Summary: Based on the New Testament Church and John Wesley’s concept of the Classmeeting, this sermon affirms the necessity of being in a small, accountability group for disciples to grow to be more like Jesus.
Holding Each Other Accountable in Small Groups
In October I return to my alma mater Asbury Theological Seminary for our fifth of six sessions in the Spiritual Leaders’ Academy. The Lily Foundation has fully funded our participation in the Academy, and one of the chief goals for our training has been for each participating pastor to being small groups in our local Churches that are dedicated to the Spiritual Formation of individual Christians.
For nearly a year at Trinity we have conducted our local pilot Academy under the acronym of ACTS, “Academy for Christian Training and Service.” I call this our Pilot Group, because the Lily Foundation wants to see each pastor and Church multiply other groups that will eventually include many if not most of the people from each congregation, encouraging in each individual a deeper, daily walk with Jesus and effective outreach for His Kingdom in our neighborhoods, communities, nation, and world.
Our pilot group has totaled nine in all and also originally included Kris Underwood before the Lord called her home to be with Him. Every week our group has witnessed a deeper walk with Jesus and dynamic growth towards spiritual maturity in every person involved in this ministry.
Now let me make an affirmation. Every vital congregation which has a vibrant ministry for Jesus Christ in our twenty-first century is one that continually offers energizing, life-giving small group ministries to the Body of Christ. Any Christian who is not involved in a small group ministry on a regular, preferably weekly basis, will soon wither and die in their personal relationship with Jesus Christ, because every Christian needs the support and encouragement from a small group of brothers and sisters in Christ in order, as II Peter 3 :18 clearly testifies, to personally “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.”
For such spiritual growth to happen not only weekly cooperate worship as the Body of Christ on Sunday morning is paramount, but participation in a continuing small group ministry is fundamental as well. From the beginning of the Church on the day of Pentecost this has always been the case.
The Church in Acts worshiped cooperatively as a massive body in the Temple, but they also conducted small group ministries in their homes as well.
Luke closes his testimony of what happened on the Day of Pentecost to the Church in Jerusalem in Acts 2 with this persuasive testimony: “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
Note the two basic, ongoing elements in the spiritual development of these first century Christians: (1.) they met together daily in the temple courts, and (2.) they broke bread in their homes. These are the equivalent for you and me of (1.) Sunday morning worship and (2.) participation in a small group ministry. Because they held onto the right priorities, “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
The importance of small group ministries is affirmed several times throughout the New Testament. We read that such people as Priscilla and Aquila; Lydia; Philemon, Apphia, and Archippus; Mary, the Mother of John Mark; and Nympha at Laodicea had “Churches in their homes,” and Acts 20:20 also tells us that it was Paul’s custom to “teach both publicly and from house to house.”
Our texts today are among several in the New Testament that give excellent instruction in conducting small group ministries. Paul teaches us in I Thessalonians 5:11 that our purpose is to “encourage and build up each other.” Let’s break the word encourage into its separate parts “en” and “courage.” The prefix “en” means “to put into,” therefore, encourage literally means “to put into courage.” Small group ministries “put their members into courage” by “building them up.” The purpose of a small group is to give hope, confidence, support, and comfort to those in the group, to build up their relationship with Jesus, to strengthen their relationships with one another and with others in their lives.
Our text from James 5:16 commands us, “Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” In our ACTS group we “confess our sins to each other and pray for each other so that we may be healed.” True disciples of Jesus Christ have done this throughout the ages. We strengthen each other as disciples as we admit our sins, our mistakes, our wrongs to one another and pray for God’s forgiveness and the power of the Holy Spirit to “go and sin no more.”