Days of Vengeance

by David Padfield

On the Tuesday before His crucifixion, our Lord went into the temple for the last time and denounced its inhabitants as being the “sons of those who murdered the prophets,” a “brood of vipers,” and those destined for the “condemnation of hell” (Matt 23:31–33). They would fill up the measure of their father’s guilt. By crucifying of the Son of God and by their continual rejection of the gospel message and it’s messengers they would prove whose sons they were. Satan was truly their father and “like father, like son.”

In the seventh and final woe that Jesus pronounces on Jerusalem, He gives the death sentence for the city and said that generation of people would feel the wrath of God for their rejection and murder of the Son of God (Matt 23:34–39). The destruction of the temple would symbolize God’s repudiation of it. After this scathing rebuke, Jesus leaves the temple never to return to it again.

As Jesus and His disciples were walking away from Herod’s Temple, He told them that the day was coming when “not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down” (Matt 24:2). Apparently the disciples were stunned into silence by our Lord’s statement.

His disciples privately ask, “When will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (Matt 24:3). The destruction of the temple was such a remarkable event that the disciples could only think of it being accompanied by the end of the world and the second coming of Christ. Jesus clears up their misunderstandings and answers their questions in order. First, He tells them about the various signs which would be seen prior to the destruction of the temple. Second, Jesus explains there will be no signs given prior to His return and the end of the world.

Jesus called the destruction of Jerusalem the “the days of vengeance” (Luke 21:22). The destruction of Jerusalem was an act of God’s vengeance and judgment, not Rome’s; these would be the days when people were punished for their sins. The destruction of the holy city was not an accidental or arbitrary act, but the just recompense of reward for those who rejected God’s Son.

We are pleased to offer a new book, Days of Vengeance. This book is a very detailed examination of the destruction of Jerusalem and a look at the events which followed. This book is only available as a PDF file from our website. Sorry, but we do not have any copies to mail out.

Download the Days Of Vengeance now. You will need Acrobat Reader, available free from Adobe Systems, in order to view and print this book (32 pages; PDF file size: 737k).

Five Great Bible Covenants

by David Padfield

In form, a covenant is an agreement between two people and involves promises on the part of each to the other. The concept of a covenant between God and His people is one of the central themes of the Bible. In the Biblical sense, a covenant implies much more than a contract or a simple agreement between two parties.

The word for “covenant” in the Old Testament also provides additional insight into the meaning of this important idea. It comes from a Hebrew root word that means “to cut.” This explains the strange custom of two people passing through the cut bodies of slain animals after making an agreement (cf. Jer. 34:18). A ceremony such as this always accompanied the making of a covenant in the Old Testament. Sometimes those entering into a covenant shared a meal, such as when Laban and Jacob made their covenant (Gen. 31:54).

Abraham and his children were commanded to be circumcised as a “sign of covenant” between them and God (Gen. 17:10-11).

At Sinai, Moses sprinkled the blood of animals on the altar and upon the people who entered into covenant with God (Exo. 24:3-8).

The Old Testament contains many examples of covenants between people who related to each other as equals. For example, David and Jonathan entered into a covenant because of their love for each other — this agreement bound each of them to certain responsibilities (1 Sam. 18:3).

The remarkable thing is that God is holy, omniscient, and omnipotent; but He consents to enter into covenant with man, who is feeble, sinful, and flawed.

In this article, we want to examine five great covenants of the Bible.

God’s Covenant With Noah

Centuries before the time of Abraham, God made a covenant with Noah, assuring Noah that He would never again destroy the world by flood (Gen. 9).

Noah lived at a time when the whole earth was filled with violence and corruption — yet Noah did not allow the evil standards of his day to rob him of fellowship with God. He stood out as the only one who “walked with God” (Gen. 6:9), as was also true of his great-grandfather Enoch (Gen. 5:22). “Noah was a just man, perfect in his generations” (Gen. 6:9). The Lord singled out Noah from among all his contemporaries and chose him as the man to accomplish a great work.

When God saw the wickedness that prevailed in the world (Gen. 6:5), He told Noah of His intention to destroy the ancient world by a universal flood. God instructed Noah to build an ark (a large barge) in which he and his family would survive the universal deluge. Noah believed God and “according to all that God commanded him, so he did” (Gen. 6:22).

Noah is listed among the heroes of faith. “By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith” (Heb. 11:7).

With steadfast confidence in God, Noah started building the ark. During this time, Noah continued to preach God’s judgment and mercy, warning the ungodly of their approaching doom. Peter reminds us of how God “did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly” (2 Pet. 2:5).

Noah preached for 120 years, apparently without any converts. At the end of that time, “when … the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah … eight souls were saved through water” (1 Pet. 3:20).

People continued in their evil ways and ignored his pleadings and warnings until the flood overtook them. When the ark was ready, Noah entered in with all kinds of animals “and the Lord shut him in” (Gen. 7:16), cut off completely from the rest of mankind.

Noah was grateful to the Lord who had delivered him from the flood. After the flood, he built an altar to God (Gen. 8:20) and made a sacrifice, which was accepted graciously, for in it “the Lord smelled a soothing aroma” (Gen. 8:21).

The Lord promised Noah and his descendants that He would never destroy the world again with a universal flood (Gen. 9:15). The Lord made an everlasting covenant with Noah and his descendants, establishing the rainbow as the sign of His promise (Gen. 9:1-17).

Another part of the covenant involved the sanctity of human life, i.e., that “whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man” (Gen. 9:6). Every time we see a rainbow today we are reminded of that agreement — this covenant has not been done away with. As long as God still sends rainbows after a storm, capital punishment will still be a part of God’s law for the human race.

God’s Covenant With Abraham

In making a covenant with Abraham, God promised to bless his descendants and make them His own special people — in return, Abraham was to remain faithful to God and to serve as a channel through which God’s blessings could flow to the rest of the world (Gen. 12:1-3).

Abraham’s story begins with his passage with the rest of his family from Ur of the Chaldeans in ancient southern Babylonia (Gen. 11:31). He and his family moved north along the trade routes of the ancient world and settled in the prosperous trade center of Haran, several hundred miles to the northwest.

While living in Haran, at the age of 75, Abraham received a call from God to go to a strange, unknown land that God would show him. The Lord promised Abraham that He would make him and his descendants a great nation (Gen. 12:1-3). The promise must have seemed unbelievable to Abraham because his wife Sarah was childless (Gen. 11:30-31; 17:15). Abraham obeyed God with no hint of doubt or disbelief.

Abraham took his wife and his nephew, Lot, and went toward the land that God would show him. Abraham moved south along the trade routes from Haran, through Shechem and Bethel, to the land of Canaan. Canaan was a populated area at the time, inhabited by the war-like Canaanites; so, Abraham’s belief that God would ultimately give this land to him and his descendants was an act of faith.

The circumstances seemed quite difficult, but Abraham’s faith in God’s promises allowed him to trust in the Lord. In Genesis 15, the Lord reaffirmed His promise to Abraham. The relationship between God and Abraham should be understood as a covenant relationship — the most common form of arrangement between individuals in the ancient world. In this case, Abraham agreed to go to the land that God would show him (an act of faith on his part), and God agreed to make Abraham a great nation (Gen. 12:1-3).

In Genesis 15 Abraham became anxious about the promise of a nation being found in his descendants because of his advanced age — and the Lord then reaffirmed the earlier covenant. A common practice of that time among heirless families was to adopt a slave who would inherit the master’s goods. Therefore, because Abraham was childless, he proposed to make a slave, Eliezer of Damascus, his heir (Gen. 15:2). But God rejected this action and challenged Abraham’s faith: “‘Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.’ And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be'” (Gen. 15:5).

Abraham’s response is the model of believing faith: “And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness” (Gen. 15:6). The rest of Genesis 15 consists of a ceremony between Abraham and God that was commonly used in the ancient world to formalize a covenant (Gen. 15:7-21). God repeated this covenant to Abraham’ son, Isaac (Gen. 17:19). Stephen summarized the story in the book of Acts 7:1-8.

The Mosaic Covenant

The Israelites moved to Egypt during the time of Joseph. A new Pharaoh came upon the scene and turned the Israelites into common slaves. The people cried out to the God of their forefathers. “So God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob” (Exo. 2:24). After a series of ten plagues upon the land of Egypt, God brought the Israelites out “of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand” (Exo. 32:11).

Three months after leaving the land of Egypt, the children of Israel camped at the base of Mount Sinai (Exo. 19:1). God promised to make a covenant with the Israelites (Exo. 19:3-6). Before they even knew the conditions of the contract, the people agreed to abide by whatever God said (Exo. 19:8).

This covenant was between God and the people of Israel — you and I are not a party in this contract (and never have been). The Ten Commandments are the foundation of the covenant, but they are not the entirety of it.

After giving the first ten commands, the people asked the Lord to speak no more (Exo. 20:18-20). Moses then drew near to the presence of God to hear the rest of the covenant (Exo. 20:21). After receiving the Law, Moses spoke the words of the covenant to all of the people, and the people agreed to obey (Exo. 24:4).

Moses then wrote the conditions of the covenant down, offered sacrifices to God, and then sprinkled both the book and the people with blood to seal the covenant (Exo. 24:8). This covenant between God and the people of Israel was temporary — God promised a day when He would make a new covenant, not only with Israel but also with all mankind. “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah — not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people” (Jer. 31:31-34).

God’s Covenant With David

Another covenant was between God and King David, in which David and his descendants were established as the royal heirs to the throne of the nation of Israel (2 Sam. 7:12-13).

This covenant agreement reached its fulfillment when Jesus, a descendant of the line of David, was born in Bethlehem. The gospel of Matthew starts off by showing Christ was “the Son of David” (Matt. 1:1), and thus He had the right to rule over God’s people. Peter preached that Jesus Christ was a fulfillment of God’s promise to David (Acts 2:29-36).

The Covenant Of Christ

The New Testament makes a clear distinction between the covenants of the Mosaic Law and the covenant of Promise. The apostle Paul spoke of these “two covenants,” one originating “from Mount Sinai,” the other from “the Jerusalem above” (Gal. 4:24-26). Paul also argued that the covenant established at Mount Sinai was a “ministry of death” and “condemnation” (2 Cor. 3:7, 9).

The death of Christ ushered in the new covenant under which we are justified by God’s grace and mercy — it is now possible to have the true forgiveness of sins. Jesus Himself is the Mediator of this better covenant between God and man (Heb. 9:15). Jesus’ sacrificial death served as the oath, or pledge, which God made to us to seal this new covenant.

The “new covenant” is the new agreement God has made with mankind, based on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The concept of a new covenant originated with the promise of Jeremiah that God would accomplish for His people what the old covenant had failed to do (Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 11:7-13). Under this new covenant, God would write His Law on human hearts.

When Jesus ate the Passover meal at the Last Supper with His disciples, He spoke of the cup and said, “this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matt. 26:28). Luke’s account refers to this cup as symbolizing “the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you” (Luke 22:20).

When Paul recited the account he had received concerning the Last Supper, he quoted these words of Jesus about the cup as “the new covenant in My blood” (1 Cor. 11:25).

The Epistle to the Hebrews gives the new covenant more attention than any other book in the New Testament. It quotes the entire passage from Jeremiah 31:31-34 (Heb. 8:8-12). Jesus is referred to by the writer of Hebrews as “the Mediator of the new covenant” (Heb. 9:15; 12:24). The new covenant, a “better covenant … established on better promises” (Heb. 8:6), rests directly on the sacrificial work of Christ.

The new covenant accomplished what the old could not, i.e., the removal of sin and cleansing of the conscience (Heb. 10:2, 22). The work of Jesus Christ on the cross thus makes the old covenant “obsolete” (Heb. 8:13) and fulfills the promise of the prophet Jeremiah.

Conclusion

Unlike the Mosaic covenant, the new covenant of Jesus Christ is intended for all mankind — regardless of race. In the Great Commission Jesus sent His apostles into the entire world so they could tell the story of the cross (Luke 24:46-47; Matt. 28:18-20). The gospel call extends to every man and woman today!

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Trophy For Sale

by David Padfield

One day last summer I was on my way to lunch when I drove by a house that was having a rummage sale. Even though I did not stop for the sale, I could not help but notice the display closest to the street — what caught my eye was a table filled with old trophies that were now for sale on someone’s driveway.

I had to wonder why anyone would be interested in purchasing a used trophy. What could they possibly do with it? The trophies for sale probably had the name of the recipient engraved on it, along with a brief description of their meritorious actions. Who would want to put someone else’s trophy on their mantle?

Later, I began to wonder why the seller wanted to get rid of their old trophies in the first place. I am sure that at one time those trophies held a lot of value, or at least some emotional attachment. Trophies usually signify some accomplishment — they serve to remind us of some success in our business or personal life. Maybe a bowling trophy loses its luster when one stops bowling. That trophy from a winning high school football season might not seem as important thirty years later when your own children are in college. What we value today might wind up in the trash or on a table at a rummage sale tomorrow.

The truth of the matter is that there is nothing in this life we can carry with us into the next. The trinkets and knick-knacks we treasure here on earth will be of no value in eternity. This being so, it makes one wonder why we spend so much time acquiring earthly possessions, but so little time preparing for the life which is to come.

Suppose you gained all that this world has to offer — what would you really have? A handful of tinsel? Jesus told His disciples: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:24-26).

“Houston, we have a problem.”

“Houston, we have a problem.” Tom Hanks may have made the words famous, but we’re not too far off when it comes to our families in churches across the country. Perhaps unlike any other time in other time in recent history, our families are being attacked spiritually. This should really come as no surprise as 1 Peter 5:8 contends that “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” The greatest evidence of this may be seen in the faith of our children, specifically our teenagers. For example, a recent study of “churched” teens who are actively involved in a strong youth ministry program indicated that:

  • Between forty and fifty percent will significantly struggle with their faith when they leave home.
  • Eighty-six percent of these students thought that their faith was not strong enough to stand up on its own.
  • Eighty percent of the students who leave their faith intended to stick with the Church.

Statistics are a dime a dozen and can usually be made to indicate whichever bias the author prefers. These statistics are no different. That being said, the true value in these statistics lie not in the numbers themselves but in the warning shot they extend across our family ships.

Though our attitudes and actions may not always indicate such, our children are not raised in a spiritual vacuum where the Church provides all of their necessary spiritual formation (which often creates an attitude that as long as they consistently attend worship and activities, they will be fine. On the contrary, the spiritual health of our children (and families) is tied directly to the importance that we choose to place in faith in the home. The following results of a survey support such a conclusion.

  • Twelve percent of teens have a regular dialogue with their mother on faith/life issues.
  • Five percent of teens have a regular dialogue with their father on faith/life issues.
  • Nine percent of teens have experienced regular reading of the Bible and devotions in the home.
  • Twelve percent of teens have experienced (participated in) a service-oriented event with a parent as an action of faith.
  • Five percent of families have participated in any type of worship experience outside of corporate worship.

If we truly do have a problem in our families and with the spiritual formation of our children, these statistics help to offer clarity as to the source of the problem—faith and spiritual formation is simply not a priority in the home. Instead, parents are abdicating their God-given responsibilities in favor of drive through religion that is served by Youth Ministers and other church leaders. This is in direct opposition to God’s direction to the Israelites that was given by Moses in Deuteronomy 6:4-9.

Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

 

Moses told the Israelites that if they would heed his direction, “then all will go well with you, and you will have many children in the land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you” (Deut 6:3). This direction applies just as well to Christians today. We have the opportunity and obligation to create a legacy of faithful, Christ-like living for generations to come.

 

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You Might Be a Pharisee If . . .

You Might Be a Pharisee If . . .

Luke 18: 9-17

 

Might be a Redneck if . . .

  • Funny because we often recognize just a little of ourselves or someone we know
  • This is the genius of Jesus – greatest story teller ever
    • Even if it makes us a little uncomfortable, we recognize a little of ourselves in the story.

 

Title of Sermon – You Might be a Pharisee If . . .

 

We don’t start off with the intention of being a Pharisee

  • Pharisee started off well – “God, I thank you”
  • Good thing to thank God for our progress and growth
  • Background on Pharisees
  • They didn’t start off with the intention of being the punch-line or “how-not-to examples”
  • Somewhere something went wrong:

 

Used the Wrong Measuring Stick

  • Two men used two different measuring sticks
  1. Pharisee compared himself to another man
  2. Tax collector compared himself to God
  • Canon – measuring stick
  • This is the first place where the Pharisee went wrong
  • What happens when we compare ourselves to others?
    • We can pick out faults or things we think are faults. We can find ways to make ourselves feel/look better.
    • We are able to look better. It leads to lack of humility.
  • What happens when we compare ourselves to God?
    • We are quickly humbled.
  • The tax collector compared himself to God – his prayer
    • He knew that he was not a product of his own achievement, but of God’s love.
    • This way of approaching God radically alters the way we view God, ourselves and others!
      • Understanding ourselves as the object of mercy breeds compassion for others.
      • When we view ourselves too favorably we think, “why can’t tey figure it out like me?”
  • Illustration with Sheep and Snow
    • We find the wrong background to compare ourselves to
    • Romans 3:23
  • Golf illustration

 

He Thought His Sanctification was the Grounds for his Justification

  • We think our sanctification causes our justification
  • Sanctification is what you become and is a process – sometimes we equate the process with our own actions.
  • Story ends with a picture of Jesus and the children

 

Jesus was talking to them, not about them. I wonder how they left – convicted or angry

How you will leave today depends on your willingness to address the Pharisee living inside each of us.

 

You Might Be a Pharisee if . . .

 

If you like it when other people view you as deeply religious

 

If you go to church to feel good about yourself

 

If you need to get noticed and thanked for your service and ministry

 

If you are regularly comparing yourself to other people, or if you are quick to dismiss others for not measuring up

 

If you have never prayed the tax collector’s prayer.

 

Beware of reverse self-righteousness.

 

We will be humbled, the only question is by who and when

  • Philippians 2:9-10
  • 1 Peter 5:5-6 – ‘opposed’ means to line up your armies against

 

Who will humble you this week?

 

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Small Group Sermon #1

We are in the middle of lessons on 7 Realities, specifically about God Revealing Himself, His Purposes and His Ways.

I want to share an idea that I think God has been revealing. I’ve had trouble putting my finger on it and nailing it down, but there just seemed like there is something more that God is leading us to.

Direct our attention back to our Vision Statement:

Our vision is to be Jesus’ family that is united by God’s love and is passionately and prayerfully seeking to Know, Serve and Share Him.

It’s the Family part that I think God is calling to our attention. What do each of these passages tell us about the Church has a family?

Ephesians 2:19

1 Timothy 3:15

Galatians 4:6-7

Philippians 4:1

Hebrews 3:5-6

John 3:3-9 and Romans 8:15

Why would God have set up the Church the way He did and capitalize on this imagery of a Family?

  • Because it was by far the most important group in the New Testament times. So when Jesus and later on Paul started referring to Jesus’ disciples as family, people would begin to understand the impact that Christ should have on their lives.
  • Their understanding of the Household or Family existed on two fronts:
    • Family led by the paterfamilias
    • Household that included the family, slaves, employees and other patron/client relationships.
  • Our understanding of Family is a little different:
    • Family reunions
    • Thanksgiving dinner
    • Kitchen table

What’s an easy way to KNOW that we’re living out our call to be God’s Family? We’re sharing the “One Another’s” of the New Testament.

We do Family Reunion very well. We do Thanksgiving dinner very well. But it’s the kitchen table that I think God is calling us to do more effectively. I think this is where God has been at work this past year.

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Small group Apologetic

Theological

The first century church worshipped in homes. They existed as small and medium sized groups. In their context there were no large sized groups. Galatians 4:4 is an important text to reference; here’s a paraphrase: God sent Jesus at just the right time. In other words, God specifically picked that time period for which to send for His Sin

  • Spiritual formation and growth – Through our large and medium sized groups we are currently organized to teach people the content of the Bible. However, because we lack small sized groups, there is not substantial opportunity to process the content and apply it within the context of our own situations. This is due to the fact that people are reticent to “open up” in medium and large sized groups. People are more than willing to talk about an issue
  • Live out the “one another” passages.
  • We should not have to work around our structure (the way we practice our faith) in order to implement the directives of the Bible. The structure should support those.

 

Sociological

Baby-Boom Generation (1946-1964) – This generation is 66 to 48 years old and is beginning to enter into retirement years. Their lives (including their religion) have roots and as such they are unlikely to make any significant changes—including coming to or changing churches. They are characterized as a materialistic generation that enjoyed the prosperity created by those who came before them. They did not experience (not can they understand) the struggles that they preceding generations endured. They have expected to be served and catered to. In the religious context this is demonstrated through the development of the entertainment-focused worship services. This was the first generation that was widely educated; with approximately 30% hold college degrees. This is by far the highest percent of any generation coming before them. This led them to highly value education for their children.

 

Generation X (1965-1980) – This generation is 47-32 years old. They have established careers and are greatly in debt. While they have worked hard to develop their careers, they have been slow to have children and develop their faith. Referring to their faith, this generation is widely guilty of abandoning any religious heritage their parents passed on to them when they left home. Now, as they are raising children, the priority to reestablish the practice of their religion is becoming more important.

 

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Kingdom Growth pt 2

The problem is that as a church we are not encouraging or fostering that to happen—simply because we don’t have a structure in place for it to happen. Our structure currently consists of one large group that meets on Sunday morning for worship and then four middle sized groups that meet on Sunday evening, Wednesday evening and then two on Sunday morning. Do you see the issue with this? I hope you see a little more why we tried to have the four small groups that each of you led last year; and why I am going to continue pushing so hard for us to create and live within the context of a small group ministry for the church. People need the benefits that a small group dynamic offers. Otherwise we are living the Christian life without all of the benefits of the Christian community.

Before I list out the ten fundamental reasons for small groups I want to touch on one more paradigm that will be helpful—it has to do with the generational peculiarities. Here is a list of the existing generations, their dates of birth and the approximate number of births for that generation.

G.I. Generation 1904-1924 59.6 million

Silent Generation 1925-1945 55.4 million

Boomer Generation 1946-1964 75.9 million

Generation X 1965-1979 51.5 million

Millennial Generation 1980-2000 77.9 million

As with any list of dates, there is some fluidity involved. For instance, I was born in 1978, but in terms of characteristics I would probably fit in more to the Millennials. Notice which generation you fit into. As we walk through a brief description of each of them, see if that fits your characteristics and experience. As we go through these I will use myself and my parents as illustrations.

The G.I. Generation was greatly affected by two major events: the Great Depression and World War II; with the latter event giving this generation their name. For most of their lives, the GI Generation benefitted from an expanding economy, rising real estate values, and generous government programs. Interestingly though, their wealth did not depend on the government programs or even their education—it was because of their rigid work ethic and conservative nature. They had either seen or heard first-hand of the devastating effects of the Great Depression. They were greatly influenced by this. A high school diploma was sufficient to find a well paying, secure job with good benefits in their early years. Because they typically had a lower level education than successor generations, their perspectives on life tended to be shaped differently from the younger population.

The Silent Generation was born from 1925 to 1945. They have been called the Silent Generation because so few of its members held high-profile business or political positions at the time of its naming. For example, no U.S. President has ever come from this generation. Eventually many researchers began changing their name to the Swing Generation because they were caught between two potent and influential generations. Some in this generation swing towards the more casual lifestyle of the Boomers; while the majority swung towards the more conservative perspectives of their G.I. Generation elders. For the majority who swung towards, and were influenced by, their elder G.I.’s, they are extremely conservative—religiously, socially, fiscally and usually politically as well. They greatly value consistency and generally dislike change.

The Baby Boomers were born from 1946 to 1964. Until the Millennials, this was the largest generation in America’s history. In many ways, the Boomers are the most discussed, most marketed and most debated generation ever. Their sheer size caught the attention of businesses, schools, the media, churches, and other organizations for decades. The majority of the Boomers were raised by stay-at-home mothers who were younger than mothers with children at home today. They are the Woodstock and Vietnam generation that believed their way was the way. In the 1960s the Boomers were countercultural and antiauthoritarian. That self-centered independent spirit became a self-centered, materialistic spirit in the 1980s; and it carried over to churches. Many of the mega-churches that were begun in the 1970s and 80s (i.e. Saddleback in Los Angeles and Willow Creek in Chicago) were founded by Boomers and marketed to Boomers. Take for example the largest church in the U.S., Lakewood Church in Houston that is led by Joel Osteen (a Generation X’er) and founded by his father (a member of the Silent Generation). As much as any other church, Lakewood markets itself to the Boomer generation. Next time you happen upon him preaching on television, take a moment and notice the crowd. They are all older Gen Xers and Boomers. It’s no coincidence that Osteen has grown his fathers’ church to over 40,000 members by preaching a “prosperity gospel.” He has successfully appealed to the materialistic and selfish nature of the Boomer generation.

Next is Generation X. They were originally called the Buster Generation because of the dramatic decline in live births from their predecessor generation. The label, Generation X or Gen X, came from a novel by Douglas Coupland. Generation Xers have cultural perspectives and political experiences that were shaped by a series of events. These include the election of Ronald Reagan, the 1984 Summer Olympics, the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, the election of George H.W. Bush, the launch of the Hubble Telescope, the savings and loan crisis, the election of Bill Clinton and the 1990s economic boom. Generation X experienced the introduction of the personal computer, the start of the video game era, cable television and the Internet. Other events include the AIDS epidemic, the War on Drugs, the Iran hostage crisis, the Persian Gulf War, the Dot-com bubble. They are often called the MTV Generation.

In the preface to Generation X Goes Global: Mapping a Youth Culture in Motion, Professor Christine Henseler summarized it as “a generation whose worldview is based on change, on the need to combat corruption, dictatorships, abuse, AIDS, a generation in search of human dignity and individual freedom, the need for stability, love, tolerance, and human rights for all.” When compared with previous generations, Gen X represents a more heterogeneous generation, exhibiting great variety of diversity in such aspects as race, class, religion, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. Change is more the rule for the people of Generation X than the exception. Unlike their parents who challenged leaders with intent to replace them, Gen Xers tend to ignore leaders and work for more long term institutional and systematic change through economic, media and consumer actions. The U.S. Census Bureau cites Generation X as highly educated, statistically holding the highest education levels when looking at current generations. Finally, this generation is waiting to have children longer than any previous generation. When there are two parents at home, they generally both pursue careers at the expense of family; which is one of the reasons that divorce is so high among this generation. Simply put, this generation is extremely lonely and searching for community and a place to belong.

The most recent generation to be “closed off” is the Millennial Generation (also known as Generation Y). The Millennials were born between 1980 and 2000. They have grown up in a society that is very different than any group before them. They have been plugged into technology since they were babies, are the most scheduled generation ever, are true multi-taskers, expect to have 6-8 careers in their lifetime and are attracted to diverse environments. They are starting out as the most politically progressive age group in modern history. In the 2008 election, Millennials voted for Barack Obama over John McCain by 66%-32%, while adults ages 30 and over split their votes 50%-49%. In the four decades since the development of Election Day exit polling, this is the largest gap ever seen in a presidential election between the votes of those under and over age 30. They are the first generation in human history who regards things like tweeting and texting, along with websites like Facebook, YouTube, Google and Wikipedia as everyday parts of their social lives and their search for understanding. They are the least religious group since survey research began charting religious behavior. They are on track to becoming the most educated generation in history. Finally, they are similar to their predecessor generation in that they value community and are highly relational.

Well, that’s a lot of information for just talking about small groups at church. Here’s why it’s important . . . the G.I. generation members have for the most part died. The Silent Generation is well into their retirement. They have slowed down considerably. Many of them are still active as the leaders in churches. Since they are a religious group and are likely entrenched in their faith, this also means that they are not likely to be converted. The Boomers have been catered to by churches for the past twenty to thirty years. They have high expectations from their churches. They expect to be served and catered to. This is one of the reasons that entertainment-driven worship has become so popular. Similar to the Silent Generation, the Boomers are beginning to grow older and, from a big-picture perspective are poor prospects to convert. They are not terribly religious and those that are religiously inclined have likely already put down roots in a church. For the purposes of this discussion we are now at the most important generations – Gen Xers and Millenials. These are well educated; which means that we have been taught in college and graduate school to be highly critical. We are highly relational and distrustful or institutions and large organizations. Because so many of our families are dysfunctional and broken, we have a high value for community and long for strong relationships. The Gen Xers are in the middle of raising children and many of those who left their faith when they were in college and begun coming back to church now that they have kids.

The millennials are just a few years behind in this regard; and they are also highly relational. Moreso than the Gen Xers, they are highly skeptical of organized religion, though they are quite spiritual. This is a strange phenomenon to be sure, but it has been well documented. Because of their age (and lack of entrenched faith) these two generations are the most likely to be converted. But, because they are skeptical and critical, and have distrust for organized religion, our current structure is ill-suited to attract them. Think about it this way, the symbol of organized religion is the church building and our entire structure is built around the church building. It’s no wonder that we have a hard time attracting this age group (In fact, unless I am mistaken, the only people in this age group at our church have grown up in the church. We haven’t attracted and converted any . . . yet). Add to this the fact that both groups are highly relational and long for deep and lasting friendships—this leads to logical conclusion that small groups must be part of the structure for any church that is going to consistently reach these generations (at this point we have to think back to the information about group dynamics). This is why all of the growing churches have small groups. They are growing by attracting these two groups; and for the most part they are using small groups ministries to do it.

Well, we’re at 11 pages now. I’m sorry that I have been so long winded. But since I am asking you to make such a big change and adjustment, it’s only reasonable to give you the full picture. Now that we have covered group dynamics and generational peculiarities, we are now ready to look at the specific reasons for small groups that I have discovered through my year-long study. As you read through these, read them through the lens of group dynamics and generational peculiarities. These are in no particular order.

  1. Small groups will help assimilate new members into the community and help them to develop relationships.
  • God brings us guests all of the time; and some of them are sincere seekers. Having a small group ministry will help us to get them plugged into the life of the body. It’s difficult for us to really grasp just how hard it is to try to get plugged in to a new church and develop meaningful relationships. You have been here for a while, some of you a long while. But put yourselves in the place of a new person who is seeking God and looking for a church home. They are probably intimidated and scared. Having a few people put their arms around them and take them in helps to assimilate them into the body. There is substantiated research that states that a person must develop seven friendships within one year or they won’t stay at the church. There is a long list of people who have come and gone in the two years since I have been here. I can’t help but think how many we could have held on to if we could have gotten them plugged into a small group of Christians who could have loved on them, encouraged them and helped them feel plugged into the Church.
  • There is a lot of different statistics on the impact of friendships and church growth. But the bottom line is that if visitors or new members don’t develop at least five friendships, the research indicates that they will not last more than two years.
  1. Develop and mentor future leaders.
  • Any group, especially a church, is only as strong as its leaders. I have seen a lot of churches get a lot of things right, but have poor leadership. They all failed miserably. We have to be intentional about developing leaders for today and tomorrow. We have a lot of potential out there; we have to be good stewards with it. In a small group setting each of us to going to have more opportunities to develop deeper friendships with people, which will give us greater opportunities to mentor and raise up more leaders. Not in mention in a small group there are greater opportunities for leadership roles. Just think about this . . .  how long can you reasonably expect to serve as an Elder? Three years? Five years? Ten years? Longer? That’s how long you have to train your replacements. How long do you think it will take to have a pipeline of talent that is ready to lead?
  1. Provide opportunities for accountability to take place.
  • James 5:16 says that we are to confess our sins to each other and to pray for one another. This is the essence of accountability. During my two years here there have been many issues that have come to my attention. I can only imagine all that I don’t know about. Here’s a few actual examples (all are with people in our church):
    • a middle-aged couple is struggling with their grown daughter being in an abusive relationship with her boyfriend. She won’t leave the man and she won’t let her parents help her. So they are left to worry and fret about her. They have only one person in their lives who they feel comfortable asking for help, encouragement and prayers from. If they were in a small group, they would have a greater chance to develop deeper friendships and would have more people they could take their struggles to and receive encouragement from.
    • A married man and a woman had an emotional affair with a woman in the church. There was no physical intimacy. But marriage vows were definitely violated and two families were nearly ruined because of it. The wounds will take years to heal and the scars will remain for much longer. Had each of these people been engaged in a small group, there is a greater likelihood that the red flags (and there were plenty) could have been noticed by people who had earned the right to hold them accountable. At that point, tough conversations and accountability could have taken place before the damage was done. The red flags of a struggling marriage are easy to notice by the people who are active in your life. As it stands, there were only two people in the entire church who noticed the red flags and intervened to keep the marriage intact and from a bad situation becoming a lot worse. And this situation still isn’t completely healed.
    • There is a man who has gone through a difficult situation and as a result is struggling with alcohol abuse. He is not an alcoholic. But he is not far from it. I am literally the only person who knows about it. Since there is not an appropriate group available for him to talk about his struggles and his emotional pain (that are leading to the alcohol abuse), he is left to struggle in private where Satan can have a field day with him. I am working with him as much as I can. But I just can’t help but wonder how much better off he would be if he were involved in a small group and surrounded by close friends who could minister to him.
    • The last example I will share is one of a “younger” married man who has children. He is addicted to pornography and masturbation. He is greatly ashamed of his sin and is trying to defeat it. He needs and longs for relationships with Christians. But other than me, he really has none. Even though he wishes for mature Christian men to surround himself with and be ministered by, he has trouble finding them because there is no structure built into our church for him to make these friends and develop the relationships.
    • As a side note, these are just four of several issues that I have had to deal with since I have been here. There are more that I have not shared. And like I said before, I am scared to think of all the ones that I don’t know about. Since we are not doing a good job of developing spiritual leaders, or giving the spiritually mature people we do have an opportunity to mentor and shepherd the struggling and hurting, I am left to do much of this on my own. Needless to say, my shoulders are only so wide.
  1. Create environments for discipleship to take place.
  • Discipleship is simply the act of teaching people to look, think, act and live more like Jesus Christ. It is essentially the fulfillment of Romans 12:2 where Paul says that we are to be transformed by God into a new person. Having small groups built into our structure would expand our ability as a church to help disciple our members. Consider our current structure that includes one large group and four medium sized groups. Now think back to the discussion on group dynamics. We do not have a place to ask really difficult questions, discuss topics that might be uncomfortable in bigger groups. We lack the place for people to ask for personal prayers and intervention. This is one of the reasons that we have so many surface-level Christians who lack depth and spiritually maturity. In our worship group the members can hear a thirty minute lesson that might stick with them for a few days. In our medium-sized bible classes they can discuss topics and pull apart difficult scriptures. But where can they go to ask for prayers and intervention because they are struggling with envy and anger with a person at work? The answer is a small group where they have strong relationships and have developed trust and intimacy.
  1. Reach out and bring non-Christians into community with the church so that conversions can take place.
  • This is directly related to the information on the generations. The Silent generations would be glad to come to our church. The only problem is that they are busy leading in theirs. And the few Baby Boomers that don’t already have a church home would be glad to come, if it were engaging and entertaining enough. The problem there is that we don’t have instruments, much less anything in worship that would be confused as entertaining. This leaves the two groups that, for the most part, don’t already have built-in, or strong, ties to another church. But it’s difficult to get the Gen Xers and Millennials to come to a church building unless they already have strong relationships with a member (remember that they are skeptical of organized religion). And it’s even harder to get them to stay unless they develop several relationships with members. That’s tough to do when our structure doesn’t really have any built-in fellowship or relational time (10 minutes in the foyer after worship just doesn’t cut it). The entry point to the Christ and His church for these two generations is small groups. The large and medium groups are just not built for the fellowship and deep relationships that these generations desire.
  1. Establish and foster an atmosphere where the “one another” passages of the Bible to be lived out.
  • Here’s a list of the “one another” passages in the Bible. You’ll notice that most all of these are difficult, if not impossible, to do in the context of our large group worship service where we have almost no interaction with each other. Still yet, the lack of intimacy in the middle groups makes it difficult for most of these to happen. The small groups is the most likely place for the majority of these to happen—both because of the dynamics of the small group and because that is a setting where people can share life together.
  • Can these happen outside of our group meetings? Yes, of course. But because we lack the built-in structure, most people are not going to take the necessary time to develop the relationships for these to take place. Is that there fault? I suppose they have some culpability because they lack spiritual maturity. But isn’t that what we’re supposed to be doing in the first place . . . helping to develop people’s spiritual maturity. Our structure should make this as easy as possible; not put up road blocks for it. It just doesn’t make sense to me that for us to fulfill biblical mandates we must do it outside of the time that we plan to meet together as Church. Should our time together (no matter when it is be structured in such as a way so that we can live out our Christian lives together? This is where small groups come in. If this were part of our structure then we would have a more effective built-in avenue to fulfill these biblical commands.
Love one another:

John 13:34-35; 15:12, 17; Rom. 12:10; 13:8; 14:13; 1 Thess. 3:12; 4:9; 2 Thess. 1:3; 1 Pet. 1:22; 1 John 3:11, 3:22; 4:8; 23; 4:7, 11-12; 2 John 1: 5

Encourage one another:

Rom. 14:19; 15:14; Col. 3:16; 1 Thess. 5:11; Heb. 3:13; 10:24-25

Accept one another:

Rom. 15:7, 14

Strengthen one another:

Rom. 14:19

Help one another:

Heb. 3:13; 10:24

Serve one another:

Gal. 5:13; 21; Phil. 2:3; 1 Pet. 4:9; 5:5

Care for one another:

Gal. 6:2

Forgive one another:

Eph. 4:32; Col 3:13

Submit to one another:

Eph. 5:21; 1 Pet. 5:5

Commit to one another:

1 John 3:16

Build trust with one another:

1 John 1:7

Be devoted to one another:

Rom. 12:10

Be patient with one another:

Eph. 4:2; Col. 3:13

Be interested in one another:

Phil. 2:4

Be accountable to one another:

Eph. 5:21

Confess to one another:

Jas. 5:16

Live in harmony with one another:

Rom. 12:16

Do not be conceited to one another:

Rom. 13:8

Do not pass judgment to one another:

Rom. 14:13; 15:7

Do not slander one another:

Jas. 4:11

Instruct one another:

Rom. 16:16

Greet one another:

Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 1:10; 2 Cor. 13:12

Admonish one another:

Rom. 5:14; Col. 3:16

Spur one another on:  

Heb. 10:24

Meet with one another:

Heb. 10:25

Agree with one another:

1 Cor. 16:20

Be concerned for one another:

Heb. 10:24

Be humble to one another in love:

Eph. 4:2

Be compassionate to one another:

Eph. 4:32

Do not be consumed by one another:

Gal. 5:14-15

Do not anger one another:

Gal. 5:26

Do not lie to one another:

Col. 3:9

Do not grumble to one another:

Jas. 5:9

Give preference to one another:

Rom. 12:10

Be at peace with one another:

Rom. 12:18

Sing to one another:

Eph. 5:19

Be of the same mind to one another:

Rom. 12:16; 15:5

Comfort one another:

1 Thess. 4:18; 5:11

Be kind to one another:

Eph. 4:32

Live in peace with one another:

1 Thess. 5:13

Carry one another’s burdens:

Gal. 6:2

  1. There is a biblical precedent for large and small groups within a church.
  • As you probably know already, the early church met in the context of the home. There were no church buildings until Constantine began his aggressive building projects (i.e. basilicas) in the early to mid 300s. Until then there are some archeological examples of personal homes being renovated to accommodate the church meetings. But it is unlikely that they increased the size much, only the convenience of the meeting.
  • The book of Acts presents the first century church as having both large and small group meetings. What is noticeably absent are medium sized groups.
  • Consider these scriptures and notice the group sizes that are mentioned.
    • Acts 2:42-47: 42 All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.43 A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44 And all the believers met together in one place (large group) and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day (large group), met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity (small groups)— 47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.
    • 5:42: 42 And every day, in the Temple (large group) and from house to house (small groups), they continued to teach and preach this message: “Jesus is the Messiah.”
    • 19:9: But some became stubborn, rejecting his message and publicly speaking against the Way. So Paul left the synagogue and took the believers with him. Then he held daily discussions at the lecture hall of Tyrannus (large group).
    • 20:20-21: 20 I never shrank back from telling you what you needed to hear, either publicly (large groups probably in the agora) or in your homes (small groups).
    • Romans 16:3-15:Also give my greetings to the church that meets in their home. 10 Greet Apelles, a good man whom Christ approves. And give my greetings to the believers from the household of Aristobulus. 11 Greet Herodion, my fellow Jew.[c] Greet the Lord’s people from the household of Narcissus. 14 Give my greetings to Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers and sisters[d] who meet with them. 15 Give my greetings to Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and to Olympas and all the believers[e] who meet with them. 
      • These scriptures indicate that the church in Rome was made up of at least 5 small groups that met in people’s homes.
    • 16:23: 23 Gaius says hello to you. He is my host and also serves as host to the whole church (large group). Erastus, the city treasurer, sends you his greetings, and so does our brother Quartus.
      • We can’t be sure of the setting, but this scripture indicates that there were some instances when the entire church in Corinth met together; and when they did, they met at Gaius’ home. (Romans was written while Paul was working in Corinth).
    • 1 Corinthians 16:19: 19 The churches here in the province of Asia send greetings in the Lord, as do Aquila and Priscilla and all the others who gather in their home for church meetings (small group).
      • In addition to the large group meeting at Gaius’ home (Romans 16:23), it is clear that there were small groups that met in people’s homes in Corinth as well. Paul probably mentioned  Aquila and Priscilla because, as fellow tent makers or leather workers, he may have stayed with them as they worked together.
  • One of our mottos (in the Churches of Christ) has always been to “Restore New Testament Christianity.” We have four middle-sized groups and middle sized groups don’t seem to have existed in the New Testament church. And we have no formal small groups; which were the fundamental structure of the New Testament church.
  1. Give people more opportunities to use their spiritual gifts in service to one another.
  • I have underlined all the spiritual gifts mentioned by Paul in these texts. Think about each one and whether or not they can be easily utilized in our current large and medium group structure.
    • Romans 12:4-8: Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy (large, medium and small groups), speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others (small group), serve them well. If you are a teacher (large and small), teach well. If your gift is to encourage others (small group), be encouraging. If it is giving (large, medium and small), give generously. If God has given you leadership (small group) ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness (small group) to others, do it gladly.
    • 1 Corinthians 12:7-11: A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other. To one person the Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice (medium and small group); to another the same Spirit gives a message of special knowledge (any size). The same Spirit gives great faith (best shared in medium and small group) to another, and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing. 10 He gives one person the power to perform miracles, and another the ability to prophesy (any size group). He gives someone else the ability to discern whether a message is from the Spirit of God or from another spirit. Still another person is given the ability to speak in unknown languages, while another is given the ability to interpret what is being said. 11 It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have.
  1. Develop, build and strengthen relationships that are not feasible in large groups.
  • In our large group there is no interaction to speak of, as a result it is nearly impossible to create foster and deepen relationships. Medium sized groups are a little better, but they still lack the necessary intimacy. Small groups are ideal for developing relationships. This is where we can sit across the kitchen table with one another, share a cup of coffee and really get to know one another.
  1. Enable the church to reach the demographics that is most ripe for the harvest.
  • We have covered this extensively. “Older” people are generally not looking for a new church. “Younger” people who are looking do not generally like organized (building-based) church; even though they are interesting in a relationship with God. By taking the church to our homes we are more likely to be able to bring them in long enough to create the relationships and convert them to Christ.

Well, I think an 18 page letter is long enough. In fact, it’s definitely the longest letter I have ever written. It is just really important to me that I lay it all out there for you. I am sorry for taking up so much of your time, but I do thank you for making it this far. If I have been able to convince you that we need small groups, great! I’ll get the ball rolling and keep you up to date each step of the way. If you are not there yet, still have questions, or think it’s the wrong thing for us, I am going to ask you to do one thing . . . let me cash in some of the trust that I have tried to earn from you these past couple of years; and give us two years to try small groups. If after two years it still isn’t working or you still aren’t convinced that it’s good for the church, then we will take it apart and go back to how we have it now. I am asking for two years because it will take that long to work out the kinks, get people used to it and give it a chance to get some traction. Let me know if you have any questions. I will do my best to answer them. Thanks again for your time.

 

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Kingdom Growth

Last month we had Wil Perkins come and present his church growth diagnostic assessment. Not long after, I sent each of you my response to his assessment. It was really more of an action plan for where I felt like we needed to act. Some of those action plans were minor and I’ll move forward on, or will partner with the appropriate Deacon. Others will require the five of us working together.

Like you, there were a few things that Wil presented that I could take or leave, a few things I disagreed with and a few that I thought were spot on. I’m writing to make a case for one that I thought was spot on. In fact, I thought it was so spot on that I think we need to move forward with it immediately—that is small groups. I completely understand that this is probably a foreign idea for each of you. (I have never been a part of a church that had this ministry either). And I understand and appreciate that “splitting up” the church might go against everything that you see as Biblical unity. This being said, I hope you understand just how strongly I believe that this is the best thing for the church. I have spent countless hours studying this idea; both from the stand point of reading well in excess of fifty books on the subject, talking with many church leaders who have implemented this ministry, as well as studying the Scriptures to see if there is a Spirit-led justification for this ministry. If you’ll keep an open mind and give me a few minutes, I will try to explain what I have discovered and why I believe in it so much.

As best I can tell, small groups have their American roots in the 1700s with John Wesley when he began bible school to help combat the poor educational standards and rampant illiteracy. Those were “small groups” that eventually evolved from secular curriculum into what we experience today. They have been dominant or widespread in our evangelical culture since the early 1980s. Small groups are not a new idea or a fad (it was how the first century church was structured). I do not believe it is something that will eventually “go out of style”. I think it is substantially deeper than a program or gimmick to help the church grow. (If I thought it were just that I would not bother taking the risk of upsetting you or “rocking the boat” on this).

Here’s an example of something you can probably relate to. Back in the 1970s and 80s bus ministries were extremely popular. It was a trend that worked for a while and then more or less phased itself out. Now, I do know of a few churches that are currently using a bus ministry. But, for the most part, this was a ministry fad that has seen its best days. Small groups are not like this. Because small groups are a fundamentally biblical idea (instead of just a trend), they have lasted the test of time and continue to be the common denominator of every single church that is growing today. I’ll say that again, I have not found a growing church that did not have small groups—and I have looked extensively (across the country and the world).

Before we go any further, let me say that small groups are not a cure all or guarantee for numerical church growth. There are no magic pills. That is not possible. Paul may have described it best in 1 Corinthians 3:6-7, “I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow. It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow.” Jesus also made it very clear that our job is to work, but God is the one who controls the harvest (Matthew 9:37-38). For every church that is growing, there are probably ten that aren’t. So why have small groups if there is no guarantee that they will work? Because they are biblical and they give the church a great opportunity for growth—beginning with the spiritual growth of each member that participates.

Before we get into the specific reasons for small groups (that I have discovered through my study) let’s remember that this is about the Kingdom and the specific work of the church here in Quincy. That’s why we’re here; serving in the roles we’re in. We’re called to work for God’s glory and grow His Kingdom here in Quincy. This is not about our preferences. As leaders in God’s church we simply don’t have the luxury of our own preferences. We are called to submit to God’s will and place His people above ourselves. We have to rise above what we prefer or what makes us comfortable and do what is best for those we serve and for the health and growth of the Kingdom.

This having been said, we have been on our current road (current structure) for more than sixty years. We are not growing numerically, and just as importantly, too many of our members are not having their lives transformed, being discipled, maturing spiritually or using their gifts to serve one another. They are simply coming each Sunday and sitting through worship without engaging in other peoples’ lives—much less allowing God to engage them. As the leaders, we can’t afford to take a laize fair attitude toward this and just blame them for not being strong enough (since there are others that are able to engage).

Instead of trying to find ways to do our current structure more effectively, we need to come to the realization that we need to change what we are doing (our structure). This requires us to demonstrate the faith to seek out a vision from God that will truly transform, impact and grow His Church. He has left each of us as stewards of His Kingdom, with each our own gifts creating our specific roles and responsibilities. The question for us is this: what will we return back to Him when our time is up? Will we give back a church that looks generally the same as when we took on our leadership role? Or will we, through visionary faith, give back a church to Him that is open to His voice, responsive to His call, able to change and adapt when needed and is creating opportunities for people to engage and grow through Him?

Making a change like this is not easy. But Shepherding and Leading people is not easy. It requires certain traits and gifts that so few people have—specifically compassion, a burden for people, a vision of where to lead them and the faith to lead them through the unknown terrain to get them there. I am challenging you to look past the comfort and safety of being a “caretaker” Elder; anyone can do that. Anyone can just keep doing the same thing, without regard for whether it’s working or not. Before you know it, your time as an Elder will have come and gone. What are you going to leave the next generation? Will you leave a healthier church for your children, grandchildren and the generations that follow?

The first step in making this happen is to develop and nurture a culture of small groups. This needs to happen; and quite honestly, it needs to happen now. God has been at work this past year with the way He has been arranging things. One of the things we have been looking at on Sunday morning is the idea of seeking out where God is at work and getting on board with where He is (i.e. what He is already blessing). All of the signs are there, a small group ministry is where God is leading us and where He is working; I am confident of this.

Before we continue I want to introduce you to a couple of paradigms that are essential to understanding the ten reasons that I am going to share. The first has to do with Group Dynamics; and the second involved generational peculiarities. Pardon me if you are already familiar with these; but it’s just too important (vital even) to gloss over it, and we must be sure that we’re all on the same page with these. First, with group dynamics, this is not an especially religious phenomenon. Group dynamics extend beyond churches and into school classrooms, board room meetings and even Target Stores—where there is the store-wide group (large group), the department groups (medium group) and the senior management team (small group) ;-). This being said, we are going to explore these three types of groups from the standpoint of the Church; and as we do that I am going to use a family as an illustration to explain things.

First, the large group is going to be any group numbering more than 50-60 participants and is comprised of tertiary relationships. This, of course, is going to happen most frequently in the Sunday morning worship time. The primary purpose for this group is to worship God together as a large family. There is very little, if any, “personal” sharing (this is not counting the few minutes that every once in a while I will call us to greet one another). In many ways you can think of this as a Shriver or Willimann or Boren or Warren family reunion. Some of you come from large extended families; and when you get everyone together, it creates quite the crowd. That’s certainly the case for the Wachter side of my family (my mother’s side). We have a lot of aunts, uncles and cousins. Whenever we’re all able to get together, there are more than fifty of us and it’s an absolute blast. We get to catch up on what’s been going on in our lives, reminisce about fond memories and departed loved ones, share a great meal together and even create a few new memories (especially when the drunk uncle decides to show out ;-). It’s a great time, a time that none of us would ever trade. But there are limits to what we do together. We don’t bring skeletons out of the closet. We don’t usually talk about how our disappointed we are that our 17 year-old daughter got pregnant or that we are trying our best to wait on the kids to graduate to get a divorce. Those are realities in our lives that we just don’t discuss in this group. We usually try our best to keep the negative at home and allow this to be a time of celebration and joy. That’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s healthy. I wouldn’t expect my second cousin that I really don’t know that well to share those things with me. If she did, that would be fine and I would do everything I could to minister to her. But she has people in her life that are much closer to her than I am, and quite frankly, love her more intimately than I do.

This is very much what our Sunday morning worship is like. One of the misunderstandings of, or problems with, large groups in church is that we have an unrealistic expectation that everyone should be close to everyone and be able to minister to everyone. That is an expectation that can’t be met and sets people up for disappointment and disillusionment with church. The purpose of the large group on Sunday mornings is to worship, encourage one another through our worship (and by being with one another) and be edified by the Word of God being presented.

There is not a numerical cap to the large group, which is one reason that we don’t have to be particularly close, or even know the people we are worshiping with in order to have a powerful, uplifting and Spirit-led time of worship and encouragement. Research has shown that it’s not possible for a person to process (and remember) more than 200 people at one time. Just think about the worship experiences you have had at places like the “Tulsa Soul Winning Workshop”. That is a terrific and inspiring time of worship, and you probably only know a handful of people in the audience with you.

All this also helps to explain one other phenomenon that all churches struggle with—no one ever comes forward for the invitation. In my two years here I can recall only one person coming forward to request prayers (much less confess sin—which is a biblical mandate from Jas 5:16); and she did not reveal anything personal, only that she was struggling with some things and wanted the church to pray for her. There have been Sundays that I preached my tail off and really had a strong, inspiring message, and still no one came forward when I knew there were people that needed to do some straightening out with God. The reason isn’t a lack of desire or spirituality on their part, it’s because we are in a large group where that type of personal and intimate sharing just does not take place. We don’t share personal stuff at the Wachter family reunion and we don’t share it at the Christ family reunion either. That’s not bad. It’s healthy. I hope that helps explain the large group.

Next is the medium sized group which is comprised of secondary relationships. These groups are primarily going to be our bible classes. In terms of numbers, the starting point with the medium group, or where the large group ends, is a little gray. It is somewhere around the fifty person mark. These middle-sized groups are usually (depending on the group leader) successful at creating a non-threatening environment where people can share on a surface level. People can get to know everyone in the group by name, talk about things like the weather, their hobbies and maybe even their families (on a surface level). It’s an opportunity to experience social fellowship, acceptance and sense of belonging. And in the context of our bible classes, it gives people the opportunity to ask questions and share thoughts and opinions about the text or topic being discussed (the large group doesn’t provide this type of opportunity).

When it comes to conversations about people, we are generally comfortable with talking about anyone . . . except ourselves. Just think about our Wednesday evening bible study time. Or for you guys who are in my current Sunday morning class. At times we have dealt with some challenging and potentially personal topics and issues. Just think about how many people actually share anything substantive where they made themselves vulnerable; and that’s the key: transparency and vulnerability. This list is not long. In fact, in terms of truly making themselves vulnerable (on Sunday morning), I can only think of Carolyn and myself that have shared in that way. Again, this is not wrong. It is healthy.

If the large group is like the huge family reunion, then the medium sized group is like the family that gets together at Thanksgiving. Your wife, kids and grandkids are all there. For me, it would include my family (Molly and the kids), my parents and my little sister and her husband. And you might even have some brothers and sisters or nephews/nieces or cousins over. There is a cap to this group. That cap is often created by the physical circumstances of the meeting place. For example, our classrooms are only so big. It doesn’t take long before they get full. Similarly, our living rooms and dining rooms are only so big—they fill up quickly. For our purposes, a medium sized group is generally going to have between 15-50 people. Going beyond either of these numbers begins to change the group dynamics very quickly. For example, if we go over fifty then people become less inclined to share personal information or speak up at all. When we get to 15 or under then people become much more comfortable and more likely to open up and share personal information, including personal fears, struggles and worries.

This brings us to small sized groups. These groups are primary groups; and number between 5-15 people. Those numbers are slightly flexible, but not by much. Like we mentioned with the medium sized groups, if we get too much beyond the fifteen people then the groups starts to lose some of its intimacy and personal feel. It is in primary or small groups that intimate sharing takes place. Back to the family illustration, this would be your immediate family with your wife and children. When your immediate family sits down (or sat down) together for supper at the family table there is very little that is off limits in terms of conversation. If we are functioning as healthy family units then the kids will feel open to share what happened at school that day and how it made them feel (good or bad). Similarly, Dad will feel comfortable griping to Mom about the person at work that is being difficult. These are representative examples of what small groups are like—people in them share life together. This is different in content from your Thanksgiving meal family; and definitely different from your Family Reunion group.

In the church setting the small group goes beyond surface interaction and social fellowship to a spiritual fellowship. In small groups people can begin to fulfill biblical mandates such as “Bear one another’s burdens” (Gal 6:2) and “weep with those who weep” (Rom 12:15). The small group is the context where those things are lived out. A reality that most people recognize from personal experience is that people must have permission to interact on this level. For the most part, this will not happen unless there is the appropriate structure and permission given by the group to facilitate this kind of close family-style relationship building.

By way of a quick review, there are large groups (50+ people), middle sized groups (16-50 people) and small groups (5-15 people). You can probably tell right away that our structure is built to accommodate the large and middle sized groups; but that we have a void when it comes to small group structure. This is not to say that we don’t have small groups within our church, we have several. But our structure does not support them. That means that only the highly spiritually mature Christians are going to be part of a small group, because they are the only ones who are mature enough to realize they need the benefits that community offers and then go and seek out those relationships. For example, on an informal level, many of our ladies have a small group that meets (or did meet) every few weeks at Yvonne Cressy’s home for supper and fellowship. That is a small group ministry and those ladies that participate will tell you that they absolutely love that time together. It is a source of great fellowship and encouragement.

 

“The Significance of the Early House Churches”

“The Significance of the Early House Churches” – Floyd Filson

Five ways the House Church impacts our understanding of the apostolic church:

  1. Enabled a distinctively Christian worship and fellowship. The creative and controlling aspects of their faith and life were precisely those which other Jews did not share. These aspects found unhindered expression not in temple or synagogue worship but in the house gatherings.
  2. Explains in part the great attention paid to family life in the letters of Paul and in other Christian writings. On many occasions entire households were often converted as a unit (Acts 16:33).
  3. The multiplicity of house churches in the city helps to explain the tendency to party strife in the apostolic age. Christians of a certain tendency grouped together and thereby were confirmed in that tendency. 1 Corinthians 1:10-17 demonstrates a loyalty to households. There were definitive patron-client relationships. It’s natural to be attracted to personalities (i.e. favorite teachers, preachers, etc).
  4. The house church situation also sheds light upon the social status of the early Christians. The early church was not just a poor man’s group. 1 Corinthians 1:26 demonstrates that there were at least some wealthy members of the church. The apostolic church was more nearly a cross section of society than we have sometimes thought.
  5. Helps to understand the development of church polity. This was aided by the fact that many converts were formerly “God-fearers,” who had shown enough independence to leave their native faith heritage and establish a relationship with the synagogue. The house church became a training ground for the future leaders of the church following the apostolic era. Everything was set up for the host to emerge as the most prominent and influential member of the group. 1 Timothy is dealing with potential problems with the leadership. Titus is dealing with developing leaders.

 

Five Stages of Physical Development of the Church

  1. 50-150 AD
    1. Christians met only in private homes.
      1. Insula – apartment or tenement complex that housed numerous families. Often consisted of four to five levels surrounding a central court. Included lower and upper crust families.
      2. Domus – consisted of a suite of rooms grouped around an atrium. Atrium  was a rectangular room with an opening in the roof. It included a triclinium or a dining room where the meals would have been held while reclining on pillows (Palestine) or couches (gentiles).
      3. Villa – an estate consisting of a house, grounds and auxiliary buildings.
    2. This was a time when worship in Imperial Rome was split into two spheres: public and private. The public worship of the gods guaranteed the welfare of the Empire and a civic duty performed under state ritual. The private sphere is the locus where spiritual needs were satisfied by divinities of one’s personal choice. Christianity flourished in the private realm.
    3. There is no archeological evidence for Christianity during this time period.

 

  1. Intermediate Stage
    1. This is a transitional time between the house church and the domus ecclesiae; which were selective and partial alterations to interior structures of the family home to accommodate worship.

 

  1. 150-250 AD
    1. The house church moved from domestic to entirely religious function. A specific example is found at Dura Europus (246 AD).

 

  1. 250-313 AD
    1. Concludes with the Edict of Milan.
    2. Some met in larger buildings/halls – both private and public.
    3. This was the aula ecclesiae “hall of the church.” These predated the great persecution (303-311) and Constantine’s building spree.

 

  1. Post 313 AD
    1. Constantine began building basilica’s for church gatherings.
      1. These accommodated the larger groups.
      2. There were no pews as this time period was highlighted with a focus on the Eucharist (instead of the modern homiletically focused meeting that began during the Reformation).

 

Scriptures that that mention the physical location of the early church’s meetings:

Temple area

Acts 2:46 – Infant church met daily

Acts 5:12 – Meeting regularly at Solomon’s Portico

Acts 5:42 – Meet daily in the Temple teaching that Jesus is the Messiah

 

Upper Room

Luke 22:12 – Jesus and His disciples gathered to share His last Passover meal.

Acts 1:13 – the Apostles went to the upstairs room of the house where they were staying.

Acts 20:8 – Paul was in Troas with the Christians

 

Homes

Acts 10:25 – Peter converted Cornelius and his household

Acts 12:12 – gathered together at home of Mary (mother of John Mark) for prayer on behalf of Peter. Had a gate which meant that a courtyard must have separated the main building from the street.

Acts 16:34 – Paul and Silas brought into the house of the Philippian Jailer following his conversion. Hosted a meal for Paul and Silas.

Acts 21:8 – in Caesarea at Philip the Evangelists’ home.

1 Corinthians 16:19 – home of Priscilla and Aquila

Colossians 4:15 – church in Laodicia, Nympha’s house church

Philemon 2 – church that meets at the house of Philemon

 

Roman House Churches – at least 5, perhaps as many as 16

16:3-5; 16:10; 16:11; 16:14; 16:15

 

Other locations

Acts 19:9 – Paul taught in the Lecture Hall of Tyranus.

 

Role of Hospitality in the Growth of Christianity

There is a practical aspect of hospitality which Paul experienced and in some instances may have relied on during his ministry to the Gentiles (Acts 21:4, 7, 16-17; Philippians 4:15-18). Often when he experienced difficulties it was due to a lack of hospitality (1 Cor 4:11-13; 2 Cor 6:4-10). In addition to being a practical issue for Paul it was also a fundamental expression of the Gospel where God had demonstrated ultimate hospitality in an eschatological sense (Matt 8:11; Matt 22; Luke 14:15-24). In early Christianity, hospitality was expressed in the form of sharing meals together in celebration of the risen Savior and acknowledging His presence and unifying work in their own community (1 Cor 11:17-34). This explains why Paul prominently listed hospitality as a function of the church leader in 1 Tim 3. In this way, Paul’s practice and teaching of hospitality mirrored that of the ministry of Jesus who used the meal as a unifying symbol of the socially marginalized of society (Luke 7:39; 19:7). In summary, hospitality was an expectation of both the Jewish and Greco-Roman culture. Hospitality in the church was primarily manifested as an informal, household based ministry for sustaining itinerant missions and unity within the community.

 

Bonhoeffer, Life Together

  1. Community is initiated by the work of Christ. This means that Christians need other Christians because of Jesus Christ. Without Christ there is discord between God and man and between man and man. Our community with one another consists solely in what Christ has done to both of us. We should not try to create a vision of what we hope for community to be. We should exist in the reality of what Jesus has created. We should be grateful and appreciate of our fellowship and not complain because it isn’t what we envision or hope for. Christian brotherhood is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we participate. Physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer.
  2. A Day With Others. Prayer, Reading the Scriptures, Singing the new song, table fellowship.
  3. The Day Alone. Let him who cannot be alone beware of Community. Let him who is not in community beware of being alone. Intercession is a powerful creator of community. I see someone I did not like as a person for whom Christ offered His life.
  4. Ministry. Holding one’s tongue, meekness, listening, helpfulness, bearing (one another’s burdens Gal 6:2), proclaiming.
  5. Confession and Communion. Brings sin to light where it loses its’ power. Sin wants a man by himself. It withdraws him from community. Our experience of the cross and not life, makes one worthy to hear a confession.

 

Hellerman, When the Church Was a Family

  1. The group comes first. Strong-group society where the group is greater (priority) than the individual. Group is not only helpful, but also formative in our life’s decisions. Not until the individualistic culture did man ever need therapy. Our individual freedoms have pushed us over the edge of the emotional cliff.
  2. Family in the NT world. Purpose of marriage was to strengthen the family. Family went through/defined as the Patriline (allegiance there and not to spouse). Strongest bond was between brother and sister, not the spouse. Family is the most important group. The greatest act of disloyalty was betrayal of brother, not spouse. Jesus is changing the family.
  3. Jesus’ New Group. We have domesticated Jesus so that we can feel comfortable to bring Him home. Orthodoxy answers what Jesus is like. He is like God. Our response is worship and adoration. Orthopraxy helps to define what God is like. He is like the behaviors of Jesus which must be observed and copied. In this regard, Jesus modeled a new community and called it family. Creating an alternative family. Redefined the priorities of (1) God (2) Family (3) Church (4) Others to (1) God’s family (2) My family (3) Others. As Jesus created an alternative family and people found their identity in the context of their family, Christians are forced to redefine their identity.
  4. The Churches of Paul. Affective solidarity is emotional bond. Family unity – interpersonal harmony. Material solidarity – sharing of resources. Family Loyalty – undivided commitment to God’s group.
  5. The Church in the Roman World. Expanded not solely because of what they believed but predominantly because of how they behaved.
  6. Salvation as a Community Creating Event. Cannot have God has your Father unless you have the Church as your Mother (Cyprian of Carthage). When we are saved we are justified and familified.
  7. Life Together in the Family of God. Four NT values: share our stuff, share our hearts, stay and grow with one another, family is about more than me, wife and kids.
  8. Decision Making in the Family of God. Diagram of spirituality and community. Community is horizontal, spirit is vertical.
  9. Leadership in the Family of God. Plurality, servant

 

“Rich Pompeiian Houses, Shops for Rent, and the Huge Apartment Building in Herculaneum as Typical Spaces for Pauline House Churches” – David L. Bach

  • Evidence from domus in Pompeii and Herculaneum indicates that not all Pauline house churches were necessarily small or that they were private.
  • They may have been small, but may have accommodated numbers far greater than 40 persons.
  • Domus were ‘housefuls’ of persons unconnected by family ties. Rich and poor living in the same spaces.
  • Domus and insulae incorporated shops which placed owners, freedmen and slaves in the same domestic spaces.
  • They may have included public baths and/or gymnasiums.
  • Women owned some large domus, and would have exercised influence over groups that met and dined in their houses.