A church’s purposes or values usually reflect the practices they want to encourage in the lives of their members. If your recommended small group format is structured around your church’s purposes, you will be more effective at weaving these essential spiritual practices into your small group life. This is critical since the relational circles of groups create the community that transforms lives and enables your church to be transformational in its own community. Let’s examine four more spiritual practices that necessitate spiritual relationships and help believers to be faithful and fruitful in their walk with Jesus.
- Communion – This practice, along with baptism, is a primary sacrament of the Church and involves community. Though communion may be done in private, the biblical example shows this to be a communal event that involves the sharing of food (Acts 2:46b; 1 Cor 11:23-34). It is an expression of worship and an act of remembrance any believer is authorized and able to do. Receiving communion together honors Christ, communicates the Good News, and proclaims the unity of the Church (1 Cor 10:16-17).
Growth Tip: Bring bread and beverage to your small group, open by reading from 1 Cor 11:23-26, distribute the elements, give thanks for Christ’s sacrifice explaining what the elements represent, provide a time of quiet reflection, and close with a brief prayer of thanksgiving. Practicing communion in your group conveys how all believers are ministers and confers a fresh sense of authority in how your members minister to one another. It strengthens your small group’s bond and deepens the way your group members worship together.
- Confession – Confession points to how we need one another for full healing. It holds such importance that we are advised to make it a common practice (James 5:16). Healing results from confession because the dark areas of a person’s life where sin likes to remain concealed is exposed to the light of Jesus Christ (1 John 1:5-7). Confession breaks sin’s power, enabling people to respond to God’s transforming grace and extend what they have received in Christ to others (Rom 8:5-11; Gal 5:16-26).
Growth Tip: The small group leader sets the pace for vulnerability in the group. Vulnerability is a necessary ingredient for confession to become a spiritual practice that is exercised in your small group. The more real a small group leader can be, the more free people are to be themselves and receive the healing God wants to bring. When confession is modeled by the small group leader it empowers others to do the same. There may be times that are more conducive to breaking up into smaller prayer groups or same-sex breakouts, which can encourage more openness. Pray for discernment in how to introduce this spiritual practice in your small group.
- Ministry – Ministry is the super-natural outworking of our Christian life and involves giving our time, testimony, talents, and treasure in Jesus’ Name. It involves the exchange of God’s life-giving grace and takes on many expressions: Loving my neighbor, carrying the burdens of a fellow believer, exercising my spiritual gifts, and sharing the resources that God has blessed me with so that I can be a blessing to others and advance God’s purposes in the world. Ministry is relational by nature and has the effect of building community.
Growth Tip: Aim to create an interactive environment in your small group. When somebody shares how God is doing something transformational in their life, pause the discussion and affirm what He is doing. If somebody is sharing a struggle, lay hands on the person and pray. Invite others to do the same. Allow prayer and Bible study to ignite ministry moments. Then model care and demonstrate how ministry is a priority over your small group’s meeting agenda. To paint a picture of what in-group ministry can look like go to www.biblegateway.com and do a quick search of the phrase “love one another.”
- Outreach – If we are to encounter God, we must meet our neighbor in need (Mt 25:40, 2 Cor 5:19). We cannot ignore one command and follow the other. We cannot walk with Him and leave our neighbors behind. Evangelism is how we ‘love much’, which we are constrained to do since in Christ we have been ‘given much’ (Luke 7:47, 12:48). God commands us to reach out and invite others to follow Him (Luke 14:23), which is an act of obedience that is inherently relational. It is our purpose as the people of God, His Church (2 Cor 5:13-21; Eph 3:10, Mt 28:19-20). Relationships fuel disciple-making, which enlarges the family of God – so from beginning to end – evangelism involves community! There are things we just would not do without the encouragement of other believers around us. Our evangelistic potential is multiplied with the addition of just one other Christ-follower by our side. This is why Jesus sent out His apostles and other disciples two-by-two (Mark 6:7-8; Luke 10:1-2). We are stronger together.
Growth Tip: Three simple steps small group leaders can take to develop outreach in their community life are: 1) Set the expectation 2) Pray for the lost 3) Appoint group members to ministry roles. It refreshes the small group to discuss its purpose at the outset of each new season. For example, before starting a new study, share with the small group that one of the reasons why your group exists is to share the Good News with others. Then in times of small group prayer, be sure to pray for those beyond the group and for your outreach efforts. This fosters an external focus to your small group and plants seeds for future outreach. Gradually appoint people to fulfill ministry roles in the small group that are in keeping with their passion and gift-mix. Invite them to try out roles for a limited duration at first and start them off with small tasks before graduating them to larger group projects.
Community is the wellspring of the spiritual practices that enable us to be faithful followers and disciple-makers. Each believer’s life with God and effectiveness as a part of the Body of Christ hinges on their relationships with other people. If we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength – we must be walking in the most excellent way of loving our neighbors (Mark 12:29-31; 1 Cor 12:31b). If we are to obey the dozens of ‘one another’ commands in the New Testament, grow in Christ, and show lost people the way home – we need relationships (John 14:21, 13:34-35; 1 John 4:7-12, 20-21). There is no more effective way to ensure the outworking of spiritual practices in our lives than being in community with a circle of believers enjoying full-bodied small group life together!