Wesleyan Small Group Structure as a Scriptural and Dynamic Model for Home Group Meetings

John Wesley, the father of Methodism, was thought to be an organizational genius in his day, even by those who did not agree with his doctrines. As we look at his small group structure, it is evident that it is a scriptural and dynamic model for home group meetings in our day, as well.

Before examining the Wesleyan structure, the scriptural basis for such a structure should be mentioned. Acts 2:42 tells of the early church structure employed directly after Pentecost with the addition of thousands of new believers, and bears resemblance to the Wesleyan model: “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42 NASB).

As Acts 2:42 tells it, continuing steadfast in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship is holding fast to the teachings of the Bible and to those who faithfully teach them. Know those who labor among you. Do not get caught up in a bunch of fringe teachings that will draw you away from the central tenants of the faith or get involved in ministries that are promoting such things.

Fellowship, or koinonia, is a transliterated form of the Greek word κοινωνία, which refers to joint participation, the share which one has in anything, a gift jointly contributed, a collection, a contribution, etc. Their fellowship was centered on their individual and communal devotion to Jesus Christ. This was love in action; friendship that was possible, vital, and relevant because of the constant presence of the One who “lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

Acts continues with the breaking of bread. Communion has become so common in our day.  The early disciples saw the bread and cup as not only a memorial to what Jesus had done, but a reminder of what Jesus expected them to do as well.  Do we embrace the persecution and cross that produced the broken body and blood in our own life on behalf of others? Or do we feel we can bypass that part of the Christian message, which is the Christian message?

And the prayers. Prayer was the power the early church relied on. The church today has largely replaced prayer time with social events wrapped in religious terminology. An amen at the end of the evening does not make it a time of prayer.

Although not an exact facsimile of the Acts 2:42 model, Wesleyan group structure has the components we see in Acts. The structure, although divided up into three distinct meeting types, can be easily adapted to delineate different stages in a 90-120-minute contemporary home group setting. We will now look at Societies, Classes, and Bands, and their distinct purpose within the Wesleyan mindset.

Societies were educational in nature, via lectures, preaching, and exhortation. These were held in larger settings where an ordained or assigned leader would expound on the faith. This was not a group participation meeting but rather a time for group teaching. We can liken this to the sermon or lesson time in a small group setting, i.e. the apostles’ doctrine.

Classes were transparent groups of 8-10 people who shared their struggles, victories, and encouraged one another toward great intimacy with Christ and one another. The personal experience of Christian living and the pastoral care of believers was at the heart of these meetings. This was a time for group participation and ministry. We can liken this to the sharing and caring time in a small group setting, i.e. fellowship and the breaking of bread (literally and spiritually).

Bands were even smaller groups focusing on a common desire of improving attitudes, emotions, feelings, intentions, and affections through what Wesley termed “close conversations.” These were times to share more personal matters that might not be advantageous in the larger group. These smaller homogenous groups were broken down by gender, age, and marital status. We can liken this to a personal ministry time in a small group setting, i.e. the breaking of spiritual bread and prayer.

Small group ministry is the perfect place for people to learn how to relate to others in a “spiritual” atmosphere. Many people are unsure of themselves in such a setting, especially if they are new in the faith. Five-fold ministry leadership has the responsibility to draw out of others what they may see as insignificant or insufficient. A perfect illustration of the significance and sufficiency of a “little” gift in the hands of God is seen in John 6.

Therefore Jesus, lifting up His eyes and seeing that a large crowd was coming to Him, said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these may eat?” This He was saying to test him, for He Himself knew what He was intending to do. Philip answered Him, ” Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, for everyone to receive a little.” One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Him, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are these for so many people?” Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. Jesus then took the loaves, and having given thanks, He distributed to those who were seated; likewise also of the fish as much as they wanted. When they were filled, He said to His disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments so that nothing will be lost.” So they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves which were left over by those who had eaten. (John 6:5-13)

In biblical numerology, the number 2 can mean the verification of facts by witnesses, the number 5 can represent grace, and the number 12, faith and completion. We must assume that the lad with the five barley loaves and two fish offered them graciously to the disciples. It is not likely that Andrew coerced the boy’s lunch from him. This offering became a witness to the power of God and how God’s grace reciprocates grace. The twelve baskets of leftovers not only became a witness to the lack of faith in the disciples, but God’s gracious provision for them anyway, a completion of grace upon grace.

1 Corinthians 14:26 in the VOICE (Thomas Nelson Publishers and Ecclesia Bible Society 2012) paints a picture of what the Apostle Paul, as well as John Wesley, was after in connection to body ministry. “What should you do then, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each person has a vital role because each has gifts. One person might have a song, another a lesson to teach, still another a revelation from God. One person might speak in an unknown language, another will offer the interpretation, but all of this should be done to strengthen the life and faith of the community.” The application is certainly easier to appreciate and implement in the small group setting.

Personal Gifts are the Best Because Life is Messy

My greatest gifts this year were personal gifts. They were seeing my aquaintences, friends, and family come through some hellish events and circumstances with a smile on their faces.

I watched as many fought illnesses of one kind or another. They are still with us, finding reasons to smile in the everyday workd of pain management and medication changes, and home nursing care. A few lost the fight but even they had a smile because they knew where they were headed.

I talked to some that were contemplating suicide. They are still here, ready to give life another chance.

Others lost loved ones; parents, siblings, children. They are still here, too, trying to put the pieces back together through grief unimaginable.

I talked to a lady at a Christmas party and we shared how hard a year 2019 had been for us both. But we are still here, looking forward to how God is going to bless us in 2020.

These were all presents to me because we are made to relate. We are made to cherish old friendships and cultivate new ones. You are the personal gifts that make me happy to pray for you, send a word of encouragement, or just whisper I love you when nothing else can be said.

Many blessings to you in 2020 and beyond.

Patrick

Birthday Presents to My Fragile Self

I turned 65 today. I spent yesterday reflecting on the previous year, not in recapping the joys of victories won, although there were some, but instead lamenting areas of fragility I’m learning to come to terms with.

Last year was the year of increased health issues that left me feeling vulnerable and weak. Nothing as overwhelming as my bout with myelofibrosis in 2008, but enough things stacked on top of each other to make their total weight a burden I found difficult to bear. Like a snowball rolling down a hill, the more it turned, the heavier it got. I can’t give enough praise to my wife, Janice, who, fighting her own health issues, was able to push that weight off me enough to keep me from being crushed. And thank you to Steve Garrett and Robert Boyet, who showed up at my apartment with a KFC lunch one day, and to Dee Swearingen for regularly checking up on me over coffee. And to the countless people I know were praying for me, thank you!

In light of all I’ve discussed here, I decided to give some birthday presents to my fragile self. Here they are.

1. I give my fragile self the right to feel fragile when he needs to.

2. I give my fragile self the permission to gain strength and heal.

3. I give my fragile self the opportunity to share with others to help them heal, too.

4. I give my fragile self the right to be optimistic about the future.

“For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. 

In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words;  and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?” (Rom. 8:24-31 NASB)

Happy Birthday to me!

Why Time Alone is Vital for Leaders

The nature of leadership is the nature of servitude. Leaders respond to servitude in giving of themselves in many ways in a variety of circumstances, some easier than others. Without times of solitude to get alone with our inner selves and calling, we can become hardened to the real needs around us and turn into machines that keep running but are mainly unproductive. Jesus took time away from the crowds and His disciples to pray and to listen. We are far more apt to sentimentalize His habit than we are to emulate His pattern by applying it to our lives.

Leaders are like batteries with a constant draw depleting their energy. Without times of recharging the power dwindles. Many leaders do not realize when their spiritual batteries are low. A weary leader will often switch from Spirit power to soul power without even realizing it and carry on for a season. Their charisma, personality, and persistence can mimic Spiritual power. They may still flow in the gifts of the Spirit. But a depleted soul is no soil for growing the fruit of the Spirit the Father is so eager to see. Time alone to recharge, re-evaluate, and refocus is critical to spiritual growth and longevity in the ministry.

I hear from many international leaders with a vision of what they want to accomplish. I do not look at their goals as unattainable, but I often question if their ideas are based solely on the needs they see around them. I also sense a spirit of competition in some to outdo other ministries in their area. When I visited Kampala, Uganda, in 2008, I took in a beautiful outdoor fruit market. Under the tent was stall after stall of every type of fruit imaginable. But every booth had the same fruit beautifully displayed. There was no distinction or uniqueness between the vendors. Buildings, sound systems, social programs, and the caring and feeding of orphans and widows are all exceptional in their place, but to have these things to best the pastor down the road is not worthy of God’s favor. It takes a leader willing to get alone with God to discern God’s particular vision for them and their ministry. Too many leaders have the “Messiah Complex,” putting pressure on themselves to be the savior of their world. No leader can be everything to everybody, and God never intended it to be so.

If a leader is too busy to get away, they are too busy. As a young leader many years ago, my spiritual father recommended Charles E. Hummel’s 1967 essay “Tyranny of the Urgent.” Hummel begins with a poignant observation: “Have you ever wished for a thirty-hour day? Surely this extra time would relieve the tremendous pressure under which we live. Our lives leave a trail of unfinished tasks. Unanswered letters, unvisited friends, unwritten articles, and unread books haunt quiet moments when we stop to evaluate. We desperately need relief.

“But would a thirty-hour day really solve the problem? Wouldn’t we soon be just as frustrated as we are now with our twenty-four allotment? A mother’s work is never finished, and neither is that of any student, teacher, minister, or anyone else we know. Nor will the passage of time help us catch up. Children grow in number and age to require more of our time. Greater experience in profession and church brings more exacting assignments. So we find ourselves working more and enjoying it less.” After describing a busy day in the life of Jesus, Hummel interjects, “What was the secret of Jesus’ work? We find a clue following Mark’s account of Jesus’ busy day. Mark observes that ‘…in the morning, a great while before day, He rose and went out to a lonely place, and there He prayed’ (Mark 1:35). Here is the secret of Jesus’ life and work for God: He prayerfully waited for His Father’s instructions and for the strength to follow them. Jesus had no divinely-drawn blueprint; He discerned the Father’s will day by day in a life of prayer. By this means He warded off the urgent and accomplished the important.”

We, as leaders, seem to gravitate to the urgent in others’ lives only to find out their urgent was not so urgent after all. Many persons’ urgencies can wait. If someone is asking for prayer, ask them if they’ve prayed about the situation themselves. Don’t let their uncomfortable need always take you away from what is essential. And you will only know the true nature of a request when you have asked God and waited for His answer.

Social media has also become a trap that captures many hours without us being aware of it. Here is my advice. Unless social media is your only ministry, limit your time online, and secondly, don’t let social media become your primary ministry.
The urgency of the next post or prophetic word or comment on someone else’s timeline may not be the critical thing you need to be concerned with at the time. Social media, in all too many cases, is a tool that has become the master. The world will not end if you don’t post or respond for a day or two. Maybe when you come back to it, the time away will have given you something worth others reading.

What is another practical way to free you up? Learn to say no. People need to see you put up some healthy boundaries in your life. Make time away to recharge a regular part of your schedule. If you don’t schedule it in, others will schedule it out. Lead by example. I hope you are inspired to look out for your spiritual growth and strength. No one can do it for you. Your times of solitude will make a more strategic and effective leader.

Apostolic Attributes

Although there are numerous ways to critique and validate apostolic leaders, there are common attributes that mark many leaders serving in this capacity. It is also important to note that not all apostles minister the same way with the same gifts and calling. In looking at apostolic leadership, we must apply the same scriptural principles found in Romans 12 balanced with their specific job description in Ephesians 4. This balance means taking, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons.  But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (Rom. 12:4-7 NASB), while acknowledging “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-13). Apostolic (and all five-fold ministry) leaders are first members of the Body of Christ, and then leaders in a specific capacity for the building up, equipping, and health of the Body of Christ.

If we were to survey those men and women who consider themselves apostolic leaders in today’s church, it would surprise us the divergent personalities, ethnicities; political, religious, and social biases; and any number of cultural differences we might find. An apostolic leader is not a “cookie-cutter” mold, waiting to be filled by anyone willing to fit the correct outside form. Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 3:1-5, “But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good,  treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these.” Many who might look the part, in spite of the diversities, are no more than playing church and deceiving others as they do so. They may have gifts, and they may have followers. But what is their character? Are they showing the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23), or are they “boastful, challenging one another, envying one another” (Gal. 5:26) in the flesh? A fruitful life on the inside will manifest sweet, healthy fruit on the outside.

Useful lists exist that display the ideal attributes of apostolic leaders. I want to narrow my list to those things I feel are essential basics. I see these attributes as necessary no matter what could or should follow them. Without these essentials acting as a foundation, whatever building done will lack stability and longevity. Here is my shortlist.

1. Humility. James 4:10 tells us, “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” We get a clearer picture of what humbling ourselves means in Romans 12:3-5. “For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.  For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function,  so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” Sound judgment about ourselves is not self-humiliation but instead seeing both our strengths and weaknesses that we might fully utilize the one while improving on the other. Apostolic leaders are keenly aware of the work to be done in their lives and make time to do it.

2. Keeping first things first. Acts 2:42 says of the early growing church, “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Apostolic leaders model community centered on the word of God, fellowship around the word of God, recognizing Jesus as the living word of God, and making prayer to God a privilege and responsibility of the local assembly.

3. Equipping the body. The job description of every five-fold minister is one of fitting or making ready the body of Christ as a ship is made worthy of sailing the waters in which it will soar. Another word picture is that of a broken bone reset in its proper place, now able to heal and function with strength. Apostolic leaders take their mandate to bring maturity to the Body of Christ seriously. They have an anointing for seeing the big picture, making strategic adjustments, and calling out and placing individuals in ministry positions that will benefit the church in the process of building itself up in love.

Perhaps you have a list of apostolic attributes not mentioned in my shortlist. I’d love to hear what you see as essential apostolic attributes. Please comment and let me know. Blessings.

Biblical Illiteracy in America

“This scandalous problem is our own, and it’s up to us to fix it.” (Mohler) What scandalous problem? Biblical illiteracy. Who is us? According to Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, “This really is our problem, and it is up to this generation of Christians to reverse course.” How big is the scandal?
“Fewer than half of all adults can name the four gospels. Many Christians cannot identify more than two or three of the disciples. According to data from the Barna Research Group, 60 percent of Americans can’t name even five of the Ten Commandments.
“Some of the statistics are enough to perplex even those aware of the problem. A Barna poll indicated that at least 12 percent of adults believe that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife. Another survey of graduating high school seniors revealed that over 50 percent thought that Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife. A considerable number of respondents to one poll indicated that the Sermon on the Mount was preached by Billy Graham. We are in big trouble.” (Mohler)
What appears most disturbing about recent research is that an increasing number of Christians fall within the ranks of the Biblically illiterate.
“Christians who lack biblical knowledge are the products of churches that marginalize biblical knowledge. Bible teaching now often accounts for only a diminishing fraction of the local congregation’s time and attention. The move to small group ministry has certainly increased opportunities for fellowship, but many of these groups never get beyond superficial Bible study.” (Mohler)
Stating the problem in even more glaring terms is Dr. Kenneth Berding, Ph.D., professor of New Testament at Biola University’s Talbot School of theology:
“I’ve heard people call it a famine. A famine of knowing the Bible. During a famine people waste away for lack of sustenance. Some people die. Those who remain need nourishment; they need to be revived. And if they have any hope of remaining alive over time, their life situation has to change in conspicuous ways.
“Christians used to be known as ‘people of one book.’ Sure, they read, studied and shared other books. But the book they cared about more than all others combined was the Bible. They memorized it, meditated on it, talked about it and taught it to others. We don’t do that anymore, and in a very real sense we’re starving ourselves to death.” (Berding)
Another aspect of Biblical illiteracy is the tendency of church leaders to teach and preach selective passages and themes to the exclusion of presenting the big picture themes that carry us from Genesis to Revelation. Without a connection to the whole, the parts have no place to nest. As Berding says, Christians used to be known as people of one book. But Christians must also be known as people of the whole book.
Dr. J. Carl Laney, Professor of Biblical Literature at Western Seminary offers a way forward when stating, “How can pastors, seminary professors and Sunday School teachers move beyond merely telling the stories of the Bible to declaring the great story of God’s plan for the ages? The key, I believe, is to give more attention to proclaiming the major Bible themes in our teaching and preaching.” (Laney)

Mohler, R. Albert. The Scandal of Biblical Illiteracy: It’s Our Problem. 20 January 2016. Article.
20 September 2019. <https://albertmohler.com/2016/01/20/the-scandal-of-biblical-illiteracy-its-our-problem-4/&gt;.

Laney, J. Carl. Biblical Illiteracy in the Church Today, Part 1. 21 June 2016. Western Seminary.
Article. 21 September 2019. <https://transformedblog.westernseminary.edu/2016/06/21/7466/&gt;.

Berding, Kenneth. The Crisis of Biblical Illiteracy & What We Can Do About It. Vers. Spring
2014. 2014. Article. 20 September 2019. <http://magazine.biola.edu/article/14-spring/the-crisis-of-biblical-illiteracy/&gt;.

Schreiner, Thomas R. The Problem with Much Preaching Today—And Biblical Theology as the Remedy. 1 March 2010. Article. 21 September 2019. <https://www.9marks.org/article/preaching-and-biblical-theology-101-pbt-101/&gt;.

%d bloggers like this: