Small groups are a common form of fellowship even among mainstream denominations. What is much less common – at least in western Christianity – is for the small group to be the primary source of fellowship for the believer. We are the priesthood of the believers, and there is work for us to do. Even those things that are commonly thought as tasks for the “professionals” are done by ordinary believers – including baptism and communion. Authenticity and intimacy generally characterize these kinds of meetings. People who choose to make the small group meeting their primary source of fellowship often do so because they want to pursue the work of the ministry, rather than leave it to “professionals”. Consider this: Take a church of 1200 and a hundred churches of twelve. Which model can facilitate more people stepping out, building and relying on their spiritual gifts? And of those who aren’t quite ready for that, which model is better equipped to reach the marginal with God’s love in a personal way? Which model better fosters engaging in an interactive way with teaching? That’s how Jesus did it with his disciples. To be sure, large gatherings have some appealing benefits: it’s great to have that big worship service. And if you have small children, that nursery can provide a much needed break. Jesus, Paul, and the disciples preached and taught to large crowds as well. But it was in those smaller settings where you found the primary source of body life; where relationships were established; it’s there where the disciples got that spiritual traction. The faithful can be found in groups large and small alike. But that transformational work, the challenging “stuff” of real spiritual growth… that’s the stuff of small group meetings.
As an aside, today we have made a profession out of leading the organization. Biblically speaking, the term “pastor” was never intended to describe the occupation of a person who makes a career out of working in a church, as we understand it today. It was simply intended to describe the person who has been given the spiritual gift of “pastoring”. That person is to practice, use, or dispense that gift, alongside their chosen secular profession, not necessarily in place of it. The one exception that we see in scripture is that of itinerant workers, and even they often worked to support themselves. So denominations are carnal church institutions which do in fact need professionals to keep the “wheels turning”. The same can be said of all of the 5-fold gifts. The Apostle Paul, for example, was a tent-maker by trade, yet he was called to plant churches and refute false teaching. The Apostling wasn’t Paul’s job… it was his calling – alongside his job as a tent maker. Carnal churches seldom have room for that kind of gifting and calling. In John Chapter 17, Jesus prayed that his church would be ‘one’. God’s Church is a divine institution. Our division into denominations, while covered in his grace, no doubt grieves the Lord. In his words, Jesus prays:
My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
In Paul’s words
I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
There is one church in State College, and to the extent that we begin to operate and look that way, that is the extent to which we will be a light to the lost.