Summary: One of a series focussing on the Natural Church Development characteristics

Imagine, on the front row there is a man who cannot walk. Even to get here he had to be brought and carried; he can talk but that is about it. What is this man’s most pressing need? What is it he needs more than anything else in the world? Stephanie is going to bring the Bible reading to us just now Mark 2: 1 – 12.

The initial thought or reaction is that this man needs to be healed, to be cured so that he can walk. I don’t know if this is a typically male reaction, but my first thought is to deal with the immediate problem, then to look beyond that to the underlying causes. Jesus saw that the greatest need for this man was to have his sins forgiven and then to be healed. In fact the healing was performed to enable the man to walk but also to prove to the pious leaders that Jesus had the power to forgive sins.

As I have already said, I am someone whose tendency is to focus on the immediate and apparent and if someone comes to me with a problem my inclination is to deal with that rather than look for the underlying, unsaid issues. I can see past the immediate, but this is more often than not by inspiration rather than by my gifting. If I was a part of the crowd that was in the house that day my assumption would have been that we were going to see a miraculous healing rather than a forgiving of sins followed by a healing. I don’t suppose for one minute that I would be alone in that assumption, because there are very few people alive today who can home in on the real issues in a persons life within the first few minutes of meeting that person. Much as I would like to be, I am not Jesus so for me to be able to help someone I have to take time to form a relationship with that person; get to know them, let them get to know me. It was the same when I worked at the Mountbatten Centre, it was not enough to deal with the issue of alcohol and drugs I had to help the man deal with the reason for that reliance/addiction. Why? Because The Salvation Army programme was an holistic one, it looked at the whole person with the aim of helping them to live alcohol/drug free. It meant looking at things that had not been faced for a number of years – in some cases a lifetime – and coming to terms with those so that the symptom of substance abuse could be dealt with. The important thing was that it was holistic and that is the Natural Church Development characteristic that we are looking at tonight – Holistic Small Groups.

An holistic small group is a small group that looks after the whole person; the group may meet because of a common aim, i.e. to study the bible, but that is not its sole reason to be. The discussions that happen within the holistic small group, can cover a range of topics, can allow differing view points and opinions and, perhaps most importantly, allow an individual to say “I’m struggling here”, “I don’t understand” without the fear of being labelled stupid, without the fear of being labelled an attention seeker or troublemaker. For too long there have been groups within The Salvation Army that have held a certain ‘mystique’, that have given the impression of having to attain a certain level of competence before you can join, that are exclusive. An holistic small group within the church allows people of differing experience and spiritual depth to meet together in a safe environment to share, talk, discuss, pray and study God’s word; and all this even if it is not a Bible study because the primary aim of an holistic small group is to disciple each person within it. The Bible study for example allows for difficulties and struggles to be verbalised and brought into the open; what does this achieve? It enables each person present to help that individual, say that they too are having the same struggle; it means that those who have worked through the issue can give their experience and all so that everyone in the group can fix their faith on the bed rock of truth. Not a truth that has to be accepted without question, but a truth that has been learned after testing, after questioning, after struggling. Anyone who tells you that questioning is the sign of a lack of faith is wrong, anyone who tells you that, to be a Christian, you have to accept what you are told without questioning is lying. Looking through the Bible there are numerous examples of God’s people struggling, arguing and questioning God. Abraham argued to save Sodom and Gomorrah; Chapter 3 of Job gives a picture of a man who was not afraid to tell God exactly how he was feeling. David poured out his complaints before God (Psalm 142); Moses told God he was fed up with being kept in the dark whilst leading the Israelites (Exodus 33:12 cf), not only that he told God to show his glory.

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