The First Small Group

Bible Book: Mark  3 : 13
Subject: Discipleship; Christian Living; Fellowship; Service

The Bible says that Jesus appointed them as apostles. However, we refer to them as disciples. The word disciple means learner so in that since we are all disciples, but we are not all apostles.

There were only twelve apostles. The gift of an apostle was an office that ended with the death of the twelve apostles. It is not an ongoing official ministry. Sometimes a TV preacher will call himself an Apostle, but in fact they are not apostles. Sure, they may be disciples. There are two qualifications of an apostle. First, they were a literal, physical, actual witness to the resurrected Christ. And, second, they were personally, physically, literally, actually commissioned by Him to go out. Though we can't be apostles, as Christians we are all disciples.

There are two words we use today with two different meanings, both from the same word in the New Testament. The word is ecclesia. It means the called out ones. People who have been separated from something, the secular world with its world view to something, a new mindset, and a new commitment specifically the Lordship of Jesus Christ. We call that word ecclesia in our English language today "the church". The word church in the Bible is used in two different ways. One is the local New Testament Assembly like this one or First Baptist, or Grace Methodist. Then the word church is also used as the Body of Christ. All believers' worldwide and you are baptized into Christ and into fellowship when you become a Christian with all other believers. Why you can meet somebody with different language and a different culture in the jungles of Africa and embrace because you sense in your spirit that they are a brother or a sister in Jesus Christ.

But today we are going to talk about the local church. Both of these concepts of the church (the local church and the world wide church) are the most amazing organization in the world. In fact, the local church is far more than an organization. It is an organism a living thriving entity far more dynamic than what we consider to be the most awesome organism in the world, the human body. We are indeed both fearfully and wonderfully made in this body. For one thing, with all of its amazing wonders the human body lives only 70 - 80 years, but the Body of Christ, the church, is alive and active two thousand years and counting. As the human body draws its life from the heart, the head, the breath, and the blood; so as Christ Body, the church derives its life from Him. Who is as well our head, our heart, our breath and our blood? Hundreds of so-called parent church organizations exist extracurricular church type organizations, arms or extensions of a local church, local Body of Christ. One must wonder if it would be important to have all of them, even necessary, if the church were doing all that it should do. Nothing is as fascinating about the church as its endurance in perpetuity. Unquestionably there are two reasons the church has survived against unbelievable odds two thousand years and is growing dynamically stronger every day. The church does not do well in times of affluence and ease. It is always in times of hardship, persecution and difficulty and opposition that the church thrives and becomes stronger.

When Christianity went underground when communism took over China, it is estimated there where three million believers in China. When China opened up again they found there was over a hundred million believers after the persecution and difficulty of communism in China. There are two reasons for the existence and strength of the church. When Jesus established the church he assured his perpetual growth at an existence by doing two simple things.

He built it in union with and upon Himself as the rock of the foundation. He poured his life into the first small groups in Christian history and called them the twelve disciples. He preached to hundreds and thousands. But most of his best and most serious, deepest training was done in the small group concept with those twelve apostles. The style of the church across the face of the earth today has dramatically changed from a hundred years ago. We emphasize and prioritize the mass assembly. The importance of the great congregation. And far to often ignoring the foundation of small group discipleship, which is, it's base. Ultimately, churches that ignore that will begin to be top heavy and will crumble from the top. The style of the earth's churches today is preciously that, emphasizing great preaching and great music and worship. But none of us, even the best among us can hope to even approach the mighty preaching of our Lord Jesus Christ. So if His priority was the small group, how much more must ours be.

In Baptist churches we call these groups Sunday school. There are two choices for all of us: Bible Study and Worship.

The absolute imperative for your spiritual life as in the disciple of Jesus Christ in seeing that each member of your family is regularly in one of these Sunday morning groups. It was Jesus way and you can't improve upon it. There are many ways to commit to grow in a small group. Opportunities abound, musical groups, drama, the dance, mission groups to name a few. But the heart of discipleship in this or any church is still the Sunday morning Bible study ministry of our people. The word disciple again means learner. And we are never too young to start and never old enough to quit. The difference between an army and a mob is training and organization. And it is no different in our church than any other church on earth.

Our troops in Afghanistan depend upon organization and training. They have leaders, commanders, officers, divisions, battalions, companies, wings, and squadrons. We too must prioritize organization in order to have balance, beauty and function in the local body of Christ.

The apostle Paul teaches us that the human body is the example for the structure of the spiritual body in the church the visible local body of Christ. We have two ears, two eyes, two nostrils, two lungs, two kidneys, two sides of our brain, two arms, two hands, two legs, and two feet. There are ten fingers and ten toes and to the degree that even the tiniest finger or other most insignificant part of the body is out of order and balanced to that degree and imbalanced and dysfunction occur in the body. And the same is true in the church. There is here, spiritually, a heaven head, Jesus Christ and an earthly head, the pastor. There are elders, deacons, staffs, committees, bible study groups, and ministries. Always there is a breakdown to the smallest group to function and not dysfunction as disciples and learners of Him. Less we become a gang of people and not a church of discipleships.

Jesus knew we needed each other as He organized the church. The people had to get organized. Jesus sent His disciples two by two. At the feeding of the five thousand our Lord would not perform a miracle until first of all the people set down by groups and got organized. The distribution of food for the widows and orphans in the New Testament was a nightmare of impossibility until the apostles instructed the organization of seven men called deacons. Great churches have a balanced emphasis on cooperate worship and small group discipleship. Are you struggling in your Christian life? Do you want your children to grow into fully devoted followers of Christ and one day mature men and women and mothers and fathers? There must be a rock solid commitment to Sunday morning Bible study in a group for you and your kids. It was more than 50% of the way Jesus, apparently the priority of His ministry as He poured His life into those twelve people. They challenged Him, questioned Him and occasionally debated Him. But always there was time for the personal touch.

Be it individual attention the personal response and they grew to become men with whom the Lord could entrust two thousand years of growing expanding church history.

If you must choose, if your employer and your secular work schedule dictate that you only have one hour for Sunday morning for the Lord then choose the discipleship group.

Newly reconciled married couple, young person recently off drugs and recently converted to Christ. What chance is there you would be successful? What chance is there you will make it to victory in holiness in your Christian life? Without the Sunday morning small group bound and bonded together in love, support, acceptance from friendship? Let's put it bluntly. There is no chance at all. You want make it. It's God way. It can't be approved upon and it's essential it's never been done and you want be the first to be strong and mature without it.

Jesus died for, came for, and established the church. And when He comes he coming again for the church. And with all of its faults you still can't improve on His plan of balance corporate worship and small group discipleship. What is the beauty of the Sunday school fellowship time?

I. Teaching

The bible promises to train up a child in the way he should go and when he gets older he will not depart from it. It doesn't say that when he is young it says when he is old. Because the fact of the matter is very often the best trained and lead kids do go astray. The promise is not that they will go away.

The promise is they will come back. But you must build in them something that they can only get as a group of their piers with the same struggles are talking about the same solutions. Teaching is about application.

Only in a small group can a teacher know his students. If a teacher is not involved in his class, knows them, has that inter person action. Then much of what comes out of his mouth unfortunately is going to be answering questions nobody is asking.

Teachers need to be more than a lecturer. Whatever you do encourage questions. You can't do that in a worship service. People learn best by asking questions. Don't just use lecture, don't just make the Sunday school class another mini church service. Let it be a time of question and interchange and ministry that could only happen in the bonding of a small group. Use variety.

II. Connection

Bonner (the individual who does surveys on churches) says: If a new member of any church doesn't make a personal connection, a friend, someone they bond with. They call on the phone during the week. They go out to eat lunch with. A personal bonding with a friend, a new person in their church in six weeks they will be gone in twelve weeks. Be aggressive when someone does not show up or is slipping in attendance. Invite them to lunch go do something together. Minister to them. Help them to become a part of the group. Every person in your class has the right to be known by name.

Recognized when present. And missed when absent. If you have one person in your class in charge of that responsibility, if not get them appointed.

III. Evangelism and Outreach

When a person visits a church and shows an interest. Their name will be given to the Sunday school for the class to call and make a contact. If they have already come to church they have already made the connection. They may want to know more and are interested in what is happening. What do you do with these prospects? You return the interest by calling them, visiting them. A teacher or class member would drive across town to visit a prospect for their class quicker than they will somebody next door that is not a prospect for their class.

IV. Ministry

Could you image the bond and loyalty that happens to each other when eight or twelve people know each other, meet together, pray and care for each other? They get involved in each other's personal lives. Encourage every class to have a party or something fun at least once a quarter. Do something together outside the walls of the church that bonds and builds a fellowship. The secret for a great church is a church that has hundreds of little churches within the church and a pastor that is secure enough to encourage that and not be threaten by it.