And I know, that I, being merely an eye or a foot, cannot cause them to grow in Christ; pastors cannot replace the body. I know the time will come when they could be picked off by Satan. I know they are likely to be critical and negative because on the periphery of the church Satan will make them prime target number 1. I know they won't grow by coming only on a Sunday. I know that many wrong things they believe and many wrong attitudes in their hearts will remain unchallenged while they are not revealed in a homegroup setting. I know they will not grow into Christlikeness.
Spiritual growth is all I am concerned about - I have zero interest in "numbers on a Sunday." I am only interested in those who like the disciples of old, are prepared to band together in a small group, for then, and only then, will they truly grow, not only in knowledge but in grace.