January 27, 2015

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The Structure of Small Groups

SmallGroups1-CORRECTED-604x300As I mentioned in my last post, small groups is a topic I have been studying a great deal recently. The more I read about small groups, the more I realize how many options there are to why they are done, how they are done, and the role they play in the life of the church. My last post focused on the purposes of small groups. This post focuses on the structure of small groups.

Here are some of the different structures that small groups can utilize.

1- Gender Divided

Some small groups are structured so that men meet with men and women meet with women. There are definite advantages to this. For starters, it allows the groups to discuss issues that are more gender-specific. There are also disadvantages. The main one is that if men and women are meeting separately during the week, the home is being divided more often.

2- Adult Co-ed (no children)

Other small groups have men and women meeting together, but families with children are responsible for taking care of setting up babysitting for their children. This can be costly on families, but it does give couples a way to fellowship with other people in the church.

3- Family Groups (children included)

Some churches structure their small groups for the entire family, children included. This is done in different ways, but basically the children have their own meeting (with an adult leading it), and the adults meet together. It is a way of keeping the children involved in the ministry of the church.

4- Stage of Life Groups

Some small groups are formed by putting people together that are in the same stage of life. This appears to have advantages but I’m not convinced. Sure it is good to be able to fellowship with people who know what you are going through, but those in the group miss out on learning from those who have “been there and done that.”

5- Mutual Interest Groups

Other groups are formed based on individual interests. For instance, if a group of men like motorcycles, there would be a small group for them. If there is a group of women who love watching Downton Abby, there would be a group for them. I’m not a huge fan of this option.

Closing Thought

Clearly there are many options. One concern is focused on the need to guard against cliques being formed. To guard against this, some church have their small groups rotate every 12-16 week to allow members to get to know other people in the church.

Whatever a church does it must think through all of the pros and cons, understanding how they each affect the overall ministry of the church.

 

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January 23, 2015

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The Purpose(s) of Small Groups

ThePurpose(s)ofSmallGroupsI have been doing a lot of reading, studying, and thinking about small group ministry. Our church is considering launching small groups later this Spring. But instead of just doing it for the sake of doing it, we want to be intentional about it. We want to give it plenty of thought. We want to know how it fits into everything else we are doing. We want it to have a specific purpose, and we want everyone in our church to know what that purpose is.

As I have been reading and studying over the past several months it has become clear that there are a variety of purposes that a small group ministry could have. Each church must give careful thought to the role that small groups will play in their ministry. Without careful thought, planning, and communication, small groups will not work–well, they might survive, but they won’t thrive.

Here are some of the purposes that small groups can have.

1- Discipleship/Accountability

Some churches use small groups as the discipleship arm of the church. These small groups are designed to be the place where people hold each other accountable. These groups supplement the worship service and provide a more personal avenue for spiritual growth.

2- Evangelism

Some small groups are solely evangelistic in nature. The goal of these groups is to constantly be inviting unbelievers to the small group meeting so that they can be introduced to others in the church. The thinking is that as the visitor becomes more comfortable and gets to know others in the church, he/she will be more likely to visit the church.

3- Teaching

Other churches use small groups as the teaching time of the church. There is a curriculum that is used with the goal of giving spiritual instruction. Some of these small groups meet on Sunday (Sunday School), while others meet during the week.

4- Application

Some churches view small groups not as a teaching time, not as an avenue for evangelism, and not even as a place for discipleship and accountability, but a time to specifically apply the sermon from the previous Sunday. It is impossible for the pastor to apply the message to every life. These small groups help remedy that.

5- Building Community

Other churches have separate discipleship groups as well as time for teaching, but lack a time for fellowship and building community. These churches create small groups that are specifically focused on building community and providing opportunities for fellowship.

6- Community Projects & Member Care

Some churches use small groups as a way to facilitate community outreach projects as well as member care. It is a way of making the church smaller in order to help see that each member is taken care of as well as involved in reaching out into the community.

The Challenge

The challenge is that small groups can accomplish more than one of these purposes, but they cannot accomplish all of them. The responsibility of the church leaders is to know what the specific purposes of the small groups are, communicate the purpose frequently, and then implement the small groups, stressing how they help accomplish the overall purpose of the church.

If the church members do not know what the purpose of the small groups are, the leadership has done a poor job. Small groups can be a vital part of a church’s ministry, but they must be implemented correctly.

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January 22, 2015

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Cooperation: A Missing Word In Our Churches

cooperation1-billboardLet me start by saying that I believe in the autonomy of the local church. I believe that churches have the right to govern themselves according to Scripture. I believe that churches have the freedom to be as independent as they believe is necessary. I believe there are times when separation is necessary and biblical.

However, I also believe that without careful attention independence can quickly become isolation, autonomy can turn into competition, and self-governance can morph into mini kingdom-building.

Could it be that a lack of true cooperation is hindering our outreach efforts? Could it be that by competing with other like-minded churches we are failing to have a lasting impact in our communities? Could it be that in our desire to govern ourselves, we resist the idea of cooperating with other churches, thus hindering our own Kingdom impact? Could it be that the word that is missing from our churches is “cooperation?”

I can’t help but get excited when I think about the possibilities of what can be done when churches work together. I long to see churches in suburbia partner with churches in the inner city. I want to see more focus on God’s Kingdom being built and less about our individual church properties. I want to see Gospel-preaching pastors link arms and lead their churches to cooperate for the sake of the gospel.

In John 17:20-21 Jesus prays:

I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

For this unity to become a reality we need less isolation and a lot more cooperation. We need less focus on “my church” and more focus on “The Church.” We need to put less effort into building human kingdoms and more focus on building God’s Kingdom. We need less “what can you do for me?” and more “how can we help you?”

We need more cooperation. The need for Gospel-impact in our communities demands it!

I am excited about several opportunities our church has to partner with other like-minded churches in the Chattanooga area. I am praying for an eternal impact.

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January 21, 2015

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The Role of Deacons in the Church (And How It’s Misunderstood)

Deacons1-appointed-leaders-of-the-church-PAGEEvery Baptist church that I have ever seen has deacons, and their responsibilities vary from church to church. Unfortunately in Baptist churches, the role of deacon has morphed into something beyond what is presented in Scripture.

I took some time recently to re-examine the Bible’s teaching on the role and responsibilities of deacons. Here is a brief summary of that study.

1- The term deacon means servant.

This is simply the definition of the word as well as what we see deacons doing in Scripture and in early church history.

2- Deacons are not responsible for the teaching ministry of the church.

One of the difference between the qualifications of a pastor and a deacon is that pastors are to be able to teach; deacons are not required to have this ability (I Timothy 3). D. A. Carson correctly stated that “Deacons were responsible to serve the church in a variety of subsidiary roles, but enjoyed no church-recognized teaching authority.” This does not mean that deacons cannot teach, but that doing so is not connected to their office.

3-Deacons are not responsible for ruling or leading the church.

“Like elders, deacons must manage their house and children well. But when referring to deacons Paul does not compare managing one’s household to taking care of God’s church. The reason for the omission is most likely due to the fact that deacons are not given a ruling or leading position in the church.” (Merkel)  The ruling authority in the church has been given to the bishops/pastors/elders (I Timothy 5:17, Hebrews 13:17).

To be quite frank, in seeking to implement a biblical model of church government, one doesn’t read the book of Acts and the Pastoral Epistles and walk away thinking “we need to establish a board of deacons to make all of the decisions.” It’s simply not what you find in Scripture.

4- Deacons are to be involved in the daily ministry of the church (Acts 6).

Most deacons today do all of their ‘deaconing’ from a conference room. However in Scripture, deacons are the ones leading the church in regular ministry. They weren’t the primary decision-makers, nor were they the primary leaders, they were the ministers–the ones who set the example to the rest of the church of what it looked like to serve.

5- When deacons do their job correctly, pastors have more time for prayer and the ministry the Word (Acts 6).

Here is a good test to see if deacons are fulfilling their proper role. Do the pastors have more time for prayer and the ministry of the Word because of what the deacons do? If the answer is ‘yes,’ then there is a good chance the deacons are fulfilling their biblical role. However, if all deacons do is make decisions in a conference room, they misunderstand their biblical responsibilities and they are ultimately a hindrance to the church, not a help.

I would argue that many of the problems that arise in churches stem from an unhealthy (and unbiblical) form of church government. This is an issue that must be addressed in order to have healthy churches.

I am thankful for the deacons at our church. Their commitment to serving is an example that I proudly display for all in our church to see. Here is one such example: Deacons Doing What Deacons Should Do

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January 20, 2015

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5 Statements From Our ‘5 Solas’ Sermon Series

Five_SolasA couple of months ago I preached a sermon series on the 5 Solas of the Reformation. I spent some time today reviewing those sermons as a way to evaluate them. Here are five statements from those messages that stick out as especially important.

1- The problem is that while we may say that we believe in the inspiration of Scripture and in the inerrancy of Scripture, we do not live and operate as though we truly believe in the sufficiency of Scripture.

2- Your view of ‘how you are made right with God’ directly affects your view of ‘how you stay right with God.’

3- The same power that gave us new life in Christ by God’s grace is the same power that enables us to live the life that God has called us to live.

4- There must be a refocus on the importance of Christ alone, on His preeminence, on the salvation that He alone offers, and on the eternal life that He alone can provide. Without a focus on Christ, nothing else has any meaning at all.

5- We can’t fathom the mind of God. But what is interesting is that this is not a hindrance to worship, it is the fuel of worship. If we could understand and comprehend everything about God, then He would cease to be God. What makes God God and deserving of our worship is the fact that we cannot comprehend Him.

This was a great series that I am sure our church will revisit at some point in the future.

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