Small groups meet in all kinds of places. Today, hundreds of small small groups will meet in schools, offices and on playing fields. One of the key tasks of small group pastors is to hold up the vision of what makes small groups of God's people distinct from all the other kinds of small groups that meet. There are a lot of things that we can do as small groups that are unique to being the people of God. We can worship. We can grow as disciples. We can study the Bible, reach out and live in community. But none of these really defines what makes us distinct.
We are distinct because God's people are characterized by the fact that they know and follow the presence of God. Without God's presence, we might have a good small group. We might even fulfill all of the purposes that God has given to the church. But we will miss out on what makes us truly distinct.
I am convinced that we have become so accustomed to leading groups in North America that we don’t need the presence of Jesus. We know how to study the Bible, and we are skilled at talking about Jesus’ life and ministry. We have plenty of experience with good group discussions. Now with the advent of technology, we can pipe the best Bible teaching in the world via DVD or YouTube. We spend far more time talking about Jesus than we do encountering him. All of our energy is invested in getting our facts about the Jesus stories correct. How much energy do we invest in allowing Jesus to shape us to live out his story today?
When we experience the presence of Jesus in our groups, we shift from a mindset of studying about the stories of God, to actually embodying those stories and telling them ourselves. Our lives become an extension of God’s story as the presence in our community brings the community to life.
We need leaders who will relentlessly proclaim the need for God's presence in our groups like a CD player stuck on the same song. Yes we need training. Yes we need good small group structures and strategies. Yes we need ways to help groups minister to people outside the group. But it seems to me that if we miss this distinction we are doing good stuff, but it is peripheral stuff. The center of it all is Jesus and his presence.
(This material is adapted from chapter 6 of MissioRelate.)