How Jesus Modeled Small Groups For Us
Jesus Christ is no doubt the greatest small group leader in history. He is our model. Ephesians 5:1-2 tells us, “Be imitators of God . . . and live a life of love.” Clearly, the primary idea of the Apostle Paul is becoming Christ-like in our character. However, to focus solely on character formation is to catch only half of the author’s intent. We also must seek to imitate Christ’s walk—His behavior or actions that were marked by love.
How does a person become Christ-like? How does one learn to walk in love? In what contexts does a Christian experience Christ-likeness and become Christ-like? Answers to these questions are not simple. Nevertheless, on close examination of the New Testament’s record of the life and ministry of Jesus, it becomes clear that one key method is
For me, Jesus’ involvement in a small group is the most convincing rationale for why local churches need to seriously consider including groups as a integral part of their congregational lives. While it may not be wise or even appropriate for believers to mimic Jesus’ every
act (i.e., healing a blind man by spitting on his eyes [Mark 8:23]), it is logical to replicate those behavioral patterns that constituted His methods for ministry. Therefore, it makes tremendous sense to explore Jesus’ use of small groups.
The heart of what you need to know about Jesus as a small group leader can be summarized in seven key statements.
First, Jesus began His earthly ministry by establishing His “small group,” the disciples. One of Jesus’ first acts in beginning His public ministry was to form His small group (Matthew 4:18-22, Luke 6:13). Matthew 10:2-4 lists the names of the group members, the twelve men Jesus chose. The son of God certainly did not need the companionship or assistance of the disciples. Yet, from the very beginning, He elected to establish and minister within a framework of interpersonal relationships. Among all the disciples who sought to follow Jesus, the Twelve were members of Jesus’ designated inner group. It was human application or representation of the divine relationship Jesus possesses as a member of the Trinity.
Second, Jesus was actively involved in both large and small group ministry contexts. Large group and small group ministries were not pitted against one another. Nor was it the case of one or the other exclusively. He proclaimed His Kingdom to large crowds and was well received (Mark 12:37). Likewise, he met with small groups in homes (Matthew 26:6) and spent considerable time with His special group, the Twelve.
Third, we see that Jesus’ ministry to large groups was preceded by and proceeded out of His small group context. Which came first, the chicken (large group) or the egg (small group)? In the case of Jesus’ public ministry, his small group emphasis preceded His large group involvement. Furthermore, it was the small group that provided the platform for Jesus’ ministry to large groups of people. It was common for Jesus to have the twelve disciples
with Him as He proclaimed the Good News to the multitudes. Yet, He often withdrew to the familiarity and support of His select small group (Mark 3:7).
Fourth, Jesus spent the majority of His time with His small group. If it were possible to add up the actual amount of time Jesus spent with the disciples, likely the results would show that this group consumed the majority of His time. They were together constantly; they traveled together, shared meals, experienced mutual hardship, and literally lived together. As Jesus’ crucifixion drew closer, He spent more and more time with His small group, but less and less time with the multitudes that sought Him out.
The fifth key statement about Jesus as a small group leader is that relationships, not organizations, were central in His method. Jesus gave little, if any, time and attention to building an earthly organization. The Kingdom He sought to proclaim was not a material organization, but rather a heavenly realm (Luke 17:20-21). His message, the gospel, was of greater concern to Him than establishing and running a human institution. Christ could have easily remained aloof from any relationships that entangled Him in human needs and suffering. Yet, as a practical demonstration of the Gospel, He chose to spend His time with people, caring, healing, listening, forgiving, encouraging, teaching, and preaching. Because of His emphasis on people, not programs, the only organization that merited Jesus’ continuing time and attention was His small group (and it never was classified as an organization or program).
Sixth, we see that Jesus used the small group context to teach and model spiritual knowledge, attitudes, and behavior. Having formed His group, Jesus taught and modeled spiritual truth by simply drawing them close to Himself. It was not a formal or academic experience. The small group members simply participated with Christ in whatever He did. They saw and experienced the attitudes and actions He was admonishing others to adopt. Their association preceded Jesus’ explanations. It was through this intimacy that the Twelve were “granted to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of God”(Luke 8:10). The small group was their living-learning laboratory.
Finally, the small group was Jesus’ method for leadership training. He devoted Himself primarily to the task of developing a select group of men, the Apostles. His goal was to equip this small group of disciples to carry on the work of the gospel after He returned to the Father. Success was to be measured in terms of their future ministries, not in present achievement. Jesus selected common men — unlearned and ignorant by worldly standards (Acts 4:13) — who were ready to follow Him and were teachable. In turn, He poured His life into these men and thrust the future of His whole ministry on them (John 17). They received God’s Word (verse 14) and Jesus’ protection (verse12). Thanking the Father for “the men whom Thou gavest Me out of the world” (verse 6), Jesus further asked for their sanctification “in the truth” (verse 17). It would be “through their word” that many would come to believe (verse 20).
How to Lead Small Groups, by Neal McBride