In the course of researching small groups I was led to mind a few cautionary stories. This article was going to be singing the praises of all small groups, but instead we'll be exploring the "dark side" of small groups. These cautions should be considered thoroughly before diving into such a ministry.
Quality Control for Group Materials
These days Christian books sent to me for review often have as many occult themes and "psychobabble" as the secular "self help" books I receive. I've always been wary of some of the hedonistic and money-hungry Christian book fads. This trend is bothering me more each day, and not only because many authors are waxing worse and worse. I've seen the fruit of it through others experiences, and some of the results have been downright soul-threatening, because in the end a lot of Christians are feeding on fluff, or worse, fluff-full of falsities.
Sometimes small groups will pick up on the pop-Christian fads for studies, without giving a discerning and Berean-style look at the books they use beforehand.
- Google the material title or author along with the keyword "discernment" or "false." If you get only a few detailed results, use discernment to decide if those few voices are fair. If you get numerous results, check them out (it'll probably be a shock), and know they're probably onto something shady.
- Worldview Weekend Articles tend to profile popular trends on the Christian scene.
- Lighthouse Trails
*Consider only studying the direct Word of God: pick a theme, discuss the verses, and keep each other accountable toward following God's Word. Most topics have verse after verse, chapter after chapter, reinforcing a Scriptural message. It's not that hard to focus on solid (repetitive) biblical teachings when the Bible is your source. Avoid those false doctrinal avalanches that false teachers have based on a verse, or half a verse, taken out of context.
*You may want to bring the quality control topic up with your Pastor. Perhaps there can be a whole ministry team to check through small groups materials before they are put to use?
*Have mature Christians running the small group and guiding members to stay on topic. Despite your best efforts at keeping the material in check, group members can bring in false doctrine and leaven on their own. Wise, Bible believing leaders are a must.
*Bring discernment into the limelight of any study you do, teaching group members to have their eyes open, dividing the good from the bad.
Milk V. Meat
Recently I prayed, "I've heard these expressions a million times, but what is 'milk' and what is 'meat' anyway?"
Last week I got an answer, thanks in part to Paul in Hebrews 5:
Milk is "first principles of the Scriptures" - the first lessons, such as those mentioned in the next chapter: "repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands (related to prayer), and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgement." Oddly enough, you can tell from the famous Barna polls that not many Christians are even clear about those! I'd relate milk also to the "add to" instructions in 2 Peter 1, faith-values-knowledge being milk, or the beginning of such.
Meat then perhaps includes some of the latter things in 2 Peter 1: "add to your faith" temperance, patience, godliness, familial kindness and love. The first, milk, is more about "information" after faith. The latter, meat, is more about fully putting on the new creation/person in Christ and living in the Spirit.
"Strong meat" is for "them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. (Experienced Christians)" Eventually one would hope all Christians would take on stronger and stronger meat, becoming nearly perfected in love toward others and Jesus. (FYI- That's one of 1,000,000+ reasons to seriously study the Bible!)
The point of including this? Two questions: should we be flash forwarding new Christians, attempting to teach the meat, before they've drank the milk? Should newer Christians who have not had their full of milk be trying to teach the meat? Both are happening in some small groups, but should it be so? Which is wise?
"Extra Grace Required" Members
A good friend is now meeting with her fellow small group leaders for 30 minutes before their meetings, to pray for the group and more specifically for a member that's been trouble. Most groups have at least one "E.G.R." member!
It can be disheartening when someone in your group is catty, mean, gossipy, unforgiving, an anarchist, or whatever else that may lower our confidence in the group. Prayer is our most powerful tool. With prayerful endurance, and that members growing knowledge of the Word and Christian values, a squeaky wheel can be oiled.
Long-suffering patience, however, is pretty high up the ladder of Christian growth. If someone in your group is sowing strife, the issue(s) will need to be dealt with, scripturally. Even the most mature among us probably struggle with so called troublemakers, and when and how to step in.
For a group leader it can feel like you're stuck with no good choices for how to handle a weaker member. This is another reason more experienced Christians should be the ones leading small groups, as they've had time to grow in patience, kindness and love... and Spirit-led conflict management!
Sometimes you can't seem to win, at first. When I was a lose bolt, and was rebuked or "talked to," I took it especially badly. It happens all the time, because what does "reproof" do? It hits us where it hurts most... our pride! New Christians and old alike can carry a lot of pride. Pride hurt can lead to sore emotions and unforgiveness, something even mildly seasoned Christians can struggle with.
Eventually those wise words or rebuffs I had taken offence to actually worked my spirit for the better.
Paul put it best,
"2 Corinthians 7:8-12 For though I made you sorry with a letter, I do not repent, though I did repent: for I perceive that the same epistle hath made you sorry, though it were but for a season. Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter. Wherefore, though I wrote unto you, I did it not for his cause that had done the wrong, nor for his cause that suffered wrong, but that our care for you in the sight of God might appear unto you."
Small group leaders have the job of "shepherding," so gifts to that effect and a certain level of wisdom and maturity can prevent a lot of anguish.
Lord, Keeper of the Elect, grant me the wisdom to discern good from evil, to teach no other doctrine but what is Your Word.
I pray that our group will avoid the profane and vain nonsense polluting the churches today. Grant those in our group with boundless faith, and clear knowledge of Your Word. May they be discerning, wise, innocent, and free of Satan's lies and doctrines forever.
Lord, give me the gift of a good conscience; that I lead and teach with a pure heart, in love and good faith toward group members. Help me to lead them closer to You, not astray. To guide them to Your Word, and You alone. Help me to exhort members with all long-suffering and doctrine, all reproving and rebuking to be put to righteousness, strengthening them for the times and times to come.
The Lord Jesus Christ be with our spirit. Grace be with us. Amen.
Here are some online articles about such matters:
The Pastor's Role in Managing Church Conflict By Marlin E. Thomas
Tip: Study the "Timothy" books!
What's special about your women's small group? Please let us know!
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