The whole ministry of small groups is quite simple really. It's about staying connected -- to a group of people and to God. With that connection things really begin to happen. When it comes to small groups our programmatic churches want to put them into a nice tight format for various reasons. Perhaps they want to keep people from wandering to another church, or "forcing" them to participate in the program, or expect small groups to be the only source of discipleship in the church."A retention approach by the church only cheapens the real value of biblical community" (Bill Search, Simple Small Groups p.14).
A closer look at John 15 helps us in understanding this connection. It is simply to abide in Christ as our life-source. When that happens, fruit naturally grows. Likewise our spiritual growth can only take place when we stay connected to the source. But notice that branches are not individual entities. They require leaves and twigs and a working together through photosynthesis and a source of nourishment for everything to stay healthy and grow. There is no room for the "lone ranger" mentality when it comes to being part of God's plant structure and especially spiritual growth. It requires one to be connected to a community so that through group life and life together everyone may grow and bear fruit. Each part must interact with the other for growth to occur.
This kind of connectedness cannot happen by merely rubbing shoulders in the coffee room or with a church handshake or a passing of the peace on Sunday morning or at some church event. And I dare say it rarely happens in a church classroom setting either. We're talking group life where people interact at deep personal levels as together they challenge each other, often through accountability, study, discussion and prayer, to stay connected to our life-source Jesus Christ and to actually live and apply what they've learned.
I am convinced that small groups are ESSENTIAL for spiritual growth and discipleship. It certainly was essential for the early church (Acts 2,4). God wired us to not only need him, but to be in communion with each other. That means being transparent with each other and getting into one another's lives with the joy and the dirt. There's no bypassing the system God set up. Trying to only sets you up for disconnectedness and often false piety, or worse, a nominal Christianity at best. There is no growth, no life, no discipleship, no fruit. That's not what God had in mind for the church.
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