Radical Relationships Within a Small Group
Published April 19, 2012 @ 6 a.m.
For many years when someone says “church” they are thinking about a building that hosts “worship services” at least once a week. Looking in the dictionary we find that this is a pretty good definition of the English word church. The problem is that it is a horrible definition of the Greek term we translate with “church.”
ἐκκλησία literally means “to gather out of” and refers to public assemblies or gatherings that are not private. In the New Testament ἐκκλησία is used of the people gathering together for the purpose of worshipping the Lord. It was not the place that was the ἐκκλησία nor the sum of the individuals that were ἐκκλησία but the gathering itself. In fact, we can all remember that Jesus instructed his disciples that “where two or three are gathered in my name I am there in their midst.” (Matthew 18:20) Indeed, throughout the New Testament many of the promises God makes to us in Jesus Christ are made not to individual Christians but to the assembly as a whole. “Upon this rock I will build my assembly and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it” is one of these promises. The purpose of the gifts of the Spirit is to build up the body of Christ – the gathering of God’s people. In the great throne scenes of Revelation the people gathered there are indicative of the gathering of God’s people. And the final chapter of a new heave and a new earth are also accompanied by a New Jerusalem – God’s people gathered together in a perfect city.
Likewise, almost every teaching in the New Testament is addressed to the gathering of God’s people. Most of Paul’s letters are addressed to the gathering in particular place. Even when Paul is writing to an individual as in Philemon he asks that the letters be read in the gatherings of God’s people. In many place throughout the New Testament what is being said only makes sense once you understand that the book is being addressed to a gathering of people not simply a bunch of individuals.
Paul was especially committed to the gatherings of God’s children. In 1st Corinthians 12 we see Paul’s vision of the gathering of God’s people likened to a person’s body. By the time we get to Romans the figure of the body is no longer simply a simile but it has become the metaphor for the assembly of God’s people worshipping in Jesus Christ. In fact, the whole purpose of the book of Romans is to show how God is righteous in bringing into the assembly of God’s children people from every tongue and tribe and nation. The book of Romans was never meant to tell us about our personal righteousness but rather it is about the righteousness of God in building the body of Christ.
What difference does all of this make? We begin to understand that being a Christian is based upon radical relationships formed within a small group committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Missionaries have understood this for years. Their first work on a new assignment always included a small Bible study attended by a few people. As the Bible studies grew they began to need a place to meet and these buildings became “churches.” But the real work of a being a church remains in the small groups. Amazingly enough it is some of the largest churches in Americas that understand the small group gathering the best. The great “mega-churches” have all made their small group ministries their primary ministry outside of their worship services on Sunday morning. They know that it is in the small groups that their growth comes from.
Likewise, in Southeast Asia Christianity is growing like wildfire. But it is not growing from the efforts of large denominational authorities or even from dedicated independent missionaries from foreign countries. Rather, the Christians are gathering in small house churches to worship Jesus Christ and as they gather they invite others to join in the strong relationships and bonds of God’s love. When the group becomes unwieldy they begin other house churches in other places and the gospel of Jesus Christ spreads.
Do you really want to get to know Jesus better? Do you really want to grow in your relationship with Jesus Christ? You can do that by attending worship services but real growth will happen faster and deeper when you are willing to share your life with a few other people who gather to worship God together in a small group.