13 February, 2014 Gerry Straker
I like things that help the mission of our Church. And I like simple things that help the mission of our Church. If you’re reading this you probably like the same. So read on for two simple things that have helped our small groups at Church by the Bay be more mission-focused…
We know that God’s Word grows us (1 Peter 2:2), God’s Word grows us together (1 Peter 2:5), and God’s Word grows us together for the purpose of declaring God’s praises to the world (1 Peter 2:9, 12; 3:15). But so often our small groups default to insularity – cosy Bible studies where we all understand the Bible better and feel better ourselves for doing so.
But if God’s Word is how we know God better, then good Bible study means growing closer to God’s heart together. And God’s heart for His Church is mission. So the question we’ve been asking ourselves this year is:
How can a group gathered around the Gospel not become a group determined to gospel the world?
As we hear and discuss God’s Word properly, then our hearts become more in tune with God’s compassionate heart, and we desire His Gospel to go out from us more and more. If we’re studying the Bible and it doesn’t push us to God’s mission for the lost, then we’re not studying it right.
That’s the theory. But how to put this into practice? We haven’t done anything particularly clever, and we have lots of work still to do on this. But we have made a start. Here are two things we’ve done.
1. We follow the sermon series
We’ve copied churches like Dagenham Parish Church, St Peter’s Rock Ferry and Wellfield Church Leyland by following the sermon series in our midweek groups. There are lots of pros to this (and some cons), but a big pro would be that new people – brand new Christians or interested people – can join in. Whereas, if they turned up and we were in the middle of a bit of the Bible they’ve never heard of – and bearing in mind that some Christians use jargon and jump all over the Bible (however hard we might try to prevent it) – they would have a very disorienting experience. But now, all that’s needed to contribute is listening to Sunday’s sermon. Everyone, including new people, can ask questions about what they heard. This makes it easier for new people to join in. And new people joining and sticking (which sometimes happens!) means our groups are not as cosy – we have to think about how we’re communicating. And that means we are more outsider-friendly and we’re practising talking to people outside of church.
2. We ask questions about mission
We structure our questions into four sections, and the group leader tries to make sure that the fourth section about mission has a good amount of discussion time each week.
We start with thinking where people are at in the world around us, and how Christians might think similarly. This relates to the sermon’s introduction.
We then look again at the text of the sermon and draw out the main points. People can ask questions about anything that they, or the preacher, were unclear on.
c. Word-Shaped World
These are the application questions and help God’s Word to shape our lives in this world.
d. Word to World
The fourth section of our questions is about how Sunday’s Bible passage can help us in our evangelism. How does the passage drive us to mission? How can we use what we have learnt to have discussions with non-Christians and answer their questions?
We ask questions about how our Bible passage motivates us to evangelise. We ask how the Bible passage helps us to be disciple-making disciples. We make sure we discuss upcoming opportunities like Christmas and Easter. Often we ask the question: ‘How could you answer someone who asked you what you did at the weekend?’. This is to get us to think of a discussion-provoking answer about Sunday’s sermon: ‘Well, on Sunday I heard that…’. We ask how the Bible passage can help us answer questions we might get asked, for example:
· From Matthew 8:24-9:8, how would you answer the question: ‘Why doesn’t God get rid of all the evil?’
· From Matthew 9:18-34, what would you say to someone who said ‘death is only natural’? Or ‘suffering is just a part of life’?
· How does Matthew 10:1-15 help us with the question: ‘How can you trust the Bible?’
Yes, I know it’s pretty straightforward in Matthew 8-10; this term we’ll be doing the same in Habakkuk…
Simply having a section of questions each week about mission and evangelism makes sure that we think about how we can use what we’ve heard to encourage us and train us in evangelism. We’ve found that the shape of our small group discussions and our prayers have changed as we deliberately give time to thinking about how Sunday’s sermon passage helps us in our mission. And, as people have got used to the idea, so the discussions have got better. Our midweek meetings are no longer all about us growing, but also about us growing the Church in our mission: the Word growing us together to proclaim together!
There is much more to be done, but these simple ideas have helped shift the focus of our small groups. How are your small groups growing your Church?