As many of you know, Thom Rainer is the C.E.O. of Lifeway and a former professor at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I enjoy reading his articles, and very often find his comments immediately applicable to our ministry context. In other words, the stuff he writes about is super practical. I want to do a series of articles based on some of his comments about Five Common Obstacles That Small Groups Face. I will briefly discuss one each week for the next five weeks.
Here is the first:
The first obstacle to transformational small communities is that the transference of information is valued much more than life transformation. Biblical illiteracy is a problem in North America and even the church. But the work of a small group or Sunday School class does not end when the members can all find Thessalonica on the map in the back of their Bibles. The purpose of community must be to engender the desire and see the effects of transformation. Somewhere between biblical literacy and biblical minutia we find spiritual maturity. Knowledge puffs up and cannot be the goal alone. Transformation includes biblical learning, but it does not end with it.
My first comment would be that I like the phrase, “transformational small community”. It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, and we aren’t going to start referring to Sunday School classes as “TSC’s”. What the phrase communicates is what I like. Transformational: the goal of Sunday School is discipleship. The proof, or fruit of discipleship is life change, or transformed lives. I also like the word “community”. That’s what happens in Sunday School small groups. We experience Christian community. We don’t just go to class. I went to class for years in college and hardly ever knew anyone else’s name. We do life together in small groups.
The purpose of community is build a desire for, and see the effects of life change. Are people in your small group getting more knowledgeable, or are their lives being changed by Jesus?
“Somewhere between biblical literacy and biblical minutia we find spiritual maturity.”
Bible learning is a key element of discipleship. Bible “intake” is a key spiritual discipline. But it is not the end in itself. The Word of God is alive and burns within our hearts to affect change. Our role as teachers and Sunday School leaders is to remind our people of this fact. Encourage it. Say things like, “How has knowing Christ and being in his word transformed your life over the past year?” I am convinced that true spiritual leadership involves authenticity and transparency. Feel free to share examples from your own story about how your life is being shaped by God’s story.
Keep the main thing the main thing. We are in the business of discipleship, not just scholarship.
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