Nothing in this physical world has influenced my life like other people have. As I look back on the steps I have taken with Jesus, I think about friends like Gavin, Jackson, Scott, Terry, Greg, Bryan, Janice and Mary. Mentors like Brenda, Mike, Joey, Alan and Jim come to mind. Those I have mentored like John, Jenny, Phil, Darrin and Mike have affected me more than I affected them. Then of course there is my wife Shawna, who has shaped my life more than anyone.
People have changed who I am. We are shaped relationally. We are not isolated nomads who define ourselves apart from others. We are who we are today in large part because of the shoulders we have rubbed.
As I think about various people who have influenced me, I realize that all of these relationships developed in small group contexts of some kind. One-on-one relationships never occur without some kind of small group horizon as a backdrop. Some groups are formal and organized while others develop informally.
Groups shape who we are. They form us to see the world from a particular point of view, whether we acknowledge it or not. And most of the time we don’t recognize it because groups permeate just about every aspect of our lives. We are born into a small group called a family. We go to school in small groups called classes. We play sports in small groups called teams. We make money in jobs as a part of small groups called departments. Small groups are everywhere.
Through the years I have searched high and low for New Testament commands to join a small group in the church. (This would, after all, help me promote this book.) Try as I might, however, I’ve yet to find that meeting in small groups was ever commanded. Instead, small group life was presumed by the writers of the Bible; it was the normative way of doing things in their culture, just as it has been throughout history. For instance, Hebrews 10:24-25 reads, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
When the author of Hebrews wrote this he was imagining a house church of some kind. He was not talking about attending a church meeting at an official church building at an official church time led by an official church speaker, like we think about today. (Please note that I do not mean this as a judgment against what occurs today in our church buildings on Sundays. I’m only saying that the New Testament mode of operation of church was different.) The author’s imagination about “meeting together” was shaped by the experience of small groups formed in relational, organic ways.
While small groups are never prescribed in the New Testament, they are obviously central to the ministry of Jesus—he primarily ministered to and with a small group of twelve disciples—and that of the early church, whose members primarily met from “house to house” (Acts 20:20). The gospel spreads through small groups. The way of Jesus is a way of small groups.
The question for us is, how do we lead our groups well? And more specifically, when it comes to leading groups of God’s people, how do we lead others in the way of Jesus? Whether it’s a small group, a cell group, a home group, a missional small group, a missional community or a house church . . . whether we meet in a home, in a conference room at our workplace, at a restaurant or even at the church building . . . whether we use a Bible study guide, read a book together, talk about our pastor’s sermon or get together to discuss how God is moving in our life . . . the question for all of us is the same: How do we lead people in the way of Jesus?
My search for answers to this question has been driven by three conversations with leaders who asked these questions of me. All three loved God. All three wanted to serve God in the way they led. They wanted to be great at their jobs in God’s eyes. However, the specific questions that arose during our conversations illustrate three common barriers that can keep us from leading people in the way of Jesus.
M. Scott Boren, Leading Small Groups in the Way of Jesus (Westmont, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2015).