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June 1, 2010

Thinking About Jesus' Small Group

Should there be a conflict between "couch time" and "street time"?

I had a chance to watch the above video from Alan Danielson this morning, and it's got me thinking a little bit. Actually, I can't tell if I'm thinking or reacting, which is one of the reasons I'm typing my thoughts out here (so that the rest of you can correct me, if needs be).

Here's the main thing I'm reacting to: "If Jesus and his small group, the 12 disciples, were here in this world today, you know where they would have small group? Not in a living room on overstuffed couches.... For Jesus and his small group, that was the exception, not the rule."

First, I need to say that I am a big fan of Alan Danielson. He's written several great pieces for on why small groups need to be On Mission, and I think his message needs to be heard. I also know Alan is not saying that small groups should never gather together in people's homes, since he has produced some great "on the couch" resources for small groups over the years (through LifeChurch.TV and Bluefish).

But this is a message I have heard from several sources and in several different guises recently: If Jesus were around today, he wouldn't participate in what we see as "normal" small groups. Therefore, what we see as "normal" small groups must be wrong and ineffective. .

And I'm not sure I agree.

First of all, it's kind of tough to translate Jesus' behavior from the 1st century into an equivalent behavior today. Certainly Jesus spent most of his public ministry "on the street." But we need to remember what office Jesus was serving under—he was a new rabbi, and one of hundreds of rabbis operating within a 10-mile circle. And the job of a new rabbi in that time and culture was to travel from village to village, teaching about Torah in the synagogues and gathering disciples that wanted to follow in his footsteps.

Would Jesus behave the same way if he lived today? I don't know that we can say so for sure. He may very well have set himself up as a local pastor and launched his revolution through the narrow arms of a local church.

That's probably quibbling, so let's get to the two big questions that Alan's video has me thinking about:

Question 1: Can a small group function without "couch time"?
I often hear people talking about our need to "get off our couches" and do something in the world. And I heartily agree that a group of Christians seeking to become more like Jesus should invariably make an impact in the community around them.

But can we also state that being "on the couch" is not a bad thing? That it can be beneficial, and even God-approved? After all, beside the Upper Room, it seems that Jesus and his disciples stopped regularly in the homes of different people in order to be refreshed and engage in times of learning, fellowship, and prayer—Mary and Martha's home comes to mind, in addition to Simon's mother-in-law and the house of Levi the Tax Collector.

I guess what I'm saying is: Let's know throw the baby out with the bathwater. Yes, we need to be on mission as a small group. But we don't need to feel guilty about taking time to enjoy fellowship with each other in the comfort of overstuffed couches; and we certainly should not abandon time spent in our living rooms worshiping together, praying together, and delving into the mysteries of God's Word together.

Question 2: What is the proper balance between the couch and the mission field?
So, if we say that a small group should be involved in both "couch time" and "street time," the next question is: Which of those should be our priority? Should small groups spend more time learning, praying, studying, and fellowshiping—or should they spend more time serving?

I don't have an answer to that one, and I would love your thoughts.

Obviously, most small groups in our culture are heavily waited on the "couch time" side of the question. I know mine is, and I'll confess that I do feel guilty about that. I need to lead my group into more times of mission and service.

But where's the line? What is the correct amount? How do we engage in those activities without burning out? Those things I just can't say.

posted by Sam O'Neal on June 1, 2010 9:34 AM

Related Tags: Comfort, Mission


Love your thoughts, Sam. You're right that I DO believe couch time is important for groups. What you're seeing/hearing is a reaction to years of small group ministries putting little or no effort into mission.

Mission is the least selfish thing that groups do and is therefore the most difficult to get accomplished. As pastors and speakers talk about mission, I think it's safe to say, that we should overstate for emphasis.

Here's what I mean: If my small group ministry puts equal focus on Bible Study, Fellowship, and Mission, we will not get equal results. Bible Study and Fellowship are simpler and more immediately gratifying than mission to small group members. Thus, Fellowship and Bible Study get greater results than mission.

I believe that as pastors and leaders over emphasize mission (without neglecting Bible Study and Fellowship), a healthier balance is more likely to be achieved.

The numbers attached to mission are up to each individual church to decide. For me, I think if a group does something intentionally outward/missional 6 times per year that's a pretty big win!

Maybe we should emphasize life as a mission rather than judging our small groups for not participating in our organized "mission" which usually involves a scheduled time slot that may or may not be compatible with an already busy work and family schedule. Maybe we should emphasize that Jesus and his disciples did ministry as they went about their day. I think Jesus thought of fixing a table or sawing a board as a mission as He interacted with the people who sought out His carpenter skills. Remember, He only spent about 3 years of His earthly life in full time on the road ministry. It is difficult enough for me to fit in my volunteer work at church, my once a week small group in the evening, my children's sports and extra-curricular activities, my date night, my prayer meeting, my exercise time, and so on.
All of life is a mission and we should live every moment to bring God glory and to reach others for His kingdom. Please don't heap guilt on your small group for being unable to give more time to your organized paint the playground mission trip.

Thanks for jumping into the conversation, Alan. And I totally agree that churches and groups will need to trumpet being on mission more than the other elements of a group experience.

Six times a year seems like a great goal -- we could do that!

Okay, so I'm cruising your blogs to famiarize myself with your site, values and mission etc and I have to say I find this post interesting so have to add my 2 cents:

To me, the purpose of a Small Group is to strengthen believers(new and old) in a relaxed, community setting where all can grow etc. And the primary purpose of the church is to fulfill the Great Commission. So is it not the Pastor's role to determine what the missional focus of the body should be? My point is let the small groups be just that and let the church do the work of the church.

I think we need to be careful not to differentiate small groups from church. They should be one in the same but in a different form. For me getting small groups out and serving is to do two things: spread Christ' love over the living room walls/curch walls and out into the community and secondly,just as important, to teach Believers the importance of doing good works in the Name of Jesus Christ. It's part, not seperate, of being a follower of Christ. Balance is key. Faith without works is dead and works without faith (and growing)is eternally empty.

There is no way of knowing with certainty where Jesus would have chosen to have a small group gathering. We can know with certainty that He loved and cared for prostitutes, drunkards and all kinds of sinners. How that would express itself with small groups is another matter.

Wow, lots of good points made here. I agree that we need small groups in homes for the intimacy quality however, we do need to be "out" in our communities spreading the gospel and "serving". Maybe were making too much of this. I believe the mission field is right at our places of employment (for those of us who work outside the home). I know mine sure is. It's a huge challenge to get through the day many days, to be simply more like Jesus! He is trying to shape me minute by minute to simply love people & seeing them the way HE sees them. I believe this is quite the mission. I don't have to go far to find the drunkard, whore, homosexual, blasphemer, athiest, adulterer. You name it! Is this not the mission field?

I think this is a "both/and" type of discussion. Small groups need their time to meet together, feed on God's word together, and fellowship with each other. We are called to be in community with others and small groups are a way of living that out.

We also are called to go out and make disciples of the nations, including the nation we are in. We can do this individually, with some, or all of the members of our small group. We can even go a little further and invite those people to join our small group and extend the glory of God in new and refreshing ways.

Hi,good discussion,but a few points to consider,a group is a good thing ,and should be quality time where people can be encouraged and refilled,learn to love one another and also many times an unbeliever can be invited and what a good safe enviroment for this to get started,,,also we are to be Christians everywhere we are ,it's not a church thing,it is a life sold out to Jesus 24-7 it is a total way of life,, Jesus is your breath,,we need not a fomula,but to be quiet before the Lord and sensetive to what He wants,and to the Spirits leading,,Once a person believes in Jesus as their savior,,we can enter that rest,of the finished work of the Cross,everything was finished at the Cross,and we simply need revelation of this truth,which is Jesus ,,He is the truth,,you are a new creation 24-7,,no home -work-church separation,,,This world is not our home,,we need to not get too comfortable here,,our job is to be a witness wherever we are,,if we want revival,,we will have to spend more time thinking about Jesus and lost souls,,You have a sewer line into your house,,it's called a T/V,,I threw the thing in the dumpster 35 years ago,,none of this is worth much if we live one foot in the world and one in the church,,I have been a believer for 40 years,and a serious one for 11 years,,,if we want to be close to God and help others it will take some soul searching and admitting we have problems with pornography ,gambling,etc. and be honest before a rightious God,,we can be set free,,and a group setting is a good place for this,,,Bless you all in you walk with the Lord,,,,George

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