I’ve been thinking about how we can get more people involved in smaller communities without loading down already busy families. I also sense there are only so many truth units that a person can absorb each week… Sunday School, the pastoral message, Wednesday night meeting, any devotional book someone may be reading, and perhaps a Christian living book from your local Lifeway store.
All that spiritual activity is likely pretty optimistic on MY part, but the reality is, a Sunday class and the Sunday sermon may be all that people are taking in each week (or twice a month, or once a month). So, what do you think about designing groups that meet during the week, NOT for additional truth units, but to focus on application and clarification of something already heard last Sunday… like the pastor’s message? I thought of a few questions on the topic:
1. How can sermon-based groups be used for God’s glory, for the good of the local church, and for the good of the community?
Anything that brings glory to God is used by God to glorify Himself, and any time He is glorified the local church is better for it. Anytime the local church is known as being focused on bringing glory to God, the community is enhanced.
I like that! These groups can help our church to be “a city on a hill,” (Matthew 5:14) and a light shining brightly for Christ on the street or cul-de-sac where believers live. They can function as a mission of our church which they represent, in the community where God has placed them for his own glory.
2. How can sermon-based groups “remember” their leaders (Hebrews 13:7) rather than forget what their leaders spoke?
One of the most positive aspects of sermon-based groups or Bible studies is that group members are reminded of the main points of the sermon. Imagine how God will be glorified in the lives of the participants! These groups would study the passage more fully and strive for clarification, questions and application. After reviewing the main points of the sermon, group members should then process what they heard in the sermon then make commitments to live out what was preached.
3. How can I lift up the name of Jesus above all names and respect my pastor?
Humankind will instinctively worship that which they can seen and touch, so there is potential for the pastor to become the focus of attention rather than Jesus. In order to overcome this, small group leaders should be trained to elevate the words found in the Bible above the teaching, clichés and phrases spoken by the pastor in the sermon. Then, consistently during the Bible study time, leaders should point people to Jesus and his word rather than focusing on the teaching pastor and his words.
4. How can people move beyond the after-service surface-level comments like “Great sermon” to significant conversations?
A very short answer ought to do it… GREAT discussion questions that are placed in the right order. When this happens a transformational conversation will be experienced. Our need is to develop capable of creating these kinds of experiences. This is where most sermon-based groups fall very, very short.
5. What are some upsides of sermon-based small group studies?
- The pastor is happy with the small group pastor knowing he or she is working in tandem to establish the principles and practices that were unearthed during the sermon.
- Small group members are reminded of the main points of the sermon which helps establish the truths that were taught.
- Sermon based Bible studies make more time to discuss application. Since the principles and practices that would normally be unveiled as group members discussed the passage are already established, (since the pastor took care of this when preaching) the group can climb immediately into discussing how these principles and practices are to be lived out.
While God’s Word is sufficient, we must caution that group discussion and attempting to determine what God is saying is vital as group members learn how to interpret Scripture without an official “teacher.” Many people may never learn to think on their own or use their Bibles or interpret Scripture apart from someone telling them what it means.
The Downside of Sermon-Based Groups:
I am a proponent of any small group experience that lifts the name of Jesus above all other names, creates a safe place for everyone involved, and produces an environment where unbelievers feel as though they are equals on a spiritual journey so they attend consistently.
I recently spent some time reading about the sermon-based small group experience, and not everything is positive. These are some concerns I discovered.
1. Elevating the pastors words while inadvertently diminishing God’s Word: When utilizing biblically based, well-done discussion guides, the conversation must be strategically turned toward what the Bible is saying. When discussing the weekend sermon, the conversation can be built around what the pastor said. The primary voice in the Bible study wouldn’t be God and his Word, but the pastor and his words. Instead of hearing phrases like, “The Bible says,” or “Jesus told us,” or “God’s Word instructs us,” small group members hear phrases like, “The pastor told us,”or “If the pastor was here he’d probably say,” or “I’ll check with the pastor and see what he meant.” The pastor’s voice may inadvertently become known as the ultimate truth source rather than the Bible being the only source of all truth.
2. Senior pastor worship: Sermon based small group experiences can easily lead to high levels of senior pastor worship. My research on this topic has indicated that the senior pastor’s name is brought up (and he is held in awe) at least six times during each group gathering. Jesus’ name and his personality are discussed much less than the pastor’s personality and the senior pastor’s name. In some pastor-driven high-power church, Jesus is subconsciously established as the senior pastor’s sidekick, the secondary personality in church life. Before long, many believers speak more of their pastor and his great sermons than their Savior and his redeeming power.
3. Those farthest from Christ won’t attend a small group – Those who are far, far from Christ are not going to attend church services which means they’ll never feel comfortable in a sermon based small group experience. The truth is, people who are far from Christ are NOT going to come to a group to discuss a sermon they haven’t heard. To expect a “not yet” follower of Christ (who didn’t hear the weekend sermon and never will because they are not going to attend a weekend worship service) to come weekly to a sermon based small group experience is like asking someone to come to a book club for a weekly meeting to discuss a book they refuse to read. They aren’t going to attend.
One way to combat this last observation is to invite unchurched friends for the fellowship and discussion on a certain topic (the sermon topic, for instance). Even though someone did not hear the message, in the conversation, the group can highlight the main points of the message as the evening progresses, and then the Bible is STILL the primary source of guidance and the one who missed church is not disadvantaged.