Understanding the Why
Perhaps, like my wife and me, you have at one time had the privilege of parenting a 4-year-old. As the mom and dad of four little boys, we have had this opportunity twice and will soon have again. We’re certainly not “experts,” but — having walked through this season several times now — we have learned a few things about how a 4-year old thinks. This much I know, there is one word that every 4-year-old knows. It seems like our kids are just born with an awareness of this word. They love this word, because it flows from their lips often.
Sometimes it’s uttered around the dinner table, “Why are green beans green? Why is it called a bean?” Other times, like when you’re walking through Walmart, it’s asked loudly (and awkwardly), “Why is that big guy wearing purple underwear?” The word is WHY, and if you’ve ever had a 4-year-old, you know it all too well.
The truth is that each of us is born with this insatiable appetite to understand why. For some reason as we grow older, we seem to stop asking why. Most of our attentions and efforts (as adults) are focused on what we might call the more practical matters of what or how. Oftentimes, this is true of the ministries we lead as well. If we’re not careful, we’ll spend all of our time figuring out what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it, without giving any thought at all to why we’re doing anything in the first place.
Our Mission Informs the Why
When it comes to small groups, there’s plenty of information out there about what these groups should look like and how they should operate, but the question all of us ought to be answering first is: Why do small groups in the first place?
I serve as a full-time pastor in a church replant setting. The why is rooted in our mission; the mission entrusted to us by our Master — to making disciples. In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus said to His disciples, “Jesus came near and said to them, ‘All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’”
Our Model for Life and Ministry
This much is clear, we are meant to be a disciple-making people! And, in verse 18, Jesus reminds us that He has all authority and thus He is the authority on what it looks like to make disciples. So, if I want to make disciples, I must look to the life of my Master.
Small groups were a critical component of Jesus’ life and ministry. Throughout the gospel narratives we see small groups woven into the story time and time again. Jesus, in Mark 3:13-15, summoned a small group to Himself, appointed them as apostles and spent time investing into them so that He could one day send them out to preach and drive out demons. He traveled with the disciples, trained them, served with them, and shared with them. It was in the context of this small group relationship that He mentored, cared for, and corrected the disciples.
It was in this smaller group where the truths of what Jesus was teaching would actually begin to come alive. To be sure, they heard all that Jesus said when He was speaking to the crowds, but His words became tangible, practical and real when they were given the opportunity to discuss them together.
Growing Larger by Growing Smaller
Through this small group experience these brothers formed life-long friendships that were rooted in the gospel. These trusted relationships would guide the growth of the early church. Meeting in homes and in upper rooms, this ever-increasing movement was characterized by a propensity for powerful, prayerful, smaller gatherings. The church grew larger and at the same time, it seems, it grew smaller.
Today, the same mission that drove these first disciples drives us. And, like that small band of believers, we can look to the life of our Lord for clarity when it comes to this question: Why small groups?
Small groups create spaces for people to dig deeper, to be poured into by a loving leader (or leadership team), to discover practical ways to apply God’s Word, to discern and become solidified in sound doctrine, to develop meaningful friendships, and to be sent out on mission.
There are many models and we have no shortage of resources at our disposal. Let’s not get so caught up in our how’s and what’s that we forget our why.