Sunday, 11 November 2012

growing big by becoming small (pt. 1)

Let me introduce you to Philip (J. Spener), a thirty-something Lutheran Pastor from the German city of Frankfurt. His task of ministering in this important urban centre has been marked by difficulty and discouragement. However, his response has been simple and direct. Leaving aside the preaching plan set down by the Lutheran Church for ministers, he made a commitment to preach through the Bible with specific focus on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. Initially he saw few results. But when he started a preaching series on Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” a significant number of people became Christians.

Philip gathered these new believers in his home twice a week for Bible study, prayer and support. This experience drove him to the conclusion that his country has one major problem. Despite loads of church activity, there are few who “really understand and practice true Christianity.”

He wrote a book (topped the bestseller lists!) in which he offered six ideas to reverse this trend.

Central in his thinking is the conviction that Christians must meet together out with Sunday congregational worship for Bible study and spiritual encouragement. This, he believes, will move them beyond mere acknowledgment of correct beliefs to lives of active godliness.

Actually, I should tell you that my friend, Philip, lived (and died!) almost 400 years ago! However, this apparently incidental comment is what gives his life and example added credence. The ideas that captured his heart would become the defining features of the later evangelical movement. In fact, evangelicalism has been healthiest when it embraces Spener’s founding values. And chief among them is the conviction that beyond congregational life, small group ministry is the fire that ignites the flame of discipleship and creates authentic Christian community.

I will develop these thoughts in future blogs. However, two key thoughts act as a foundation on which to build.

Firstly, Rick Warren (Pastor of Saddleback Community Church, California) once said that “we grow big by becoming small.” Giving small group ministry its proper place in the life of a church can lead to growth in membership. Brad House (author of “Community”) adds that small groups are not only about the making, they are also about the maturing of disciples.

Making and maturing disciples (in community)…in many ways, Philip Spener inspired this creative thinking. The challenge is to put it into practice…

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