Saturday, June 11, 2022

Nurturing the Small Group Soil of the Church


This week's article will be the end of our series on The Other Half of Church, a book written by Jim Wilder and Michael Hendricks which explores how brain science is key to understanding our relational and spiritual growth. Since late 2021, our discussion on the brain science of relationships and small groups has been enlightening (click here to navigate to the first article within the series). I hope that you have found the experience as memorable as I have and I sincerely thank you for joining me for the journey! This final article will summarize and expand upon a few last points to help grow our small group ministries. Based on the guidance provided within the book The Other Half, let us explore three vital concepts that can be extracted from their text and why they are important.

Staying Small While Growing Big
To create a relational environment that fosters transformation, Wilder and Hendricks encourage pastors and other leaders to be laser-focused and to stay small. Yet they also say in their text that a “Full-brained church must become more decentralized” with distributed responsibilities. They say that when this occurs, “the community functions like an interdependent network of equals—like a family.” But how do we reconcile the concept of “staying small” with a concept that aims to spread involvement and leadership among a wider population of individuals? Perhaps another way of asking would be, what does it mean for a small group ministry to stay small while it also has growth among its leaders?

A small group ministry focused on transformation succeeds in this. First, Wilder and Hendricks recommend for pastors to be a bit vulnerable and to openly share some of their own weaknesses in areas where they feel underqualified. When congregants hear that their pastor isn’t “the guy”/”the gal” who has all of the answers (and that it’s okay that they don’t), it can spark more opportunities for the Holy Spirit to encourage and motivate an individual to step forward and to contribute to the church’s mission and vision. Next, rather than being left to figure out ministry on their own, newer leaders are given “on-the-job training” by the church so that they remain properly equipped. In such a model, leadership becomes comfortable with messiness. Rather than expecting newer group leaders to have their own perfected knowledge and doctrine, more trust is handed to these up-and-coming lay leaders of the congregation as Pauline-like training is given to them while they continue to serve. Finally, an increase of leaders brings with it more groups. As churchgoers have more options to choose from, larger class-like sizes of groups need not be used as often, and the smaller, more intimate groups slowly become more favored.

Nurture the Soil of the Church
While we previously spoke on the importance of joy within the small group ministry, one unexplored element on the topic is the ability of "joy" to act as a healing agent. For those who possess what Wilder and Hendricks refer to as good "relational brain skills,” building joy can help an individual work more easily through trauma recovery. They elaborate, explaining that “joy does not remove our pain, but it gives us the strength to endure…‘joy in suffering’ means that God and our community are glad to be with us in our distress. They do not allow us to suffer alone.” Oftentimes at convenience stores there is a “Give-a-Penny / Take-A-Penny” dish next to the cash register. When a deduction is made from our wallets that is slightly more than what we have, the cashier is able to take a small amount of change from the dish to reconcile their register so that it remains balanced. Similarly, when events occur in our lives that cause stress and/or our joy to become imbalanced, we can tap into the relational joy that is overflowing from the others who are around us. Keeping such a communal perspective prevents the relational soil of the church from becoming dangerously depleted (a state of “half-brained Christianity” where spiritual formation is prevented from thriving and where the influence of narcissistic individuals are allowed to grow).

Don’t Leave it to Chance
The final point from Hendricks and Wilder’s book that we will apply to small group ministry is that a “full-brained church” ensures that each person is placed on a path that seeks out constant growth in their spiritual maturity. They press their readers to have intentionality, declaring that to “leave maturity to chance is a fatal error in leadership.” Arguably, leaving small group spiritual growth up to chance is just as fatal of an error. Similar to how a church plant requires intentional effort, extensive planning, and exhaustive work, the elements of an effective small group ministry require a comparable scope of effort. In other words, any substantial transformation within a small group ministry cannot occur until the leadership is ready to couch its small group ministry within a relational-driven project plan that is fully integrated within the church’s respective mission and vision. 

In previous decades, appealing to the intellectual and logical sides of our faith was a rather effective method to stimulate growth. Today, however, these same tactics are no longer as effective. Rather, we are called to pursue new strategies that stand up to (and push back against) the newest methods that the evil one has been implementing within the modern culture. Such strategies that we require now must involve the engagement of the heart, the nurture and care of the relationships within our lives, and the respectful acknowledgment of the influence that our right-brain holds over the key spiritual areas of our lives. To speak rather fittingly to this, I leave us with a quote from Leonard Ravenhill who said, “the world is not waiting for a new definition of the Gospel, but for a new demonstration of the power of the Gospel.” Let us be intentional for a relationship-driven approach to our small group ministries. Let us give thanks to the Lord and make way for the Holy Spirit to empower us to continue spreading the Gospel through a right-brained relational approach.