You and I were created by God to be ministers to others. Apart from this, we lack a sense of fulfillment. A small-group leader is simply a believer in Jesus Christ who makes the decision to become a minister to a small group of believers and nonbelievers.
Years ago, my journalist friend Ibrahim, from Nairobi, Kenya, had a keen interest in small groups and sought a working model to take back to his country. He asked me if he could tag along as I served in our new church made up of small groups.
He knew that our church was birthed a few years earlier with three small groups. He heard that during those times we had reminded each person, “The Bible says you are a minister, and God desires to use you!” Eventually, faith rose in their hearts, the Lord used them and new believers came to the small groups. Relationships were built. New leaders were trained.
Ibrahim watched and listened as I spent much of my time meeting with our team of pastors who were coaching our small-group leaders and discussing the needs and potential in individual members. We spoke simple, faith-filled prayers for each small-group leader and many of the believers in each small group.
One day, I saw my African brother start to weep. He unburdened his heart to me, saying, “Western evangelists come to my nation and hold massive crusades. The TV cameras are rolling. When the evangelist asks my African brothers to raise their hands to receive Christ, many respond. The next week, another Western evangelist comes to town, and many of my same brothers come to the crusade and raise their hands again. My people need a sense of fulfillment, where every individual believer understands that he is important to God and to His purposes. Will you come and help us? We need a new model of church life.”
Today, Ibrahim’s vision to train leaders to start small groups throughout Africa has multiplied into more than 80 congregations with hundreds of small groups scattered throughout Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda. People have received the Lord and have found a spiritual family. Ibrahim’s people have received a new sense of dignity and fulfillment!
In New Zealand, where I was asked to share the vision of New Testament small-group ministry, I met Robert. He listened intently as I spoke about Jesus spending most of His time with the 12 disciples—His small group. I discussed God’s call on every one of God’s people to be a minister as stated in Ephesians 4:11-12. I read about the church in Acts 2 that reflected the New Testament model for effective small-group ministry. After 30 minutes, Robert spoke, filled with emotion, “When I was 13 years old, the Lord called me to be a minister. For more than 20 years, I tried to find doors that would open for me to fulfill this call. I attempted to be a minister, because I knew the Lord had called me. And as I understood it, the only way to be a minister was to be ordained after completing years of theological training. Sometime back I led a man to the Lord. I discipled him and watched him grow. It was so fulfilling. I realize tonight that I am a minister!” How refreshing this story has become to me as it is often repeated around the world.
Today’s church has tried to reach people for Christ in our communities with extravagant church programs and twenty-first-century methodology. While such methods have their place, they can never be a substitute for personal relationships formed in the context of genuine Christian community like the early church demonstrated when they met in small groups.
God said, “Let Us make man in Our image” (Gen. 1:26, NKJV). The Father, Son and Holy Spirit have always experienced relationship. They are one. Shouldn’t we experience the same in the church? God created Adam with the need for relationship; He said it was not good for him to be alone (see Gen. 2:18). Adam saw his need for relationship. Relationship is an established life pattern. In the church, leadership is a function put in place to help us flow together as God’s people.
Even from the earliest of biblical times, God worked through spiritual family relationships. In Exodus 18:13-26, Moses receives advice from Jethro to release God’s people into accountability groups to empower people to minister. He indicated there should be groups of thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. From the very beginning, God had a plan to ease the load for leaders and keep them from burning out.
When God established His own people on the earth, He established them in tribes, clans and families. This was to ensure that every human being had a connection—an identity and relationship. The Hebrews’ thought patterns were relational in nature. They thought along the lines of realizing they were in relationship because of who they knew. Our Greek thought or Western worldview is more information-based. Western thought says we are brought into relationship because of what we know. The “Jesus model” of relationship with mankind is based upon who you know (Jesus), not what you know about Him.
Larry Kreider, What Every Small Group Leader Should Know (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2010).