Over the past couple of months, we have been comparing a small group discipleship ministry to a garden. Guest bloggers have shared some great strategies for growing people in community and mission. If vacation or busyness got in the way, be sure to go back and read about Triads (Ruth Kelder), Ascending Leaders (Mike Johnson) and Missional Communities (Nate Visker).
Why the title Scarecrows?
Well, because it fits with the garden theme. But let me be more specific: In my Home Missions role, I often meet with churches to talk about their small group discipleship ministry. I usually ask this question: What does a vital, growing small group discipleship ministry look like? What is happening? The answers come easily: Christians are praying together, studying together, crying together, laughing together, challenging each other, doing mission together ---family. Their descriptions sound like the irresistible and powerful community of Acts 2:42 – 48.
Then, we come to the next question: What are the barriers to this kind of community in our churches? When I talk with small group leadership, this is what I hear them saying:
- Busyness – People don’t have time.
- We’ve tried small groups before and it didn’t work.
- People do not want to be put in a group with people they don’t like.
- We are afraid small groups will lead to cliques.
- We don’t know how to organize the groups. What if we don’t get it right?
- We don’t want to start something new if we can’t keep it going.
Sound familiar? Hugh Halter and Matt Smay in their work, The Tangible Kingdom Primer, gave the names individualism, consumerism and materialism to those barriers. These cultural roadblocks are like rocks, weeds or disease in the small group garden which prevent community from thriving. Individualism “tends to work against community by prioritizing things done in isolation over things done with others.” (Tangible Kingdom Primer 4.6) “Consumerism turns our focus back on ourselves and our own desires and reverses the flow toward mission.” (5.6) Materialism causes us to define our quality of life by what we own. As a result, we work hard and share little. (P. 6.6) These human tendencies can choke the life out of relationships.
I would like to suggest another barrier to Christian community: warfare. Satan does not want Christians to love each other. In fact, he hopes to divide and isolate us from each other. When we are alone, Satan has a much better chance to discourage us and encourage us to listen to his lies.
Imagine small group leaders and teams standing as scarecrows over our groups and ministries to guard against Satan’s assaults. Farmers place scarecrows in gardens because the farmer expects birds to go after his seeds. It is naïve of us to not be ready for Satan’s attempts to wreak havoc in our Christian communities. We can also go on the offensive by praying for God’s protection, blessing power for our groups.
In Ephesians 6, Paul taught about the armor of God as effective tools against Satan. And then, Paul concluded by reminding the church to … “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” Eph 6:18.
How is God calling you to be scarecrow?
Did you know that "scarecrows" occur in Jeremiah's description of false idols (at least in the NIV and NRSV - Jer. 10:5; KJV has "palm trees")? I remember doing a sermon on "Scarecrows in a mellon patch" once -- partly because both the sound and imagery of that phrase seemed irresistable. In that context it becomes a picture of something that is not very effective. Since Satan is not easily detered, the metaphor of armor in Eph. 6 (of "fortress" often in the Psalms) makes a stronger image. But any recognition of the need to defend against the attacks of Satan is worthwhile. Thanks for the reminder!
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