A couple weeks ago, I wrote a post asking if your small groups are theologically sound. Now it is time to pose and address some more questions along this line. Let me lead by stating that I am not asking whether or not the topics discussed in our groups fit within the bounds of orthodoxy. There is a place for that, but I want to invite us to think about a theology of community and therefore a theology of small groups, not just about what is doctrinally correct to discuss in our groups.
Nor am I trying to establish a theological or biblical foundation for doing small groups. That argument has been made many times over from many different angles.
At this point, you might be wondering what need there might be for a theology beyond these two concerns. And let me say that there is are a tone of theological questions we should be asking about small groups, cell groups, house churches, missional communities—whatever you want to call them. We need to move beyond labels and brands and actually get in touch with something deeper.
To do this I want to confront an under-discussed theology of practicality. Most of us involved in the day-to-day concerns of pastoral leadership are driven by practical questions, which has roots in an unnamed theology of practicality. I have had to dig up this theology and look at it within my own life during the past few years. It basically looks like this: if it works, if it grows, then it's God. If I can find a methodology that results in more people and more groups then it must be a sound methodology that should be replicated. And what I mean by replicated is that the methods are formulated, written and dispersed so that they can be copied by others. A theology of practicality assumes that the structure is the key. The methods are essential for producing results. Left out are things like a theology of spirituality, a theology of culture and a theology of what it means to be the church.
But this theology of practicality comes with a slew of other assumptions. For instance, it assumes that success in a church is numerical growth. More people in more groups = effectiveness. I don't think that we need to do away with growth. I'm all for it. But because we have a theology of practicality we jump to this conclusion.
Then we also have the assumption that the job of the small groups pastor is to grow lots of groups. This means that a small groups pastor need never to raise theological questions that might interfere with group growth.
If we are going to develop a theology of community, we need to look at the assumed theologies that drive our imaginations because a robust theology of community will come into conflict with them. At least this has been the case in my life. While I still deal with practical issues, the practical stuff must be developed in conversation with other questions, some of which cause me to slow down, see what God is doing and change the bottom line from numerical growth to something much more rich.