Small Group Training Guide

Small-Groups

The future of the local church will largely depend on the successful development of a small group ministry, especially since small groups are vital to both growth and discipleship, on the part of the believer, and the church as a whole. According to Rod Dempsey, “Churches that are not functioning in this manner run the risk of becoming inward in their focus”[1] and inward-focused groups die. Additionally, as Phil Zambaro explains, “Loneliness is the most devastating illness of our day [and] I know of no more potent killer than isolation. There is [also] no more destructive influence on the physical and mental health than isolation… [Because,] our hunger for relationships is an identifying mark of our humanity.”[2] This need for relationships and connectivity makes the role of small groups a fundamental part of any successful church. As a result, this Small Group Training Manual will first define small groups, by illustrating their biblical foundation and by providing the necessary motivations for developing them. Once a clear understanding of a small group’s influence, vision, and mission are formulated, this manual will then address how to grow and multiply small groups, how to develop group leaders, and lastly how to transition from a “with,” model to a “of,” or “is” model using the “S.M.A.L.L. G.R.O.U.P.S.” acrostic.

MOTIVATIONS FOR DEVELOPING GROUPS

Dempsey explains, “The church has a head; the head of the church is Jesus. The church also has members that need to be connected to the head and connected to each other.”[3] Small groups provide the conduit to satisfy all these needs and they also allow for the opportunity of spending time with one another because there is a huge commitment needed to growing and sacrificing as a disciple of Christ. Jesus, Himself said, “Take up your cross,”(Matthew 16:24) illustrating the necessity of commitment and doing life together in small groups. Additionally, the relational aspect of following Christ means followers should join together as brothers and sisters in an attitude of love for one another. This was the identifying mark Jesus said would reveal His true disciples; by the love he or she showed the world (Matthew 22:36-40). Dempsey also points out, “The process must be intentional, individual, and missional in focus, as small groups have the potential to provide and create a perfect environment and context to develop people for God’s kingdom and for God’s glory.”[4]

One’s primary reason for wanting to develop small group ministry must be rooted in love and a desire to fulfill the commandments of the Lord. The Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) is a wonderful representation of what God calls every believer to do as followers of Christ. Dempsey and Earley further explain the importance of, “Loving God, loving one another, and loving our neighbor [because these] are universal principles. They will work anywhere, at any time, and in any political situation. The key to your success is to begin practicing the principles behind the commands Jesus gave us. Live your life purposefully for God and lead by example.”[5] Another important reason for developing small groups is found in the principle of multiplication. Dempsey and Earley illustrate the strongest churches in the world have tens of thousands of members in thousands of small groups. As humans, and with finite minds, it can oftentimes be hard to fathom the omnipotence of God and His marvelous plan of salvation and redemption. As a result, when most churches are planning areas of ministry, the addition of believers is used as the primary litmus test for success; however, God, as Dempsey and Earley convey, “Has given us an exponential plan to reach the world. The question is… are you following an addition or a multiplication plan? Why should you lead a group? That is easy: to follow His command to make disciples of all the nations.”[6] A final reason for forming small groups lies in the desire for community. As Jeffrey Arnold explains, “Jesus Christ is our first and greatest model for how small groups can stimulate faith and growth in others… [Ultimately,] disciples are made intentionally, disciples are made to be like Christ, and disciples are made in relationships”[7] and there is no better place for these to occur than in a community made up of small groups.

BIBLICAL FOUNDATIONS FOR GROUPS

At the heart of the Great Commission is the commandment to make disciples and this instruction is why Bill Hull emphasizes, “The small group is the most strategic training environment used by Christ to make the kind of disciples that glorify God.”[8] Small groups are vital to the future success of the local church and as a small group leader, he or she is essentially engaging in the same ministry Christ Himself was committed to. Small groups have the potential to change lives and there are multiple breakthroughs that will happen in small groups, that rarely happen within the four walls of the church, as Chuck Swindoll illuminates, “[In small groups,] fences come down, masks come off, welcome signs are hung outside the door, keys to the doors of our lives are duplicated and distributed, and joys and sorrows are shared.”[9]

While the Great Commission is a wonderful representation of what God calls every believer to do as followers of Christ, the sad reality is many so-called followers of Christ have reduced the Great Commission to nothing more than the great suggestion. However, this command from God points to the small groups as being the perfect environment to develop and train disciples. The early church is a prime example of doing life together. In Acts, chapters one and two, specifically (Acts 2:41-47,) the reader becomes aware of the DNA of early small group ministry. These home churches met together, studied the apostles’ teaching, shared meals together, met each other’s needs, prayed together, had favor with the local people, and went everywhere proclaiming the good news of the gospel. These early churches understood the importance of every person having a role to play in the body of Christ (Ephesians 1:23; 1 Corinthians 12:21) and the necessity of serving one another. The final passage that illustrates the role of small groups is (Ephesians 4:16.) Here, Paul explains how some followers of Christ are: apostles, prophets, shepherds, teachers, or evangelists, but how each of their primary duties is to train and equip God’s people for the work of the church. The ultimate goal is for believers to grow into the fullness of Christ, as each member of the body contributes to this growth, but it is small groups, which provide the optimal context and environment for this process to take place.

In the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:36-40), Dempsey demonstrates, “Jesus took 619 rabbinical laws and pharisaical practices and reduced them down to two simple principles: Love God and love your neighbor.”[10] Jesus Himself was a small group leader, so Dempsey and Earley raise a very relevant question: “If Jesus, the Son of God, chose to strategically minister to a small group, how much more should you and I?”[11] Jeff Tunnell then illustrates, “By sorting out one’s biblical values, [this] will lead to principles and conducts that glorify God and His ways, which ultimately make the gospel irresistible to some and repulsive to others.”[12] By using the Bible as authority, prayer as a means, dependency upon God as one’s posture, and love as the primary motive, Tunnell reveals multiple principles that are consistent with the truth of the gospel. As a result of embodying and devoting oneself to this truth, Tunnell shows followers were devoted to: “following the apostles’ teaching, fostering unity, sharing meals, practicing prayer, corporate worship, celebrating communion, living in community, and sharing generously, [resulting in,] salvations and favor with all the people.”[13]

Hospitality was one of the major things Jesus was known for; in fact, He set the standard. Jesus is repeatedly seen dining and visiting with outcasts. Joel Comiskey explains, “Most of the ancient world regarded hospitality as a moral practice… [And,] eating together in the household was one of the primary ways to share life together as well as to welcome strangers and those outside the household. Most would agree that sharing a meal is the second most intimate encounter one can engage in outside of the bedroom, which is why sharing meals together is such an important principle for small groups. When Jesus chose to send His disciples out in pairs, this approach showed He knew it was not good to be alone, especially in ministry. Comiskey explains when the disciples entered a home, “They were supposed to convert the members of that particular household, and reach the other homes from a base location – rather than witnessing from house-to-house (Luke 10:7). Remaining in a house only makes sense if, beyond the initial proclamation of the kingdom message, the messengers stayed on to further nurture and establish a faith community.”[14] This strategy led to entire households and villages being converted to Christ and new home churches being formed and by modeling this same strategy, small groups meeting in homes are having great success today.

WHAT IS A SMALL GROUP

Dempsey and Earley use the acrostic S.M.A.L.L. G.R.O.U.P.S. to demonstrate the necessary components small groups must possess. Seek God’s vision and direction from His Word,[15] (Acts 1:8; 2:32-47; Ephesians 4:11-16; Colossians 1:28) which allows the group’s foundation to be set on solid ground. Make sure the lead pastor is in the lead position.[16] Without the senior pastor’s full backing, it will be very difficult for small groups to reach their full potential. Adopt a model that fits who and where you are, as long you are emphasizing: winning people to Christ, helping them grow in Christ, and then sending them out for Christ.[17] Leadership training and recruitment[18] because as Jerry Falwell asserts, “Everything rises and falls on leadership,” so this component is vital to the future success of any small group. “Launch the new groups, [while also] providing the leaders with additional training to stay focused and to improve the quality of discipleship.”[19] After careful prayer, planning, and training it is time to launch new groups and according to Dempsey, the best time to do this is after Labor Day, when children are back in school and people are settling into their new schedules and routines.[20]

Two G.R.O.U.P.(S.) acrostics are presented in forming and maintaining small groups. Guided by a leader is the first objective, since, “In order for a group to be successful, the leader of the group needs to view their role as drawing out the new creation God has in mind for every individual in the group.”[21] Regular meeting times are vital to the success of small groups and Dempsey believes, “Meeting weekly is best, so people can gather to serve and share God’s love and gifts with one another and with the world.”[22] Opening God’s Word is mandatory in small groups due to the Bible’s power to change people’s lives from the inside out (Hebrews 4:12; Romans 12:2). Dempsey illustrates, “Studying and applying the Word of God has the power to change us from what we are into what God has in mind for us.”[23] United in service is rooted in the Great Commandment (John 13:34-35). Dempsey explains, “Spiritual gifts are designed to strengthen the body of Christ and to serve the world… [And] every believer has at least one spiritual gift to build up the body of Christ and to minister and serve others.”[24] Prayer for one another is what separates a Christ-centered group from a civic club. As Jerry Falwell so brilliantly put it, “Nothing of eternal significance ever happens apart from prayer,” making this a necessary component to any successful small group ministry.

Dempsey’s second G.R.O.U.P.S. acrostic entails:

Grow the groups in quantity and quality, paying special attention to new groups. Retrain the leaders to retrain the leaders, through personal mentoring and coaching and reward the right behavior. Over communicate, to make sure the small group leaders are getting enough information from the leaders in ministry. Utilize and develop a coaching structure, (Exodus 18) so the groups stay on target with the vision and mission of the church. Pray, because as Comiskey discovered, prayer was the common denominator in multiplying groups where leaders of the groups prayed at least one hour a day. See God’s blessing as new disciples are being made and remember small groups provide the best place to make disciples, because Christianity is more caught than taught.[25]

HOW TO DEVELOP SMALL GROUP LEADERS

According to Dempsey, “Leaders are grown in small groups, most successful churches have an emphasis on small groups, and small groups are a true representation of the body of Christ (Ephesians 1:23).”[26] Dempsey and Earley provide eight habits, which will enhance the effectiveness of small group leaders and will, “Create a path that leads to fruitfulness, and multiplication, helping leaders, and those under them, experience greater fulfillment in ministry.”[27] They are as follows:

(1) Dream of leading a healthy, growing, multiplying group. (2) Pray for your group members daily. (3) Invite new people to visit your group weekly. (4) Contact your group members regularly. (5) Prepare for your group meetings. (6) Mentor an apprentice leader. (7) Plan group fellowship activities. (8) Be committed to your own personal growth.

In developing leaders, there is much that can be learned from the early church model and several strategies can be implemented today. For example, by using Rod Dempsey 4 M’s model: “Model it, by being the paradigm; Mentor it and never do anything alone in ministry; Motivate it by personally giving encouragement to people; and Multiply your ministry by handing it off to others so they can have ownership and run with it.”[28] Leaders must realize Satan works in isolation, but God works in community, so find a Paul who can be a mentor; find a Timothy, someone to disciple; and find a Barnabas someone to be an encourager.

HOW TO LEAD A GROUP

As Dempsey asserts, “Anyone who knows Christ can be a leader, since being a leader is all about influence.”[29] Within the framework of small groups, Dempsey and Dave Earley identify three key leadership positions. The first is the small group leader who, “Understands their job is to serve and empower [the attendees] to ‘be all they can be’ for Christ. The small group leader [also] selects the curriculum, finds a good location to meet, and chooses an apprentice who will be trained to start a new group.”[30] The second leadership position in a small group is the apprentice who is basically a small group leader in training, with the goal of leading his or her own small group within several months. The apprentice is involved with all areas of planning and leadership, to provide the best chance for success when facilitating his or her own small group. The third leadership position in a small group is the host, who are primarily responsible for making attendees feel welcome. Dempsey and Earley illustrate hosts are, “Vital to making the small group experience a good one for everyone who comes to their home and [when these three positions are] involved in the planning, preparation, and execution of small groups, the groups have a much better chance for healthy growth and multiplication.”[31]

Leadership was paramount in the house church and much can be learned in the way Jesus first trained His disciples, who would become the first small group leaders. Comiskey illustrates, “Because of the growth of the early church, the need for leadership expanded rapidly… and the early apostles provided the overarching leadership, but depended on the house church leaders to shepherd and care for the rest of God’s church. As in the case of Acts 6, leaders who had proven themselves were chosen to care for the needs of the Grecian Jewish widows, and oversee the distribution of food. In many cases, the individual who opened up their home would assume the leadership role and Comiskey attributes Paul’s use of the oikos structure as the perfect environment to develop leaders naturally.[32] In all small groups, Paul taught on the importance of allowing the Holy Spirit to guide and develop leadership. Comiskey agrees and explains how, “The early church believed that the Spirit was given to all believers and was actively working through each member.”[33] Interestingly, it would be in the early church that women found themselves on equal footing with men and on numerous occasions presented in the New Testament, women were actually presented as being significant leaders.[34]

Leadership roles in the early church differ from today, in the sense that in the New Testament, there were no bishops-pastor-elder hierarchy and Comiskey explains these terms were actually interchangeable for the same role. Over the years, one of the unfortunate errors is how elders have been transliterated as overseers, instead of being translated as workers of the church. While the early church met primarily in homes, sometimes those individual entities would gather together for larger meetings. Throughout the New Testament, ecclesia was used to refer to the house church gatherings, the larger gatherings, and the universal church, Ultimately, as Comiskey illustrates, “Churches must determine if they are going to view the cell group as the church and the primary care structure for members, or just another program to keep people coming back to the Sunday gathering. If the church chooses to prioritize cell ministry, those cells and cell leaders need to be equipped, coached, and cared for in a cell structure that includes training, coaching, and celebrating together.”[35]

In addition to the three leadership positions, Dempsey and Earley cite three components/streams that when employed combine to form one powerful, moving force. The first is the biblical stream, made up of the qualities found in Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3, which relate to the leader’s values and being blameless. This “Means that he [or she] does not have any major spiritual area that could come into question or attack from the enemy.”[36] The second component is the spiritual stream, which is rooted in an understanding and execution of the first stream. This stream is composed of: prayer, spiritual gifts, fruit of the Spirit, armor of God, and Spirit of God. Dempsey and Earley explain, “Many leaders are one the front lines of the battle, but they may not be aware of the [spiritual] weapons and armor that they have as soldiers of the King. Another challenge is that many leaders may be aware of the tools they have at their disposal, but they may not be skilled in using the spiritual arsenal.”[37] The third component is the practical stream, which as Dempsey and Earley demonstrate allows, “The small group leader to receive a vision from God and communicate it clearly to the people entrusted to his or her care.” This stream is made up of: planning, organizing, communicating, training, mentoring, multiplying and vision casting.

HOW TO GROW SMALL GROUPS

Arnold presents one of the best models this writer has come across when looking at the role and dynamics of small groups, especially when one takes into consideration the 80/20 principle he highlights. Arnold illustrates, “As members of the body, we are reliant on one another and on Christ, and mutually responsible to use whatever contribution we make to grow the body into maturity.”[38] When a group reaches inward, the focus is on group care. Arnold demonstrates how, “Groups provide love and care for their members in many ways [and] a loving community offers members a positive body life experience by engaging people in the discovery of their spiritual gifts, developing the lay leadership of the church, and caring for its members.”[39] There is something so empowering about finding one’s gifting and then engaging in ministry fulfilling the role God has called the person to. However, without an environment to first define and second to refine the areas of spiritual gifting(s), many people never reach his or her full potential. In addition to equipping individuals with various giftings, the spiritual maturity of the individual is also a byproduct, which further refines his or her discipline and produces great future leaders. For large churches especially, this inward focus is vital because congregational care, unknown, and unmet needs are a daily occurrence. With a focus on small groups, this is an amazing step in making people truly feel cared for and also provides an area of ministry for other members with the gift(s) of prayer, comfort, love, and compassion.

As groups focus on reaching upward, this cultivates an attitude of nurture and worship. Nurturing allows members to not only get to know one another better, but it lays the foundation and vision for the group to help people get connected to God. Doing life together is an amazing experience and this sense of community is hardwired into humanity. God created His children with this desire to love and be loved by. As small groups develop times of fellowship and walk through trials and circumstances, opportunities to pray and grow their faith are presented. As a result of answered prayers and faith in God’s plans, thanksgiving and praise are the appropriate response. Arnold demonstrates, “When enough people in a congregation start experiencing these worship moments, the entire church begins to change. Spiritual renewal that begins in groups can begin to create revival in the larger body of Christ.”[40] However, neglecting the power of worship is one of the main reasons Dempsey and Earley cite for groups failing to reach their full potential, stressing, “Worship is a moral obligation and a natural response to the absolute worth of God. Worship completes us, is transforming, puts life back into perspective, and intensifies the presence and therefore the activity of God.”[41] Dempsey and Earley could not be more correct on the power of prayer, as they illustrate, “God often manifests His presence in proportion to our expressed recognition of our need and love for Him.”[42]

HOW TO MULTIPLY SMALL GROUPS

When groups begin to reach outward through acts of service and evangelism, they reach their full potential. As Arnold explains, “One of the inherent weaknesses in any small grouping of people is the natural tendency to maintain an inward focus (care), ignoring the outward focus (service and evangelism)… [making] the outward focus the most difficult group discipline to cultivate.”[43] Arnold clarifies how evangelism then leads to both spiritual and numerical growth as healthy groups work to attach people deeply to their God and show them how to minister to the world. Ultimately, as Arnold explains, “Biblical evangelism is not a program but a person-to-person process of sharing the good news about forgiveness of sin and new life in Jesus. Because small groups are likely to be the most personal setting offered by a church, they are natural places for this kind of evangelism to take place.”[44]

HOW TO DEVELOP/TRANSITION TO SMALL GROUPS IN CHURCH

Dempsey provides eleven suggestions for churches trying to develop or transition to being a church “of” or that “is” small groups: First, the leaders must search the Scriptures and come up with a group philosophy rooted in the Great Commission and Great Commandment to make disciples, to gather together and study the Word, and to meet each others needs and the needs of others. The group must also focus on equipping the saints and growing up to be like Christ. Second, the group must make sure the senior pastor and leadership team share the same vision as the group. This is vital because if the group is not contributing to the vision and mission of the church, they are not truly a part of the church. Third, the group must adopt a model that fits who they are and this is done by engaging the culture, while also maintaining the principles of loving God, one another, and neighbors. Fourth, there must be continual leader training and each person in the group should be mentoring someone else how to do their job, so when the time comes for the group to split, there will people ready to assume leadership roles. Fifth, the group is ready to launch, so times, places, and curriculum must all be in place. Sixth, is growing the group by praying, inviting people and having good quality, which will ultimately lead to quantity. Seventh, is rewarding the right behavior by exhorting and pointing out when people are doing the right thing or go above and beyond expectations. Eighth, is over communicating because as Rick Warren says, “People are down on what they are not up on,” so small groups must continually communicate the why, the how, and the next steps. Ninth, is utilizing coaching structures and a great model to use is the 5X5 model, which spreads the load out amongst directors, overseers, and groups. Trying to do everything alone will always lead to burnout or moral failure, so making sure you have a strong team is vital to the success of small groups because groups are only as strong as their weakest link. Tenth, is pray before, during, and after all small groups because the enemy does not want small groups to thrive because individuals are most vulnerable when they are in isolation. Eleventh, is to see God’s glory. The Great Commission’s command is to make disciples and the one promise we find is when we are in the business of making disciples in small groups, Jesus promises to be there with us.[45]

CONCLUSION

This small group-training manual has shown the need for relationships and connectivity in the disciple making process, which makes the role of small groups a fundamental part of any successful church. By illustrating small group’s biblical foundation and by providing the necessary motivations for developing them, this manual can be utilized to become a church “of” small groups or a church that “is” small groups. With a clear understanding of a small group’s influence, vision, and mission being formulated, this manual has shown how to grow and multiply small groups and also how to recruit and develop group leaders.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Arnold, Jeffrey. The Big Book on Small Groups. Rev. ed. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004.

Comiskey, Joel. Biblical Foundations for the Cell-Based Church: New Testament Insights for the 21st Century Church. Moreno Valley, CA: CCS Publishing, 2016.

Dempsey, Rod and Dave Earley. Leading Healthy Growing Multiplying Small Groups. Lynchburg, VA: Liberty University Press, 2016.

Dempsey, Rod. “How to Develop Leaders,” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, DSMN 630, Course Content, Week Four Video Presentation, 6:35. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_364001_1&content_id=_17196596_1 (accessed June 5, 2017).

________. “How to Transition to a Small Group System.” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, DSMN 630, Course Content, Week Eight Video Presentation, 8:17. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_364001_1&content_id=_17196616_1 (accessed June 29, 2017).

________. “Small Group Outreach/Mission.” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, DSMN 630, Course Content, Week Six Video Presentation, 6:36. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_364001_1&content_id=_17196606_1 (accessed June 22, 2017).

________. “Transitioning to Small Groups.” DSMN 630, Course Content, Lecture Notes, Week Six: 1-3.

________. “Why Lead a Group.” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, DSMN 630, Course Content, Week One Video Presentation, 9:33. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_364001_1&content_id=_17196581_1 (accessed May 15, 2017).

Donahue, Bill and Russ Robinson. Building a Church of Small Groups. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001.

House, Brad. Community: Taking Your Small Group Off Life Support. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishing, 2011.

Hull, Bill. Jesus Christ Disciple Maker. Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1984.

Reeves, Josh. “10 Simple Ways to be Missional in Your City.” May 26, 2017. http://www.vergenetwork.org/2011/10/11/10-simple-ways-to-be-missional-in-your-city-part-1/ (accessed June 22, 2017).

_________. “25 Simple Ways to be Missional in Your Neighborhood.” May 26, 2017. http://www.vergenetwork.org/2011/08/23/25-simple-ways-to-be-missional-in-your-neighborhood/ (accessed June 20, 2017).

Swindoll, Chuck. Dropping Your Guard. Waco, TX: Word Incorporated, 1983.

Tunnell, Jeff. “Biblical Values and Time-tested Principles.” Joel Comiskey Group Website, http://joelcomiskeygroup.com/blog_2/2011/09/19/biblical-values-and-time-tested-principles-2/ (accessed May 22, 2017).

[1] Rod Dempsey and Dave Earley, Leading Healthy Growing Multiplying Small Groups (Lynchburg, VA: Liberty University Press, 2016), 2.

[2] Bill Donahue and Russ Robinson, Building a Church of Small Groups (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), 24.

[3] Dempsey and Earley, Leading Healthy Growing Multiplying Small Groups, 2.

[4] Rod Dempsey, “Why Lead a Group,” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, DSMN 630, Course Content, Week One Video Presentation, 9:33. (accessed May 15, 2017).

[5] Dempsey and Earley, Leading Healthy Growing Multiplying Small Groups, 10.

[6] Dempsey and Earley, Leading Healthy Growing Multiplying Small Groups, 10.

[7] Jeffrey Arnold, The Big Book on Small Groups. Rev. ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 18, 23-24.

[8] Bill Hull, Jesus Christ Disciple Maker (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1984), 235.

[9] Chuck Swindoll, Dropping Your Guard (Waco, TX: Word Incorporated, 1983), 22.

[10] Rod Dempsey, “Biblical Foundations,” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, DSMN 630, Course Content, Week Two Video Presentation, 7:58. (accessed May 22, 2017).

[11] Dempsey and Earley, Leading Healthy Growing Multiplying Small Groups, 26.

[12] Jeff Tunnell, “Biblical Values and Time-tested Principles,” Joel Comiskey Group Website, http://joelcomiskeygroup.com/blog_2/2011/09/19/biblical-values-and-time-tested-principles-2/ (accessed May 22, 2017).

[13] Tunnell, “Biblical Values and Time-tested Principles.”

[14] Joel Comiskey. Biblical Foundations for the Cell-Based Church: New Testament Insights for the 21st Century Church (Moreno Valley, CA: CCS Publishing, 2016), 82.

[15] Rod Dempsey, “Transitioning to Small Groups,” DSMN 630, Course Content, Week Six: 1.

[16] Dempsey and Earley, Leading Healthy Growing Multiplying Small Groups, 182.

[17] Rod Dempsey, “Transitioning to Small Groups,” DSMN 630, Course Content, Week Six: 2.

[18] Dempsey and Earley, Leading Healthy Growing Multiplying Small Groups, 183.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Rod Dempsey, “Transitioning to Small Groups,” DSMN 630, Course Content, Week Six: 2.

[21] Dempsey and Earley, Leading Healthy Growing Multiplying Small Groups, 31-32.

[22] Rod Dempsey, “What is a Group,” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, DSMN 630, Course Content, Week Three Video Presentation, 7:08. (accessed June 2, 2017).

[23] Dempsey and Earley, Leading Healthy Growing Multiplying Small Groups, 32.

[24] Ibid., 33.

[25] Rod Dempsey, “Transitioning to Small Groups,” DSMN 630, Course Content, Week Six: 2-3.

[26] Rod Dempsey, “Why Lead a Group,” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, DSMN 630, Course Content, Week One Video Presentation, 9:33. (accessed May 15, 2017).

[27] Dempsey and Earley, Leading Healthy Growing Multiplying Small Groups, 115.

[28] Rod Dempsey, “Group Multiplication,” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, DSMN 630, Course Content, Week Seven Video Presentation, 5:57. (accessed June 25, 2017).

[29] Rod Dempsey, “How to Develop Leaders,” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, DSMN 630, Course Content, Week Four Video Presentation, 6:35. (accessed June 5, 2017).

[30] Dempsey and Earley, Leading Healthy Growing Multiplying Small Groups, 66.

[31] Ibid., 67.

[32] Comiskey, Biblical Foundations for the Cell-Based Church, 121.

[33] Ibid., 126.

[34] Priscilla Romans 16:3; Mary 16:6; Junias 16:12; Tryphena, Tryphosa, Persis 16:12; Julia 16:15

[35] Comiskey, Biblical Foundations for the Cell-Based Church, 185.

[36] Dempsey and Earley, Leading Healthy Growing Multiplying Small Groups, 69.

[37] Ibid., 70.

[38] Arnold, The Big Book on Small Groups, 31.

[39] Ibid., 34.

[40] Arnold, The Big Book on Small Groups, 37.

[41] Earley and Dempsey, Leading Healthy Growing Multiplying Small Groups, 45-46.

[42] Ibid., 46.

[43] Arnold, The Big Book on Small Groups, 38.

[44] Arnold, The Big Book on Small Groups, 39.

[45] Rod Dempsey, “How to Transition to a Small Group System,” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, DSMN 630, Course Content, Week Eight Video Presentation, 8:17. (accessed June 29, 2017).

Case Study for Growing Churches in America

churchgrowth

Measuring growth and success in churches is not something new, but given the major shift currently taking place in Christianity’s center, moving from America to nations like: Africa, South America, and parts of Asia, there has been a special emphasis on what is working and what is not working in churches in the United States. Additionally, as Joe Carter illustrates, “Mainliners may try to comfort themselves by claiming that every denomination is in decline, but it is simply not true. While conservative churches are not growing as quickly as they once were, mainline churches are on a path toward extinction. The mainline churches are finding that as they move further away from biblical Christianity, the closer they get to their inevitable demise.”[1] Growth and success can be misleading words, so a proper definition must be established for both. In many cases, growth is assigned to the numerical attendance, while success points more towards community impact, spiritual formation/development, and reproducing disciples. For the purposes of this case study, three of the top five churches, when looking at numerical growth will be evaluated, compared, and contrasted.[2] By looking at the vision and mission of each church, core doctrines, and values, special areas of ministry will be highlighted and gauged to see if one’s numerical growth is representative of their success.

EVALUATION OF CHURCHES

Gateway Fellowship Church, in San Antonio, Texas is the fastest numerical growing church in the United States with an average attendance of 2,332 people, up 187% over the previous year. Virtually doubling in size over the course of a year is not the norm, but Gateway’s senior pastor; John Van Pay attributes this growth to their passion for discipleship. Van Pay says, “We follow a simple process of discipleship, in which friends are encouraged to belong to a small group so they can grow and be sent to start new small groups where disciples are made.”[3] Small group ministry appears to be the primary focus of Gateway Fellowship Church because small groups present the best environment to form friendships, spiritual formation, and reproducing disciples. At the core of Gateway’s vision is love because, “Love finds a need and meets it.” Other areas to serve center around meeting the needs of: single parents, first responders, the poor and elderly, inner-city ministries, and orphan/foster care programs.

Gateway’s website is very well organized, especially for the first time visitor. In addition to stating their doctrine of faith, their core values center on being: “Spiritually Engaged by Walking With Jesus, Having Passionate Purpose, Through the Making of Disciples, and Being Relationally Connected by Resolving Conflict Biblically.”[4] Getting people plugged into ministry, meeting the needs of others, and serving are the driving forces of their marketing efforts and this is likely one of the primary reasons for their tremendous growth.

Red Rocks Church, in Littleton, Colorado ranks fourth in terms of numerical growth. Current attendance is 9,624, up 26% over last year. Founded in 2005, senior pastor Shawn Johnson credits the church’s growth to, “Pursuing God, Making Him Known, Living in Gospel-Centered Community, Serving with Purpose, and Multiplying Disciples.”[5] What makes this church stand out from any other was their choice to use a run-down theme park to plant the church. Pastor Johnson gives God the complete glory for, “Turning this remote and awkward location into a place where people are able to pray, sacrifice, serve, give, and go for the sake of making heaven more crowded.”

Red Rocks Church, “Exists to make Heaven more crowded.”[6] Getting people plugged in and involved in ministry seems to be the primary focus and intent of the website. Their motto is: “One church, with four ways to get involved: Group Life, Sports, Care, and Serving. Pastor Johnson says, ‘Authenticity and transparency are vital for forming relationships and making the Word of God come alive.’”[7] This mindset is not the norm in many churches or pulpits, but this writer believes it is vital for the congregation to know they are not alone in their struggles, trials, and temptations.

Church of the Highlands, in Birmingham, Alabama is the fifth fastest growing church in America, with attendance of 38,346, up 24% over last year, making them the second largest church in America. Pastor Chris Hodges explains, “Our story begins with the dream of planting a church with a simple goal: ‘help people connect with God in a church without letting structure and programs get in the way.’”[8] The main focus of Church of the Highlands is: “Relevant teaching, heartfelt worship, honest friendships, constant prayer, and compassionate care for others. These focuses help Church of the Highlands line up every ministry with the vision and mission, to make sure all efforts maximize people in becoming fully devoted followers of Christ.

Church of the Highland’s website is easy to navigate and despite the large size of the church and multiple campuses, it was not overwhelming finding a growth track or area of ministry/fellowship to get plugged into. Pastor Hodges, “Co-founded ARC (Association of Related Churches) in 2001, which has launched hundreds of churches all across the USA. He also founded a coaching network called GROW, which trains and resources pastors to help them break barriers and reach their growth potential. Hodges is also the founder and President of the Highlands College, a ministry training school that trains and launches students into full-time ministry careers.”[9] These endeavors, coupled with the Highland’s Growth Track, “Guides you to discover your redemptive purpose and live the life God created for you. The Growth Track is made up of four steps that equip you to 1) connect to the church, 2) discover the strengths of your purposeful design, 3) develop your personal leadership, and 4) use your God-given gifts to make a difference in the lives of others.”[10] In addition to the great growth track, Highland’s Small Groups have one, simple purpose: “To bring people together. We believe God created us to live in relationship with others and only then can we live the full life He intends for us. Sharing life through community is part of our design, but meaningful relationships are not always easy to find. That is why small groups exist—to make these life-changing relationships relevant and accessible to you.”[11] Training, equipping, and empowering their members to do the work of the church is one of the primary reasons for this church’s numerical growth and spiritual health and vitality. The one area that really stood out, when looking through the website was not only their commitment to those who called Highlands their home church, but also to pastors and leaders in other churches, who are looking for resources and/or training.[12] In a climate of church versus church or denomination versus denomination, it was truly refreshing to see a body of believers committed to fulfilling the Great Commission, in partnership with other churches.

COMPARE AND CONTRAST

It was very enlightening looking at the various similarities and differences among some of the fastest growing churches in America. While numerical growth was the determining factor used in the survey, it seems evident the spiritual formation and discipleship for all churches cited are on point with their numerical growth. In recent years, there has been a much-needed shift from focusing on church membership to getting people plugged into ministry and serving. When this occurs, there is a transformation that happens in the life of the believer as he or she taps into their God-given potential. There also seems to be a common thread in all of these churches using small group ministry as the primary place where discipleship, spiritual formation, and relationships are formed. These three areas are vital when assessing the health of a church and also contribute to the spiritual/numerical growth of the church. Each of the churches cited above also offer Española as a ministry and service offered, which is something many new churches have identified as an important outreach. Ultimately, understanding the demographics in one’s area is critical when determining what areas of ministry will be offered. In addition, each of the churches had a clear vision and mission and every area of ministry offered either supported or helped achieve the specific vision or mission. Much of the ministries listed were laity led, which is another trend in many churches and points back to equipping the body of the church to do the work of the church. The sad reality is twenty percent of most church attenders are doing eighty percent of the work, and without a paradigm shift, many leaders and volunteers will burnout because others either refuse or feel ill-equipped to serve. In each of the growing churches, the growth track helped identify the areas of service people were suited for and serving was made a priority for all churches listed. The problem many churches face is how to get the remaining eighty percent of seat warmers to become actively engaged in serving in some form of ministry. For churches that have been around for over five to ten years, this is an ever-increasing dilemma, but one that must be addressed if growth is going to occur. It is all about getting the right people on the bus and in the right seat, and sometimes that means there are people that need to get off the bus because he or she is limiting progress and growth.

CONCLUSION

As Ed Stetzer demonstrates, “Growing churches are showing a great commitment to multiplying themselves, as we see in the development of multiple campuses, and this commitment to multiplication often creates a need for sacrifice. Sacrifice is inherent to the experience of every growing believer—and every growing church.”[13] Sacrifice is also needed for church growth and kingdom growth and churches that understand this principle are poised for God to do great things in and through their congregation. It is sad to say many congregations have the mindset that everything should be about them, while the exact opposite is true. Every service and every ministry must be geared towards the first time visitor and to the people who are not yet serving. The missing catalyst to growth in many churches is helping people discover and refine their areas of spiritual gifting and then plugging them into ministry where he or she can reach their God-given potential in advancing the kingdom of God. This assignment is something every church leader should research and then determine if the vision and mission of their church lines up with the various forms of ministry and fellowship being offered. For some, it will be a wake-up call, while for others, it will help refine and correctly target where God is leading them.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Carter, Joe. “Are All Christian Denominations in Decline?” March 17, 2015. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/factchecker-are-all-christian-denominations-in-decline (accessed June 8, 2015).

Christianity Today Website. “Trends Among Growing Churches.” September 24, 2013 http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2013/september/sacrifice-is-trending.html (accessed June 8, 2017).

Church of the Highlands Website. https://www.churchofthehighlands.com (accessed June 8, 2017).

Gateway Fellowship Church Website. https://mygateway.tv/ (accessed June 7, 2017).

Outreach Magazine Website. http://www.outreachmagazine.com/outreach-100-fastest-growing-churches-2016.html (accessed June 7, 2017).

Red Rocks Church Website. http://www.redrockschurch.com/ (accessed June 8, 2017).

[1] Joe Carter, “Are All Christian Denominations in Decline?” March 17, 2015. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/factchecker-are-all-christian-denominations-in-decline (accessed June 8, 2015).

[2] Outreach Magazine Website, http://www.outreachmagazine.com/outreach-100-fastest-growing-churches-2016.html (accessed June 7, 2017).

[3] Outreach Magazine Website, http://www.outreachmagazine.com/view-2016-top-100-church.html?id=101 (accessed June 8, 2017).

[4] Gateway Fellowship Church Website, https://mygateway.tv/ (accessed June 7, 2017).

[5] Outreach Magazine Website, http://www.outreachmagazine.com/view-2016-top-100-church.html?id=40 (accessed June 8, 2017).

[6] Red Rocks Church Website, http://www.redrockschurch.com/ (accessed June 8, 2017).

[7] Red Rocks Church Website, http://www.redrockschurch.com/learn-more/ (accessed June 8, 2017).

[8] Outreach Magazine Website, http://www.outreachmagazine.com/view-2016-top-100-church.html?id=2 (accessed June 8, 2017).

[9] Church of the Highlands Website, https://www.churchofthehighlands.com/about/pastor (accessed June 8, 2017).

[10] Church of the Highlands Website, https://www.churchofthehighlands.com/connect/growth-track (accessed June 8, 2017).

[11] Church of the Highlands Website, https://www.churchofthehighlands.com/groups (accessed June 8, 2017).

[12] Church of the Highlands Website, https://growleader.com/ (accessed June 8, 2017).

[13] Christianity Today Website, “Trends Among Growing Churches,” September 24, 2013 http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2013/september/sacrifice-is-trending.html (accessed June 8, 2017).

Small Group Leadership

small group leader training

As Rod Dempsey asserts, “Anyone who knows Christ can be a leader, since being a leader is all about influence.”[1] Within the framework of small groups, Dempsey and Dave Earley identify three key leadership positions. The first is the small group leader who, “Understands their job is to serve and empower [the attendees] to ‘be all they can be’ for Christ. The small group leader [also] selects the curriculum, finds a good location to meet, and chooses an apprentice who will be trained to start a new group.”[2] The second leadership position in a small group is the apprentice who is basically a small group leader in training, with the goal of leading his or her own small group within several months. The apprentice is involved with all areas of planning and leadership, to provide the best chance for success when facilitating his or her own small group. The third leadership position in a small group is the host, who are primarily responsible for making attendees feel welcome. Dempsey and Earley illustrate hosts are, “Vital to making the small group experience a good one for everyone who comes to their home and [when these three positions are] involved in the planning, preparation, and execution of small groups, the groups have a much better chance for healthy growth and multiplication.”[3]

In addition to the three leadership positions, Dempsey and Earley cite three components/streams that when employed combine to form one powerful, moving force. The first is the biblical stream, made up of the qualities found in Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3, which relate to the leader’s values and being blameless. This “Means that he [or she] does not have any major spiritual area that could come into question or attack from the enemy.”[4] The second component is the spiritual stream, which is rooted in an understanding and execution of the first stream. This stream is composed of: prayer, spiritual gifts, fruit of the Spirit, armor of God, and Spirit of God. Dempsey and Earley explain, “Many leaders are one the front lines of the battle, but they may not be aware of the [spiritual] weapons and armor that they have as soldiers of the King. Another challenge is that many leaders may be aware of the tools they have at their disposal, but they may not be skilled in using the spiritual arsenal.”[5] The third component is the practical stream, which as Dempsey and Earley demonstrate allows, “The small group leader to receive a vision from God and communicate it clearly to the people entrusted to his or her care.” This stream is made up of: planning, organizing, communicating, training, mentoring, multiplying and vision casting.

Dempsey and Earley provide eight habits, which will enhance the effectiveness of small group leaders and will, “Create a path that leads to fruitfulness, and multiplication, helping leaders, and those under them, experience greater fulfillment in ministry.”[6] They are as follows:

(1) Dream of leading a healthy, growing, multiplying group. (2) Pray for your group members daily. (3) Invite new people to visit your group weekly. (4) Contact your group members regularly. (5) Prepare for your group meetings. (6) Mentor an apprentice leader. (7) Plan group fellowship activities. (8) Be committed to your own personal growth.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Dempsey, Rod and Dave Earley. Leading Healthy Growing Multiplying Small Groups. Lynchburg, VA: Liberty University Press, 2016.

Dempsey, Rod. “How to Develop Leaders,” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, DSMN 630, Course Content, Week Four Video Presentation, 6:35. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_364001_1&content_id=_17196596_1 (accessed June 5, 2017).

 

[1] Rod Dempsey, “How to Develop Leaders,” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, DSMN 630, Course Content, Week Four Video Presentation, 6:35. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_364001_1&content_id=_17196596_1 (accessed June 5, 2017).

[2] Rod Dempsey and Dave Earley, Leading Healthy Growing Multiplying Small Groups (Lynchburg, VA: Liberty University Press, 2016), 66.

[3] Dempsey and Earley, Leading Healthy Growing Multiplying Small Groups, 67.

[4] Ibid., 69.

[5] Ibid., 70.

[6] Dempsey and Earley, Leading Healthy Growing Multiplying Small Groups, 115.

Definition and Focus of Small Groups

small-group

Small groups are playing a major role in the advancement of the gospel and the spiritual formation of believers. Relationships are key in this process and are extremely difficult to form during weekly services, making small groups the ideal venue for discipleship and ministry efforts. Groups can vary in size, they can be open or closed, and they can meet at the church or off campus. The beauty of small groups is the fluidity of each group’s dynamics. Ideal groups will stay under forty people; otherwise, the group members will not be able to fully express his or her views and each member’s spiritual gifts cannot be utilized when the group gets too large. The overreaching goal of small groups is to function as the body of Christ, essentially becoming His hands and feet in various forms of ministry, by serving both the community and each other.

DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A CLIQUE AND A SMALL GROUP

According to Jeffrey Arnold, “A small group is intent on participating with Christ in building His ever-expanding kingdom in the hearts of individuals, in the life of the group, and through believers, into the world.”[1] Conversely, cliques are characterized by the inward, unfocused, and random nature of undisciplined groups, which are scattered throughout the church, with no emphasis on the Bible or biblical living. Arnold then stresses the importance of small groups saying, “If we do not focus on returning to our biblical roots by building intentional community, we will miss the greatest lessons that our faith offers. As we observed with Jesus, disciples are best made in community. Unlike cliques, these communities are intentionally small, outward in focus, and intent on participating with Christ in the building of His kingdom.”[2] Over time, if small groups do not stay focused on kingdom living and godly principles, they will crystallize, making it difficult for anyone new to join the group, which ultimately turns what used to be a small group into a clique. These cliques are like cancerous cells within the church and can wreak havoc if not brought under the umbrella of God’s grace and realigned to fulfill the Great Commission by enacting the Great Commandment.

DEFINITION OF G.R.O.U.P.

Dempsey and Earley use the acrostic G.R.O.U.P. to demonstrate the necessary components small groups must possess. Guided by a leader is the first objective as, “Everything rises and falls on leadership…[And] in order for a group to be successful, the leader of the group needs to view their role as drawing out the new creation God has in mind for every individual in the group.”[3] Regular meeting times are vital to the success of small groups and Dempsey believes, “Meeting weekly is best, so people can gather to serve and share God’s love and gifts with one another and with the world.”[4] Opening God’s Word is mandatory in small groups due to the Bible’s power to change people’s lives from the inside out (Hebrews 4:12; Romans 12:2). Dempsey illustrates, “Studying and applying the Word of God has the power to change us from what we are into what God has in mind for us.”[5] United in service is rooted in the Great Commandment (John 13:34-35). Dempsey explains, “Spiritual gifts are designed to strengthen the body of Christ and to serve the world… [And] every believer has at least one spiritual gift to build up the body of Christ and to minister and serve others.”[6] Prayer for one another is what separates a Christ-centered group from a civic club. As Jerry Falwell so brilliantly put it, “Nothing of eternal significance ever happens apart from prayer,” making this a necessary component to any successful small group ministry. In addition, as Joel Comiskey emphasizes:

To continue to lead a group, multiply that group, and care for the new leaders as a coach, you need Christ’s light and easy yoke. Avoid the common cell leader sins that will damage or even kill your ministry. Make feasible goals; use your team; discover where God’s working, and persist until you see breakthroughs. With this kind of ministry, you will be able to avoid burnout and continue a fruitful cell ministry throughout your life.[7]

FOUR QUESTIONS RELATED TO GROUPS AND CHURCH

Are we introducing Christian disciplines into our small groupings? This is an area many small groups fail to fully utilize because Christian disciplines are more caught than taught and small groups present the best opportunity to learn these disciplines because the members of the group typically spend more time together. If Christian disciplines are not being introduced in small group settings, this is huge missed opportunity to instill key traits in the lives of the other members. Behavior is often emulated, so there must an intentional focus on mentoring and training members of a small group in biblical disciplines.

Are our small groupings building the kingdom or hindering the kingdom? This should be the question one must answer in every form of ministry the church is involved with. If an event or ministry does not line up with the vision and mission of the church, it should not be done. With this mindset, small groups only hinder the kingdom when they crystallize and are merely cliques or when the small groups do not receive full endorsement from the lead pastor. A church of small groups or a church that is small groups will be much more impactful than a church with small groups. Small groups are essentially a mini-version of the larger body of Christ, so the vision and mission of the larger body should be portrayed in the small group DNA as well. However, as Comiskey illustrates, “Small groups and cells have become commodities in today’s church. When someone mentions a cell, what registers is a Bible study, a social gathering, a Sunday school class or anything else (small and a group). And many cell models are even adding to this thinking by liberally sprinkling the word cell over all groups in their church.”[8] This paradigm must change for biblical small groups to have the most impact in advancing the gospel.

Are we training leaders who bring Christian disciplines into small groupings? The sad reality to this question is no. Unfortunately, there are a great many opportunities being missed by not training the younger generations up and mentoring them, so they then too can mentor those who will become leaders one day in the future. Age segregated ministries is detrimental to this process, as many generations have little to no interaction. However, in the small group environment, there is an opportunity to become multi-generational and intentional in training future leaders.

 Is our entire congregation working to develop a disciplined small group mentality? If there is not congregational buy-in, especially as it pertains to developing a disciplined small group mentality, any model will ultimately fail. Churches of small groups and church who are small groups stand a better chance to develop this healthy mentality because it is a major indicator of the church’s health as well. A strong case can be made that churches with an emphasis on small groups stand a much better chance of developing a disciplined small group mentality.

INWARD, OUTWARD, AND UPWARD CONCEPTS AND CONTEXT

Arnold presents one of the best models this writer has come across when looking at the role and dynamics of small groups, especially when one takes into consideration the 80/20 principle he highlights. In many churches, it is probably closer to 85/15, where fifteen percent of the members are doing eighty-five percent of the work, and this generally translates to giving as well. The interesting principle Arnold illustrates is, “As members of the body, we are reliant on one another and on Christ, and mutually responsible to use whatever contribution we make to grow the body into maturity.”[9] If a part of the human body is dead, it is surgically removed, but in the church, the eighty to eighty-five percent of people who sit idly by taking up passive roles are not treated like a dead or diseased appendage would be. This illustration is profound and to ultimately engage those who are not currently serving or active in the church, small groups are the answer, as long as the groups are healthy, by reaching inward, outward, and upward.

When a group reaches inward, the focus is on group care. Arnold demonstrates how, “Groups provide love and care for their members in many ways [and] a loving community offers members a positive body life experience by engaging people in the discovery of their spiritual gifts, developing the lay leadership of the church, and caring for its members.”[10] There is something so empowering about finding one’s gifting and then engaging in ministry fulfilling the role God has called the person to. However, without an environment to first define and second to refine the areas of spiritual gifting(s), many people never reach his or her full potential. In addition to equipping individuals with various giftings, the spiritual maturity of the individual is also a byproduct, which further refines his or her discipline and produces great future leaders. For large churches especially, this inward focus is vital because congregational care, unknown, and unmet needs are a daily occurrence. With a focus on small groups, this is an amazing step in making people truly feel cared for and also provides an area of ministry for other members with the gift(s) of prayer, comfort, love, and compassion.

As groups focus on reaching upward, this cultivates an attitude of nurture and worship. Nurturing allows members to not only get to know one another better, but it lays the foundation and vision for the group to help people get connected to God. Doing life together is an amazing experience and this sense of community is hardwired into humanity. God created His children with this desire to love and be loved by. As small groups develop times of fellowship and walk through trials and circumstances, opportunities to pray and grow their faith are presented. As a result of answered prayers and faith in God’s plans, thanksgiving and praise are the appropriate response. Arnold demonstrates, “When enough people in a congregation start experiencing these worship moments, the entire church begins to change. Spiritual renewal that begins in groups can begin to create revival in the larger body of Christ.”[11] However, neglecting the power of worship is one of the main reasons Dempsey and Earley cite for groups failing to reach their full potential, stressing, “Worship is a moral obligation and a natural response to the absolute worth of God. Worship completes us, is transforming, puts life back into perspective, and intensifies the presence and therefore the activity of God.”[12] Dempsey and Earley could not be more correct on the power of prayer, as they illustrate, “God often manifests His presence in proportion to our expressed recognition of our need and love for Him.”[13]

When groups begin to reach outward through acts of service and evangelism, they reach their full potential. As Arnold explains, “One of the inherent weaknesses in any small grouping of people is the natural tendency to maintain an inward focus (care), ignoring the outward focus (service and evangelism)… [making] the outward focus the most difficult group discipline to cultivate.”[14] Arnold clarifies how evangelism then leads to both spiritual and numerical growth as healthy groups work to attach people deeply to their God and show them how to minister to the world. Ultimately, as Arnold explains, “Biblical evangelism is not a program but a person-to-person process of sharing the good news about forgiveness of sin and new life in Jesus. Because small groups are likely to be the most personal setting offered by a church, they are natural places for this kind of evangelism to take place.”[15]

CONCLUSION

Leading healthy small groups is the key to building the church. Much can be learned from the early church model, as people regularly met together in each other’s homes, sharing meals together, providing the apostles and early church teachers the perfect environment to fulfill the Great Commission, by encouraging one another to live their lives with love for one another, and faith and obedience to God. The process of making disciples largely rests on making relationships a priority and this means putting the needs of others ahead of our own. This outward focus is the ultimate goal every individual and small group should be working towards in their walk with Christ.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Arnold, Jeffrey. The Big Book on Small Groups. Rev. ed. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004.

Comiskey, Joel. Biblical Foundations for the Cell-Based Church: New Testament Insights for the 21st Century Church. Moreno Valley, CA: CCS Publishing, 2016.

_______. “What is a Cell Church?” http://www.joelcomiskeygroup.com/resources/cell_basics/en_leader_deadlysins.html (accessed June 2, 2017).

________. “What is a Cell Group?” http://joelcomiskeygroup.com/resources/cell_basics/en_whatisacellgroup.html (accessed June 2, 2017).

Earley, Dave and Rod Dempsey. Leading Healthy Growing Multiplying Small Groups. Lynchburg, VA: Liberty University Press, 2016.

Dempsey, Rod. “What is a Group?” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, DSMN 630, Course Content, Week Three Video Presentation, 7:08. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_364001_1&content_id=_17196591_1 (accessed June 2, 2017).

House, Brad. Community: Taking Your Small Group Off Life Support. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishing, 2011.

[1] Jeffrey Arnold, The Big Book on Small Groups. Rev. ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 23.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Dave Earley and Rod Dempsey, Leading Healthy Growing Multiplying Small Groups (Lynchburg, VA: Liberty University Press, 2016), 31-32.

[4] Rod Dempsey, “What is a Group,” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, DSMN 630, Course Content, Week Three Video Presentation, 7:08. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_364001_1&content_id=_17196591_1 (accessed June 2, 2017).

[5] Earley and Dempsey, Leading Healthy Growing Multiplying Small Groups, 32.

[6] Ibid., 33.

[7] Joel Comiskey, “What is a Cell Church?” http://www.joelcomiskeygroup.com/resources/cell_basics/en_leader_deadlysins.html (accessed June 2, 2017).

[8] Joel Comiskey, “What is a Cell Group?” http://joelcomiskeygroup.com/resources/cell_basics/en_whatisacellgroup.html (accessed June 2, 2017).

[9] Arnold, The Big Book on Small Groups, 31.

[10] Ibid., 34.

[11] Arnold, The Big Book on Small Groups, 37.

[12] Earley and Dempsey, Leading Healthy Growing Multiplying Small Groups, 45-46.

[13] Ibid., 46.

[14] Arnold, The Big Book on Small Groups, 38.

[15] Ibid., 39.

Why Churches Need Small Groups

Small_Group_logo

Developing small group ministry in the church is important to both growth and discipleship, on the part of the believer, and the church as a whole. According to Rod Dempsey, “Leaders are grown in small groups, most successful churches have an emphasis on small groups, and small groups are a true representation of the body of Christ (Ephesians 1:23).”[1] Dempsey explains, “The church has a head; the head of the church is Jesus. The church has members that need to be connected to the head and connected to each other. And finally the church’s members need to serve one another and serve the community at large. Churches that are not functioning in this manner run the risk of becoming inward in their focus”[2] and inward-focused groups die. Dempsey then demonstrates the necessity of spending time with one another because there is a huge commitment needed to growing and sacrificing as a disciple of Christ. Jesus, Himself said, “Take up your cross,”(Matthew 16:24) illustrating the necessity of commitment and doing life together in small groups. Additionally, the relational aspect of following Christ means followers should join together as brothers and sisters in an attitude of love for one another. This was the identifying mark Jesus said would reveal His true disciples; by the love he or she showed the world (Matthew 22:36-40). Dempsey also points out, “The process must be intentional, individual, and missional in focus, as small groups have the potential to provide and create a perfect environment and context to develop people for God’s kingdom and for God’s glory.”[3]

One’s primary reason for wanting to develop small group ministry must be rooted in love and a desire to fulfill the commandments of the Lord. The Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) is a wonderful representation of what God calls every believer to do as followers of Christ. Earley and Dempsey further explain the importance of, “Loving God, loving one another, and loving our neighbor [because these] are universal principles. They will work anywhere, at any time, and in any political situation. The key to your success is to begin practicing the principles behind the commands Jesus gave us. Live your life purposefully for God and lead by example.”[4] Another important reason for developing small groups is found in the principle of multiplication. Earley and Dempsey illustrate the strongest churches in the world have tens of thousands of members in thousands of small groups. As humans, and with finite minds, it can oftentimes be hard to fathom the omnipotence of God and His marvelous plan of salvation and redemption. As a result, when most churches are planning areas of ministry, the addition of believers is used as the primary litmus test for success; however, God, as Earley and Dempsey convey, “Has given us an exponential plan to reach the world. The question is… are you following an addition or a multiplication plan? Why should you lead a group? That is easy: to follow His command to make disciples of all the nations.”[5] A final reason for forming small groups lies in the desire for community. As Jeffrey Arnold expounds, “Jesus Christ is our first and greatest model for how small groups can stimulate faith and growth in others… [Ultimately,] disciples are made intentionally, disciples are made to be like Christ, and disciples are made in relationships”[6] and there is no better place for these to occur than in a community made up of small groups.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Arnold, Jeffrey. The Big Book on Small Groups. Rev. ed. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004.

Comiskey, Joel. Biblical Foundations for the Cell-Based Church: New Testament Insights for the 21st Century Church. Moreno Valley, CA: CCS Publishing, 2016.

Earley, Dave and Rod Dempsey. Leading Healthy Growing Multiplying Small Groups. Lynchburg, VA: Liberty University Press, 2016.

Dempsey, Rod. “Why Lead a Group.” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, DSMN 630, Course Content, Week One Video Presentation, 9:33. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_364001_1&content_id=_17196581_1 (accessed May 15, 2017).

House, Brad. Community: Taking Your Small Group Off Life Support. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishing, 2011.

[1] Rod Dempsey, “Why Lead a Group,” Filmed [2013], Liberty University Website, DSMN 630, Course Content, Week One Video Presentation, 9:33. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_364001_1&content_id=_17196581_1 (accessed May 15, 2017).

[2] Dave Earley and Rod Dempsey, Leading Healthy Growing Multiplying Small Groups (Lynchburg, VA: Liberty University Press, 2016), 2.

[3] Dempsey, “Why Lead a Group.”

[4] Earley and Dempsey, Leading Healthy Growing Multiplying Small Groups, 10.

[5] Ibid., 10.

[6] Jeffrey Arnold, The Big Book on Small Groups. Rev. ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 18, 23-24.

 

Jesus and the Samaritan Woman Encounter

jesus-and-samaritan-woman-by-well

An analysis of the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well reveals Jesus’s Messiahship, it unveils His primary mission and purpose, and it also provides fundamental truths about worship, salvation, and the gift of eternal life, all of which are found only in and through Jesus Christ. Even more profound is how and why these truths were passed on to a woman, considered an outcast among her own people. It was through this divine encounter, Jesus overcame immense racial and cultural barriers, demonstrating a clear personification of the love He had for all people. It also opened the door to share the gospel with the Samaritans, leading to the salvation of many, and revealing the Messianic status of Jesus to a multitude of people.

GOSPEL OF JOHN OVERVIEW

Andreas Köstenberger demonstrates, “At the very outset, John’s Gospel claims to represent apostolic eyewitness testimony regarding Jesus’s earthly ministry,”[1] yet only eight percent of John’s Gospel is found in the Synoptic counterparts. The differences between the Synoptic Gospels and John’s Gospel are overwhelming, but perhaps the biggest difference is John’s interest in drawing out the theological implications of Jesus’s ministry and proving He was the Messiah. T. C. Smith demonstrates, “The author of the Fourth Gospel used the term Christ as a title for Jesus with two exceptions,[2] both referring to the name of Jesus similar to the way Paul used the expression Christ… and perhaps this is why he gives such a noticeable place for questions concerning Messiahship.”[3] John the Baptist’s denial that he was the Messiah further evidences this.[4] However, in contrast, Andrew ran to tell his brother Simon Peter/Cephas that he had discovered the Messiah.[5] Again, this revelation is seen after the encounter with the woman of Samaria, as she went to the people in her village, saying, “Is not this the Christ.”[6] Given proper context, it is important to understand that claiming to be the Messiah was punishable by excommunication or worse by the Jewish rulers, so this declaration was not taken lightly, however the people of the time anxiously awaited the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy[7] and Jewish officials would regularly ask Jesus if He was the promised Messiah.[8]

Two further points are important to note: first, the Samaritans did in fact believe in the future coming of the Messiah prophesied about and secondly, the poor relations between Jews and Samarians cannot be understated. The animosity dates back to the fall of the northern kingdom to the Assyrians. As a result, many Jews were taken off in bondage to Assyria, and outsiders were then brought in to tend the land and help keep the peace.[9] As a result, the intermarriage between the outsiders and the remaining Jews create a mixed race, an abomination in the eyes of Jews who still lived in the southern kingdom. The pure-blooded Jews hated this mixed race and considered them less than dogs, because they believed those who had intermarried betrayed God, their people, and the nation of Israel.[10]

Purpose of Signs

John’s use of signs highlighted the divinity and high Christology of Jesus and John 20:30-31 reveals the purpose of his Gospel: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.” Unfortunately, the unbelief of the people was tragic as John writes, “Though He had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in Him.”[11] Despite seeing miracle after miracle, the people were still spiritually blind, causing God to harden the hearts of the people who chose not to believe Jesus had come to save the world and restore Israel. Despite changing water into wine,[12] clearing the temple,[13] healing the nobleman’s son,[14] healing the lame man,[15] feeding the multitude,[16] healing the blind man,[17] and raising Lazarus from the dead,[18] the Jewish people and leadership rejected Israel’s Messiah and perpetrated His death. However, John’s recording of two drastically different encounters provides a clear lens to illuminate the Messianic status and mission of Jesus.

Purpose of Encounters

Chapters three and four in the Gospel of John record two very different encounters with Jesus. In chapter three, Jesus meets with Nicodemus, and in chapter four He speaks with a Samaritan Woman. Köstenberger explains and contrasts these encounters by pointing out that, “He was a Jew, she a Samaritan; he a respected member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council, she ostracized from society to the extent that she must draw water at the communal well in the heat of the noon hour when no one else would be there; he a rabbi, a Jewish religious teacher, she steeped in folklore and ignorant about religion; he a man, she a woman.”[19] Despite the vast differences, it is Nicodemus, the respected Jewish leader who fails to grasp Jesus’s words. Jesus was emphasizing the need for spiritual rebirth and regeneration, which only came through being born again/from above. Following the light and darkness theme John uses throughout his Gospel, he places this first encounter late at night, and then reveals how it ends only in doubt and misunderstanding. It is evident this encounter had no immediate impact on Nicodemus or any of his friends. During dealings with the Pharisees and Jews, Jesus would often speak in veiled terms, but during the second encounter, Jesus chooses to provide one of the clearest statements of His true identity to the Samaritan woman.[20]

The second encounter took place during the middle of the day and as Thomas Lea illustrates, “shows Jesus exhausted after His long journey,”[21] which highlights the humanity of Jesus. Then, immediately after Jesus reveals His true identity and purpose, the Samaritan woman goes back to her village to share her testimony, which led to the Samaritans receiving the Messiah as the Savior of the world.[22] Despite her past and present sin, it was she who saw Jesus with unveiled eyes as the Messiah. It is interesting to note, since both the Jews and the Samaritans awaited the coming Messiah, what stands these two encounters apart was the Samaritans were not looking for the coming Messiah to be a politician or military leader. This allowed Jesus to reveal His true identity as the “I Am” to the Samaritans.

The Interview with the Samaritan Woman

The most direct route from Judea to Galilee went through Samaria, but strict Jews, like the Pharisees, avoided Samaritan territory as often as possible. However, even though most Jews and Samaritans did not get along, Galilean Jews still would travel through Samaria rather than taking the longer route through Perea. In this account, John writes that Jesus “must” or “had to” travel through Samaria, which as Leon Morris illustrates shows, “The necessity lay in the nature of the mission of Jesus. John often uses the word ‘must’ of this mission.[23] The expression points to a compelling divine necessity. Jesus had come as ‘the light of the world.’[24] It was imperative that this light shine to others than Jews.”[25] Although Jesus initially focused His ministry on the nation of Israel, He did not exclude Gentiles. In fact, Jesus revealed Himself as the Messiah to this Samaritan woman very early in His ministry. Thomas Smythe demonstrates, “For a Jew to speak socially with a Samaritan would have been considered scandalous during Jesus’s day. The fact that this Samaritan was ‘immoral’ and a woman further strained the boundaries of acceptable mores.”[26] Frank E. Gaebelein further explains some other key details in this account, “the well of Jacob was located at the foot of Mount Gerizim, which was the center of Samaritan worship and the ‘sixth hour’ would probably have been about noon, which was an unusual time for women to come to a village well for water, so in consideration of her general character, the other women may have shunned her.”[27] Theologically, it is also important to note the Samaritans only regarded the Pentateuch as being divinely inspired and authoritative. Despite this fact, it was still a Samaritan who recognized Jesus as the prophesied Messiah.

All people are valuable to God

Ben Witherington III explains the customs of this time period insisted that, “Jewish men should speak little or not at all with women, especially strange women, in public places. This was all the more so in regard to women of ‘ill repute,’ [especially] Samaritan women who were regarded by rabbis as ‘menstruants from the womb’, i.e., unclean, untouchable, outcasts.”[28] Despite any customs, Jesus had left Judea out of a necessity to share His mission with Samaria and to declare Himself as the Messiah. It mattered little to Jesus what sins the Samaritan woman had committed, or the cultural divide that existed between Jews and Samaritans, so when Jesus spoke to her at the well asking for a drink, she was stunned and asked in return, “How is it that you, a Jew a for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” The implications are profound, but Jesus uses this opportunity to discuss one of the greatest truths of spiritual life: that of living water.[29] When the disciples return Witherington explains how in the disciples’ eyes, “Jesus had no business talking with this woman at the well. Jesus, however, not only speaks to her but also refuses to treat her as unclean, engaging her in one of the most significant theological discussions in the whole of the Fourth Gospel.”[30] This lesson further demonstrates while Jesus’s male disciples were busy scurrying for food that only temporarily satisfies, this woman would receive and proclaim the message from Jesus of a food and water that offers eternal life.[31] Witherington believes, “The Fourth Evangelist then sees the Samaritan woman as one who properly models the role of disciple — to the shame of the Twelve, [so] this implies that even such a woman, as she was a proper recipient of theological information and indeed a proper candidate for discipleship.”[32]

Jesus as living water and eternal life

When Jesus claimed He would provide living water, which would forever quench a person’s thirst, He was proclaiming Himself to be the Messiah. Initially, the Samaritan woman did not understand, which makes sense given most Old Testament references of thirsting for God as one thirsts for water occurred outside of the Pentateuch.[33] However, Jesus’s interaction with the Jews at the Feast of Tabernacles also came from the image of living water found in Numbers 28:7, Isaiah 58:11, and Isaiah 12:3. Wandering in the desert for forty years made water a necessity for survival, so when Jesus says, “Anyone who believes in Him will have rivers of living water,” it had deep implications of not mere survival, but overflowing abundance. Köstenberger shows these passages point to Jesus being the dispenser of the Holy Spirit, through whom those who come to Him for salvation will become abundant blessings to others.[34]

The Samaritan woman asked two important questions about this gift of living water: first she wanted to know where He would get this water and second, she wanted to know if Jesus considered Himself greater than Jacob, the very person who dug the well. To the first question, Köstenberger explains, “It is not so much that Jesus gives certain gifts – He Himself is the gift, [and] only He can satisfy people’s hunger, and only He can quench their thirst, not merely for material food and drink, but for spiritual sustenance.”[35] Jesus being “greater than” is a common theme in John’s Gospel,[36] but in this occurrence, Jesus was not only claiming to be greater than Jacob; He was also claiming to be the only way to quench thirst forever. This brings to light humanity’s physical needs being different from spiritual needs and how living water gives life. John Polhill demonstrates how, “Many interpreters would see this as a discourse on baptism, as an example of Johannine sacramentalism, but verse 14 rules out any reference to a mere external rite of water baptism. The ‘living water’ Jesus brings is a spring within one’s inner being, a life-renewing stream. The water is not literal but a metaphor for the new life that Christ brings.”[37] Matthew Henry then illustrates how, “Christ shows that the water of Jacob’s well yielded a very short satisfaction. Of whatever waters of comfort we drink, we shall thirst again. But whoever partakes of the Spirit of grace, and the comforts of the gospel, shall never want that which will abundantly satisfy his soul. Carnal hearts look no higher than carnal ends.”[38] The Samaritan woman was very interested in obtaining living water, if it meant she did not have to travel to the well everyday, but Jesus was speaking of so much more.

Need for true worship

After bringing the woman’s sins into the open, Craig Blomberg demonstrates how the woman, “On her own manages to call Jesus a ‘prophet’ and given the overlap in Samaritan theology between the prophet of Deuteronomy 18:18 and the Messiah, she may have begun to suspect something even more exalted about Jesus. This would certainly explain the transition to her next topic of interest in, which explicitly deals with the role of the coming Messiah.”[39]  Blomberg advances this belief explaining, “Still, it remains reasonable to infer that John sees the Samaritan woman as inside the kingdom, despite some ambivalence concerning her faith, whereas Nicodemus remains outside, however close to the truth he may have come.”[40]

After this declaration, the issue of where to worship is brought up as Jesus says, “You worship what you do not know.” Morris explains, “Though they worshipped the true God, the Samaritans did so very imperfectly. When we consider that they rejected the writings of the Prophets, the Psalms, the historical books of the Old Testament, and much more, we realize that their knowledge of God was, of necessity, very limited.”[41] Here, Jesus’s concern is with the nature of worship, meaning it is more important what is worshipped than where the worshipping occurs. This truth becomes even more evident upon the glorification of Christ, as He becomes the temple. Smith explains, in the controversy between Jesus and the Samaritan woman concerning the true place to worship, “Jesus responded with an affirmation that He was the Messiah. [This] aligned with the Samaritan concept of Taheb, which sets forth a future prophet like Moses who would speak about the commands of God. The Taheb[42] would be the prophet predicted by Moses and would be like Moses, whose function was to restore God’s pleasure to the Samaritans.[43]

 Now, Jesus is foreshadowing how worship will look after His atoning death. It must be done in spirit and truth as Morris explains, “True worshipers worship ‘in spirit and truth.’ Here, it is the human spirit that is in mind. One must worship, not simply outwardly by being in the right place and taking up the right attitude, but in one’s spirit. The combination ‘spirit and truth’ points to the need for complete sincerity and complete reality in our approach to God.”[44] Thus, worship centers both on doctrinal truth and complete devotion, which are guided by the Holy Spirit. Right on the heels of worship comes the topic of Messiahship, as the woman says she knows the Messiah, who is called Christ, is coming and when He comes, He will reveal all things. It is here Jesus makes several bold claims: (1) He claimed to be the Messiah; (2) He claimed to the great “I Am,” which was the name reserved only for God; and He claimed to be the One who would reveal all things. As proof, Jesus exposes the sin in her life and explains the only way to take care of the sin is to worship God in spirit and in truth. This meant dealing with God honestly and with an open heart.

Jesus’s explanation of evangelistic ministry 4:27-38

This seems to be the climax of the encounter as Jesus has just boldly proclaimed Himself as the Messiah saying, “I who speak to you am He.” Morris demonstrates, “There remains to be recounted only the effect of all this on others. John shows us both the surprise of the disciples and the evangelistic zeal of the woman. She bore such an effective testimony that people went out of the village to meet Jesus.”[45] Two things stand out here: first, the woman was an outcast to her own people, but the encounter with Jesus changed her to the point where the people of her village looked, listened, and believed what she said. Second, she was successful in her witness to the people and as a result many set out to see the Messiah. This is evangelism in its purest sense.

Disciples’ response to interaction

Upon returning, the disciples were marveled to see Jesus engaged in conversation with a woman, as this went against all customs and teaching, but as Morris explains, “Though the disciples were astonished, they did not question the action of the woman (the first hypothetical question) or that of their Master (the second). They had learned enough to know that, while Jesus did not always respect the conventions of the rabbis, He always had good reasons for what He did.”[46]

Work of Jesus and will of God

A common occurrence in John’s Gospel is the use of misunderstandings to teach profound lessons. In this scenario, the disciples have just returned from town where they most likely went to buy food. Upon arriving back at the well, Jesus says, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” This must have been difficult to comprehend, just as the principle of living water was initially beyond comprehension for the Samaritan woman. Jesus then says to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to accomplish His work.” In this example, D.A. Carson illustrates, “Jesus is almost certainly echoing Deuteronomy 8:3, where Moses addresses Israel and seeks to explain God’s way to them: ‘He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.’”[47]

The important concept Jesus is teaching here is every believer’s life should be centered upon the will and work of God. In day-to-day life, losing focus of the spiritual and being consumed by the physical causes a divide between earthly things and heavenly things. Jesus had just told the Samaritan woman about spiritual living water, and He also told the disciples He had food from another source, but they are still only concerned with the physical needs of Jesus. This demonstrates their lack of spiritual depth at this point in the metanarrative and clearly shows a lack of focus on Christ’s mission of salvation. Christ wanted His disciples to seek spiritual nourishment before tending to His physical needs, and this could only happen by seeking and doing the will and work of God. On the cross, Christ finished the work He was sent to accomplish and now He calls all believers to live in obedience and perseverance until the work and will of God is fully realized.

Köstenberger further demonstrates, “When the Samaritan woman leaves to tell the townspeople about Jesus, this creates a window of opportunity for Jesus, which He promptly uses to instruct His disciples about their role in the Messianic mission.”[48] In this discourse, Jesus is demonstrating the important principles of sowing and reaping. When doing the work of the ministry, Jesus demonstrates the importance of meeting the most basic needs first. In the disciples’ case, this was purchasing food and in the Samaritan woman’s case it was retrieving water. Upon meeting the physical needs, the door to meeting the spiritual needs opens. During the interaction, as Köstenberger illustrates, “Jesus develops water symbolism in the direction of His ability to give eternal life (evangelism); in talking with His disciples, He talks about His mission and how they have entered it (discipleship).”[49] One sows and another reaps, so here Jesus is explaining the spiritual harvest season has arrived and every believer has been sent to play a part in sowing seeds, producing fruit, and reaping the harvest.

The response to Jesus in Samaria 4:39-42

John writes many Samaritans from the town believed Jesus to be the Messiah and this was largely because of the woman’s testimony. The Samaritans believed the coming Messiah would reveal all things[50] and since Jesus had told the Samaritan woman all she had ever done, many believed. Gaebelein indicates two necessary and interrelated bases for belief:

(1) The testimony of others, and (2) personal contact with Jesus. This woman’s witness opened the way to Him for the villagers. If He could penetrate the shell of her materialism and present a message that would transform her, the Samaritans also could believe that He might be the Messiah. That stage of belief was only introductory, however. The second stage was hearing Him for themselves, and it brought them to the settled conviction expressed in “we know.”[51]

This progression clearly shows the development of the Samaritans’ faith. Initially the Samaritans’ belief was rooted in the testimony of the Samaritan woman, but it soon advanced based upon their own personal encounter with the Messiah.

Messianic status of Jesus shown

The proclamation of Jesus’s Messianic status was a lengthy process, one in which Jesus frequently kept out of the public, especially in the Synoptic Gospel accounts. Despite this, Everett Harrison illustrates how, “Andrew’s use of Messiah in reference to Jesus stems from his association with the Baptist and Jesus’s use of Messiah in the presence of the Samaritan woman creates no real difficulty, since the barrier between Samaritans and Jews would prevent the saying from being heralded abroad.”[52] John the Baptist openly denied he was the Messiah when questioned by Pharisees, but it is clear from John 3:26-28 that John knew Jesus to be the Messiah and John the Baptist clearly understood his role as being the forerunner for Christ.

Merrill Tenney shows, “Jesus affirmed His Messiahship when He told the Samaritan woman, “I who speak to you am He.” When she announced to the town her belief, they listened to Him, and then believed, saying, ‘Now we know; this is the Savior of the world.’ Their equation of Messiah and Savior indicates their estimate of Him was theological, not political.”[53]

Smith then shows, “It was the intent of the Evangelist to prove to his readers that Jesus was Messiah [because] among the Jews ‘The Messiah’ had a definite meaning. They looked for a descendant of David who was a powerful person, a warrior and a hero who would deliver them from their oppressors, the Romans, and usher in an era of prosperity and peace.”[54] This was in sharp contrast to what the Samaritans were looking for, since their core doctrine came only from the Pentateuch. The Jews of the time could not understand the concept of a suffering Messiah, which caused many to be spiritually blind.

Mission and purpose of Jesus

Matthew Poole emphasizes, “What our Savior spoke metaphorically, comparing His grace, or His Spirit, or the doctrine of His gospel, to living water, this poor woman [initially] understood as being literal. So ignorant are persons of spiritual things, till the Holy Spirit of God enlightens them.”[55] The Samaritan woman moved from thinking of things strictly on the physical level to being able to comprehend them on a spiritual level. This allowed her to see the spiritual counterpart of eternal life and she then leaves her water jar at the well. Robert Hughes shows how, “The gift of living water relates to the gift of life-giving bread from heaven and the ongoing theme of Israel in the wilderness. Spiritual thirst and hunger are only satisfied by the living water and bread from heaven.”[56] D.A. Carson further demonstrates how this gift was to be spread:

Those who read John in light of antecedent Scripture cannot help but think of the prophecies that anticipate the extension of the saving reign of God to the farthest corner of the earth. It was appropriate that the title ‘Savior of the world’ should be applied to Jesus in the context of ministry to Samaritans, representing the first cross-cultural evangelism, undertaken by Jesus Himself and issuing in a pattern to be followed by the church: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”[57]

There was a sense of urgency as Jesus revealed His mission, which would soon be passed on to His disciples. Morris explains, “The disciples must not lazily relax, comfortable in the thought that there is no need to bestir themselves. The fields are ready for harvest. There may even be the thought the kind of harvest in which they were engaged there is no necessary interval between sowing and reaping. The disciples must then acquire a sense of urgency in their task.”[58]

Power of testimony

Regardless of the Samaritan woman’s past, she immediately shares her testimony with others. This transformation and action is the model Jesus is passing on and Scripture indicates, by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony[59] believers’ willingness to proclaim the message overcame even the natural fear of death.”[60] It is evident that at some point in the Samaritan woman’s past a seed was sown for her to have knowledge of the Messiah, and during her encounter, Jesus reaped her soul, which led to the further reaping of many others.

Samaritan’s Response and Salvation of a City

Köstenberger recognizes but rejects the possibility that the Samaritan story can function as a romantic picture of Yahweh’s wooing back to Himself wayward Samaritans, but some of the similar characteristics are undeniable. He cites several elements reminiscent of a wayward Israel:

(1) Jesus is called a bridegroom in the pericope immediately preceding this incident;[61] (2) the well (v. 6), Jesus’s request for a drink (v. 7), and the reference to food afterward (v. 32) frames the story as a betrothal type-scene;[62] (3) the Samaritan woman is depicted as sexually wayward, with five husbands, much like the Samaritans who prostituted themselves with the gods of five nations;[63] and (4) the story ends with a reunion—the Samaritans embrace the bridegroom (vv. 39–42).[64]

Samaritans “believed”

To “believe” here means the Samaritans put their faith in and entrusted their spiritual well being to Christ.[65] Initially, the people believed in Him because of the woman’s testimony, but after the Samaritans went out to meet Jesus and invited Him to stay with them, many more believed because of His word. When the Samaritans heard for themselves what Jesus had to say, they proclaimed Him to be the Christ and the Savior of the World. Further evidence of real and lasting transformation is revealed when Philip’s ministry takes him to Samaria[66] and as F.F. Bruce shows, “Philip would be able to build on this hope when he began to preach Christ to them. Jesus, it appears, was already identified by His followers in Jerusalem, both ‘Hebrews’ and ‘Hellenists,’ as the promised prophet like Moses.”[67]

Savior of the world is revealed

 It is interesting to note the words “Christ” and “Messiah” are the same word. Messiah is the Hebrew word and Christ is the Greek word, but both words refer to the same person and mean the same thing: the anointed one.[68] The Samaritans recognized the Messiah as the anointed one of God and as the Savior of the world. Savior here means deliverer and as Morris explains, “They had been impressed by what she had said, though their faith was not fully formed. The woman might introduce them to Jesus, but faith is not faith as long as it rests on the testimony of another. There must be personal knowledge of Christ if there is to be an authentic Christian experience. Their belief about Jesus is crystallized in the expression ‘the Savior of the world.’”[69]

CONCLUSION

The story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman is a profound encounter as Jesus breaks down cultural and racial barriers to proclaim Himself as the Messiah to an outcast among her own people. Francis Hayes reveals, “The evangelism of the future will depend less on sermons than on the prayers and testimonies of the many and its burden is like that of Andrew’s to Peter, and that of the Samaritan woman to her fellow-villagers, “I have found Him.” The new evangelism is the old in this particular, that it is preeminently the testimony of experience.”[70] Upon revealing Himself as the Messiah, Jesus then unveils His primary mission and purpose, and passes on to His followers the mission to engage in evangelism and discipleship. Lastly, Jesus shows how to remain “in Christ” through worship rooted in spirit and truth. This encounter is relevant to the church today, in that it shows how to break down racial and cultural divides to communicate the fundamental truths about salvation, and the gift of eternal life, all of which are found only in and through Christ Jesus.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Blomberg, Craig. “The Globalization Of Biblical Interpretation: A Test Case John 3-4.” Bulletin for Biblical Research 05, no. 1 (1995), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 10-11.

Bruce, F. F. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Book of Acts. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Carson, D. A. The Gospel According to John: The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1991.

Chan, Frank. “John, by Köstenberger.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 48, no. 3 (September 2005), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 649-650.

Gaebelein, Frank E., ed. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 9: John and Acts. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Harrison, Everett. “The Christology of the Fourth Gospel in Relation to the Synoptics Part III.” Bibliotheca Sacra 116, no. 464 (October 1959), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 308-309.

Hayes, Francis. “The Effective Blend Of The Old And The New Evangelism.” Bibliotheca Sacra 064, no. 256 (October 1907), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 733-735.

Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry Concise Bible Commentary. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Hughes, Robert B. and J. Carl Laney, Tyndale Concise Bible Commentary. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1990. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Köstenberger, Andreas. Encountering John: The Gospel in Historical, Literary, and Theological Perspective, 2nd Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing, 2013.

Lea, Thomas D. and David A. Black. The New Testament: Its Background and Message, 2nd Edition. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2003.

Morris, Leon. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Gospel According to John. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Mounce, Robert H. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Book of Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Polhill, John. “John 1–4: The Revelation of True Life.” Review and Expositor 085, no. 3 (Summer 1988), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 454-455.

Poole, Matthew. Matthew Poole’s Commentary on the Holy Bible. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1985. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Smith, T.C. “The Christology of the Fourth Gospel.” Review and Expositor 071, no. 1 (Winter 1974), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 23-28.

Smythe, Thomas. “The Character Of Jesus Defended.” Christian Apologetics Journal 05, no. 2 (Fall 2006), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 114-116.

Strong, James. Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary. Austin, TX: WORDsearch Corp., 2007. WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “4100”.

Tenney, Merrill. “Literary Keys to the Fourth Gospel Part I: The Symphonic Structure of John.” Bibliotheca Sacra 120, no. 478 (April 1963), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 121-122.

Witherington, Ben III. “Women in the Ministry of Jesus.” – Ashland Theological Journal 17, no. 0 (1984), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 24-25.


[1] Andreas Köstenberger, Encountering John: The Gospel in Historical, Literary, and Theological Perspective, 2nd Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic Publishing, 2013), 4.

[2] John 1:17; 17:3

[3] T.C. Smith, “The Christology of the Fourth Gospel,” – Review and Expositor 071, no. 1 (Winter 1974), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 24-25.

[4] John 1:20 and 3:28

[5] John 1:41

[6] John 4:29

[7] 2 Samuel 7:12-13; Isaiah 7:14, 9:7, 53:3; Zechariah 9:9; and Psalm 45:6-7, 69:8

[8] John 7:25–31, 40–3; 12:34

[9] 2 Kings 17:24

[10] Kenneth Kantzer, Life Application Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1988), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 1757.

[11] John 12:37 (ESV)

[12] John 2:1-11

[13] John 2:13-22

[14] John 4:46-54

[15] John 5:1-15

[16] John 6:1-12

[17] John 9:1-41

[18] John 11:1-44

[19] Köstenberger, Encountering John, 68.

[20] John 2:18-22 and John 4:26

[21] Thomas D. Lea and David Alan Black, The New Testament: Its Background and Message 2nd Edition, (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2003), 188.

[22] John 4:42

[23] John 3:7, 14; 9:4; 10:16; 12:34; and 20:9

[24] John 9:5

[25] Leon Morris, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 226.

[26] Thomas Smythe, “The Character Of Jesus Defended,” – Christian Apologetics Journal 05, no. 2 (Fall 2006), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 115.

[27] Frank E. Gaebelein, ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 9: John and Acts, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 54.

[28] Ben Witherington III, “Women in the Ministry of Jesus,” – Ashland Theological Journal 17, no. 0 (1984), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 24.

[29] John 4:11-12

[30] Witherington III, “Women in the Ministry of Jesus,” 24.

[31] John 4:39

[32] Witherington III, “Women in the Ministry of Jesus,” 24.

[33] Psalm 42:1; Isaiah 55:1; Jeremiah 2:13; and Zechariah 13:1

[34] Köstenberger, Encountering John, 92.

[35] Ibid., 85.

[36] Greater than Jacob: John 4:12; Greater than Moses: John 6:30-31; and Greater than Abraham: John 8:53

[37] John Polhill, “John 1–4: The Revelation of True Life,” – Review and Expositor 085, no. 3 (Summer 1988), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 454-455.

[38] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry Concise Bible Commentary, WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “Chapter 4”.

[39] Craig Blomberg, “The Globalization Of Biblical Interpretation: A Test Case John 3-4,” – Bulletin for Biblical Research 05, no. 1 (NA), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 10.

[40] Ibid., 11.

[41] Morris, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Gospel According to John, 238.

[42] Restorer or one who returns

[43] Smith, “The Christology of the Fourth Gospel,” 28.

[44] Morris, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Gospel According to John, 239.

[45] Morris, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Gospel According to John, 242.

[46] Ibid., 248.

[47] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John: The Pillar New Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1991), 228.

[48] Köstenberger, Encountering John, 74.

[49] Ibid., 74.

[50] John 4:25

[51] Gaebelein, ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 9: John and Acts, 58.

[52] Everett Harrison, “The Christology of the Fourth Gospel in Relation to the Synoptics Part III,” – Bibliotheca Sacra 116, no. 464 (October 1959), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 308-309.

[53] Merrill Tenney, “Literary Keys to the Fourth Gospel Part I: The Symphonic Structure of John,” – Bibliotheca Sacra 120, no. 478 (Apr), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 121-122.

[54] Smith, “The Christology of the Fourth Gospel,” 23.

[55] Matthew Poole, Matthew Poole’s Commentary on the Holy Bible, (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1985), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “Chapter 4”.

 [56] Robert B. Hughes and J. Carl Laney, Tyndale Concise Bible Commentary, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1990), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 470.

[57] Carson, The Gospel According to John, 232.

[58] Morris, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Gospel According to John, 246.

[59] Revelation 12:11

[60] Robert H. Mounce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 238.

[61] John 3:29

[62] Genesis 24:1–61; 29:1–20; and Exodus 2:15b–21

[63] 2 Kings 17:24, 30–31

[64] Frank Chan, “John,” – Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 48, no. 3 (September 2005), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 649-650.

[65] James Strong, Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary (Austin, TX: WORDsearch Corp., 2007), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “4100”.

[66] Acts 8:5-8

[67] F. F. Bruce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Book of Acts (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 164.

[68] Leadership Ministries Worldwide, The Preacher’s Outline & Sermon Bible – John (Chattanooga, TN: Leadership Ministries Worldwide, 1991), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “Deeper Study 2”.

[69] Morris, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Gospel According to John, 250-251.

[70] Francis Hayes, “The Effective Blend Of The Old And The New Evangelism,” – Bibliotheca Sacra 064, no. 256 (October 1907), WORDsearch CROSS e-book: 733.

Explanation & Response to the Gospel

JESUS_NOTHING

            Greg Gilbert best describes the gospel as, “The proclamation that Jesus, the crucified and risen Messiah, is the one, true, and only Lord of the world.”[1] Gilbert also demonstrates how Paul’s letter to the Romans is a great place to find the most basic explanation of the gospel. In chapters 1-4, Paul first wants his readers to know they are accountable. Gilbert illustrates, “We are made by Him, owned by Him, dependent on Him, and therefore accountable to Him.”[2] Secondly, Paul tells his readers that their problem is that they rebelled against God. This applies to Jews and Gentiles alike because every single person in the world had sinned against God.[3] Thirdly, Paul says that God’s solution to humanity’s sin is the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Gilbert demonstrates, “Having laid out the bad news of the predicament we face as sinners before our righteous God, Paul turns now to the good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ.”[4] Lastly, Paul tells his readers how they themselves can be included in this salvation. This is where every individual must decide if the gospel is good news for him or her or not. Gilbert summarizes these four points as: God, man, Christ, and response.[5]

How One Properly Responds to Gospel

            Gregory Faulls provides four steps as a response to the gospel: (1) Confess before God any sin and responsibility. The first response to the gospel always begins with repentance and then faith.[6] (2) Turn away from life apart from Christ and toward a life of following Christ. This step is critical as many Christians are currently asking Christ to follow them instead of following Christ’s lead. (3) A Christian must believe that Jesus died on the cross for his or her sin and that He rose again. The believing has to do with personally trusting what Jesus did for the believer’s salvation.[7] (4) The believer must completely surrender his or her life to His leadership.[8] Using these four declarations as a foundation, every believer should strive to spread the gospel while also showing love and compassion to everyone. A true response to the gospel causes a transformation to take place in the believer’s life, one in which the work of the cross is central to what is said and done. Gilbert demonstrates by keeping the cross at the center of one’s life, he or she will become dependent on the cross both for salvation and sanctification.[9]

Vital Connection Between Evangelism and a Believer’s Spiritual Growth

            Spiritual growth is vital in the life of a believer because if one is not growing, then he or she is essentially dying. For growth to occur, the believer must maintain intimacy with God in the form of praise, prayer, and daily reading of God’s Word. The natural progression of spiritual growth leads to evangelism, as the believer is transformed more and more into the image and likeness of Christ. Another crucial component to spiritual growth is obedience, which combines the Great Commandment[10] with the Great Commission[11] to form powerful evangelism as the believer shares the love and mission of Christ with others. Gilbert reminds the reader that despite all the evangelism efforts, “The kingdom promised in the Bible will only come about when the King Jesus Himself returns to make it happen, [so] our social and cultural [evangelistic] victories will never bring about the kingdom of God. Only God Himself can do that since the heavenly Jerusalem comes down from heaven and is not built from the ground up.”[12]

Ways to Improve Evangelistic Commitment

            For something so life-changing, it is a mystery why people are so afraid to share the gospel with friends, family, co-workers, and the people they interact with on a daily basis. Fear of rejection, insecurity of not having all the answers, or any other number of excuses prevent the spread of the gospel. For this writer, watching what is said as well as what is done remains at the forefront of daily living. People are always watching and since actions speak louder than words, a Christian’s life should be his or her testimony to God’s love and forgiveness. Scripture says, “They have overcome [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.”[13] Robert Mounce shows, “Not only does Satan suffer defeat at the hands of the archangel, but he is overcome by faithful believers as well. The primary cause of their victory is the blood of the Lamb. The great redemptive act that freed them from their sins and established their right to reign is the basis for their victory. Their share in the conquest then stems from their testimony.”[14] These saints’ willingness to proclaim the message overcame even the natural fear of death, so it is interesting to look at the areas of the world where Christians are experiencing great persecution and witnessing that those are the only areas that are experiencing real growth. In America, the culture has made everything about them by providing things, easier, cheaper, and faster. A real relationship with God cannot be obtained through some six-minute video to get six-pack abs routine. Instead, God must come before all other things, so that He becomes the motivator behind everything the believer says and does. It ultimately boils down to loving God and loving others.

Bibliography

Faulls, Greg. From Dust to Destiny. http://prevailinglife.com 2014. (accessed July 27, 2016).

Gilbert, Gregory D. What is the Gospel? (gǒs’pəl). Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010.

Mounce, Robert H. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Book of Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.


[1] Gregory D. Gilbert, What is the Gospel? (gǒs’pəl), (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 19.

[2] Gilbert, What is the Gospel?, 28.

[3] Ibid., 29.

[4] Gilbert, What is the Gospel?, 30.

[5] Gilbert, What is the Gospel?, 31.

[6] I John 1:9

[7] Romans 10:9-11

[8] Greg Faulls, From Dust to Destiny. http://prevailinglife.com 2014, 39. (accessed July 27, 2016).

[9] Gilbert, What is the Gospel?, 110-111.

[10] Matthew 22:36-40

[11] Matthew 28:16-20

[12] Gilbert, What is the Gospel?, 92-93.

[13] Revelation 12:11

[14] Robert H. Mounce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Book of Revelation, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 238.