During my early years of walking with Jesus, numerous people encouraged me to meet with a small group of like-minded men. The kind of group they meant was not another Bible Study, but rather a small group of friends who could help me live what I already believed. Even after I felt a nudge from the Lord to do so, it was six years before I acted on it. As you can tell from the rest of this paper, it has become a very important part of my life, so I wholeheartedly endorse the idea of a core group. By this I mean, small groups of men or women not in Paul-Timothy relationships (Discipler-Disciplee) but rather meeting as peers like Paul and Barnabas. Those of you, who know me, understand that everything begins and ends with Jesus so let’s start with how He related to people.
Jesus related to people in very different ways, and it seems He had levels of relationships, sort of like concentric rings. The large crowds were in the outer ring, and He related to them in parables, so they didn’t really get to know Him personally. The next circle was the 500 who saw Jesus after His Resurrection. He revealed a lot more of Himself to them because they saw Him in His glorified body. The next circle was the 120 who were filled with the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. The next circle was the 72 that He sent out two by two and gave them the authority to be His representatives. (or 70, depending on the translation; Luke 10:1) Closer still were the twelve disciples, and even closer, were the inner circle of three, Peter, James, and John. It’s quite obvious that Jesus revealed more of Himself to these three than the others. (i.e., the Mount of Transfiguration, raising the daughter of Jarius from the dead, Gethsemane, etc.) Finally, Jesus had one best friend, John the beloved, who He chose to care for His mother after He was gone. At the Last Supper, Peter, who was one of the inner three, asked John to ask Jesus who was going the betray Him. He knew John, who was physically next to Jesus, also had the closest relationship. The smaller the number of people, the more Jesus revealed of Himself. Maybe this is why John, one of the “Sons of Thunder,” (i.e., always ready for a fight; Mk. 3:17) became known as the “Apostle of Love.”
Everyone in the entire world is in one of those circles, so I urge you to evaluate which one you are in? Are you in the multitude with all the non-believers, who know Jesus by name, but not much else about Him? Are you with the 500, who might represent all the believers in the world? Maybe you are like the 72 and are involved in a ministry? On the other hand, are you in a small Bible study like the twelve around Jesus? That’s terrific, but it’s not as rewarding as being in that inner group of three. A core group is similar to being in that small group with Jesus. I know these thoughts are about a small group, but I must add that there is one level deeper. The Bible says Jesus limited Himself to the time and space of humanity, so He could only have one closest friend. Now that limitation no longer applies so each of us can have the closeness that John had.
Most of us are already relating to Jesus, and others in this way. We each have a multitude of friends, but they only know a few things about us but not personal details. We all have a smaller group of people who know us a little better. These relationships are close, but not as intimate as they could be. We need to go even deeper with a few and experience the relational intimacy that we were created for. For this discussion, let’s call what we are talking about, a core group. You can call it a covenant group, support group or growth group or as in Australia, they’re called cells. The name is unimportant; we are simply talking about a small group (three to six) meeting in the Spirit of Jesus to discover all that God has for them. The church is where you worship and are taught, but the small group is the best vehicle I’ve found to strengthen and support my life in Christ.
The Bible and history are full of examples that should motivate us to pursue involvement in a core group.
Jesus left us this model, but others have adopted it and been more effective in using it than we have. The idea of small groups is used by many movements and organizations, some for good, others for subversion. The primary unit of the Marine Corps is the four-man team. All special forces like “Seal Team” use small groups. Asymmetric warfare like the French Resistance used small groups. Communists use small cells as their basic structure. Terrorist’s use the sleeper cell. Have you ever seen just one Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness come to your door? No, they move in twos and threes. It is also a method used by criminal organizations like the Mafia which uses a series of small cells.
John Wesley started a movement in England that eventually became known as the Methodist Church. It was called that because of the “method” he used. It is said, “He filled all of England with little groups.”
The well-known 100-year revival began among the Moravians and was led by Count Nicolaus von Zinzendorf. He favored small groups of four or five believers who came together to strengthen and purify their lives and be available to the call of God.
Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; David and Jonathan; Paul, Barnabas, Timothy, and Silas.
Ecclesiastes 4:12 (paraphrased) says, “One person standing alone is easily attacked and overcome, two not so easily overcome and a three stranded cord is not easily broken.” This clearly shows that the independent life is vulnerable. The Bible teaches us that we need each other and that we should have an interdependent spirit. The writer goes on to say that if one lies down alone, he gets cold, but two together will stay warm. We know that one log won’t keep a fire going but three logs will. The idea, in the Hebrew, of one standing alone, is that each of us has a blind side. We all have them, but when we have others guarding our blind side, we are safer and less easily overcome. If a brother is with me physically, he can warn me if someone is approaching me from my backside. We also have blind spots spiritually, emotionally, relationally, socially, in our marriage, etc. The idea of guarding one another is useful in these areas as well. We all need someone we trust to warn us of approaching danger. The poet, John Donne, knew this when he said, “No man is an island.”
Matthew 18:19 says, “If two of you agree about anything, it will be done by My Father in heaven.” One does not have this power. The word “agree” is important; this happens when two people are close enough to one another that they can understand each other’s, heart. To “agree” describes a person with a trumpet and another with a trombone blowing the same note; they may be different instruments, but they are making the same sound. Relationships, like good music, take time, trust and practice.
Deuteronomy 32:30 says, “One can put 1,000 to flight, but two can put 10,000 to flight.” There is something very powerful when we get together. If we are together, then God begins to work, and Satan doesn’t want this to happen. One of the major tools of the Devil is isolation and division because he knows the power that comes from unity.
VALUE OF A GROUP LIKE THIS
You have the opportunity to know Jesus better!
In Colossians chapter two verse two, Paul said he was praying for them and “all those who haven’t met him” (that’s you and I) So he prayed the following for you and me. “My prayer for you is that you would be encouraged in your spirit and knit together in love…and the result will be that you will know Jesus Christ better in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” One of the major things that happens in a core group is you get deeply encouraged in your spirit, week after week, and are knit together in love. Paul’s prayer is answered in core groups.
You have an opportunity to know yourself better!
You can’t make spiritual progress until you really know yourself. An alcoholic cannot be helped until he or she admits they have a problem. This is also true in the area of spirituality. For growth or healing to be realized, we must know and admit our need. The first step in spiritual growth is understanding who we are. For me, it seems that self-discovery comes through self-disclosure. One time, as I was sharing in a group, it became increasing clear that I was prejudiced about a certain type of personality. I hadn’t consciously known that until I began to talk about it. From then on, this area of my life seemed to show up in sermons and in my Bible reading. Additionally, the people around us see us differently than we see ourselves, and they can reflect a truer picture of who we are. A good friend who loves you is the best mirror.
You have companions who can help guard your strengths!
We all have weak areas in our lives, but we also have wonderful strengths. The great Scottish man of God, Oswald Chambers, once said, “An unguarded strength is a double weakness.” It takes some thought to gain the full meaning of this statement. Our strengths, though God-given and useful, can have negative consequences if not guarded. A core group can help guard our strengths and give us balance.
Illustrations: 1. Some have a wonderful natural strength of self-confidence. This strength lets them tackle and accomplish things others think too difficult. It’s a valuable strength, but people are often hurt when the strength isn’t used appropriately. 2. Some have the ability to see the needs of people (sometimes even before they do) and use their energy and skills to help others. If such a person tries to help too many others with their needs, it can become a burden and a weakness to the helper.
You have companions to hold you accountable!
Accountability is the only reason for corporate or individual morality. Accountability to God is inevitable so why not prepare for it (Rom 14:12). We are a nation of covenant breakers, both corporately and individually. We broke most of our Indian treaties. Divorce is rampant. We say, “I’ll pray for you” and then forget. We make vows to God after retreats or sermons and fail to keep them. Why do we fail to keep our covenants? Lack of accountability is the answer. Who holds you responsible for living what you profess? We need accountability in our personal life, our relationships (with God, our spouse, our family, our friends and our work), our attitudes (about the events of life, self, others, money), and our decisions (before and after).
It is very important that our accountability be voluntary rather than imposed and it certainly doesn’t mean the firing squad at dawn. Many core groups use the idea of a “table of accountability.” Whatever we volunteer to throw on the table, is what we can be held accountable for. This way our friends are not meddling but rather are helping us live out our own desires. In the beginning, we can at least throw our life in Christ on the table. We need the group to ask us from time to time, how we are doing with the Lord. As trust grows, we need their help to guard our most important human relationships.
Example; One of the men I meet with said to me one week, “Glenn, I think you may have hurt your wife’s feelings last Sunday after church.” When I asked her about this, she said I had, but it wasn’t very significant. When I asked for the details, she told me that I had joined her and a few others after I finished talking with another group. She had been in the middle of recounting our recent trip to Europe. I had interrupted her and told the story from my perspective making her feel foolish. After she had shared this, I asked her to forgive me, and now I have a new sensitivity to her in public. I’m fortunate to have a brother who cared enough to bring this to my attention.
You have a place to be affirmed!
The need for affirmation is very strong in all of us. It’s a legitimate and God-given need like food and water. We require affirmation to mature in a healthy way, and it is absolutely necessary for our well-being. Like other basic necessities, if we don’t receive affirmation we will die emotionally. If we don’t receive it legitimately, we will get it any way possible. We might boast, become an over-achiever, or a clown, act badly, or take many other routes to fulfill this need. The people in the core group should be legitimately meeting this need in each other.
HOW TO GET STARTED
One way to begin a core group is to pray for another like-minded person and keep your eyes open. If someone keeps coming to your mind, then you should go to him or her and simply explain your desire for a closer fellowship. Ask if they are interested in meeting for six weeks to talk about the idea. Don’t make a long-term commitment; remember; it will work only if God puts it together. If we try to make it happen, it will become burdensome like a wheelbarrow that only works as long as you push it! That kind of relationship is not a support. If after six weeks, it seems right for the two of you, then pray for one, two, or three other people to join you. Talk about any additions and come to unity about this before you ask someone new.
AGREEMENTS BETWEEN MEMBERS
For this kind of bond to develop, each member needs to commit to the following:
Have no leader except Jesus!
You need a facilitator, but this can be on a rotation basis. A core group should function as the twelve did around Christ…all were brothers and Jesus was the leader.
Maintain strict confidentiality!
The benefits of a core group will not happen without trust. This means we don’t even share with our spouses what happens in these groups. The things we need to talk about will only be shared with those we are convinced are trustworthy.
Be as open as possible about your life!
Some people are more able to be vulnerable than others. Allow each person to do this at his or her own pace. Aesop fable: The Sun and North Wind saw a man walking along wearing a heavy overcoat. They decided to see who could get the coat off of him. The North Wind tried first. He produced a howling gale, but the stronger the wind, the more the man drew his coat around himself. The Sun said, “Now it’s my turn.” So he beamed the sunshine down on the man, and soon, of his own choice he removed his coat and walked happily in the sunshine. When we surround people with warmth, they will remove unnecessary layers of protection.
Love enough to confront when necessary!
Proverbs 27 says, “Man sharpens man like iron sharpens iron.” However, remember that we don’t sharpen a knife or an ax by taking out chunks. We file it slowly and gradually until we have a sharp edge. This same method works best with our relationships; slowly and gradually, we will sharpen the character of those with whom we meet.
Exercise unconditional love!
No matter what we learn about each other, we are going to stay together. Agree in advance that we will continue to love even if we discover things that are difficult to handle. An old Arab proverb says, “Oh the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to measure words or weight thoughts, but just pouring them all out grain and chaff alike, sure that a faithful hand will keep what is worth keeping and with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.” So the question is, with whom do you feel safe?
Pray for each other regularly!
Make a commitment to pray for each other daily.
WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU GET TOGETHER
There are no rules regarding what groups should do, but the following are ideas that have been helpful to others. Many groups use Acts 2:42 as a pattern. It says that those who became believers after Peter’s sermon devoted themselves to four things: the Apostles teaching, breaking bread, fellowship, and prayer. That seems like a pretty good precedent to follow. Let’s talk a little about each one of them.
Read the Scriptures each time you are together but agree in advance that you will NOT have a Bible study. Bible studies are wonderful and necessary but not in a core group. Make your time in the Bible a little different than you may be used to. Most people who involve themselves in a core group are believers and already know more theology than the Apostles knew. Remember that the Apostles didn’t have Romans and the rest of the New Testament. If we have been around Churches for a while, we do know more than they knew, yet they affected the world in ways we have not. This is probably because they knew Jesus in a way that we don’t.
It’s certain that we know more theology than we are living. That is one of the big problems with the Church; we are overfed, fat sheep. It’s time we began to actually live what we profess to believe. In a core group, if we are committed to Jesus Christ and each other, we have the potential to turn this around. Typically, in Bible study, we read a portion then try to figure out what it means. When we think we understand what it is saying we conclude that we have grown spiritually. That is not spiritual growth; it’s intellectual growth. Spiritual growth only takes place when we are obedient to what we have learned. A better and more advantageous way to spend time in the Apostles teaching is to read until you come to a portion you do understand and are not living. Stop there and discuss how to help each other live it out. When we are obedient to what we know, He will reveal more.
Example: In James, it talks about the problems the tongue can cause. If those in the group love and trust each other, enough they might talk about how each could improve in this area. It is easy to understand what this says, but we may not have given it enough time to reflect on our own life. Ask each other, “What do you think about my tongue?” “Do I need to give more attention to it?” If you love each other, you might say; you talk too much, or you are sometimes harsh or critical, or you don’t talk enough. You can then begin to be obedient to what the Scripture says about it. Your time in the Scriptures should help you live what you already understand.
Something special happens when we eat together. In most of the world, one of the major indicators of the quality of a relationship is being invited share a meal in each other’s homes. Eating together leads to closer fellowship.
The ideal situation would be to have a group in which all members grew up together and knew a lot about each other. Since that is very rare, we need to take the time to really get to know each other.
Here are some ideas to help facilitate getting to know each other on a deeper level: (1) Tell life story in detail, maybe in chapters. (2) What is the most valuable thing you own, not related to money? (3) “I am…” name 20 things. (4) Tell about fears, failures, and success while growing up. (5) Create shared experiences like recreation, retreats, dinners, etc. (6) Have one day when you can’t talk about anything outside the room. (7) Have assumed, but unspoken, check-in questions each week such as, “How are you doing with Jesus, spouse, children, other relationships, etc.?” Talk about and work on giving up our independent spirit. We should be interdependent and mutually submissive. There are three stages of life: dependence (childhood), independence (adolescence) and interdependence (maturity). All of us need support, growth, and even inner healing. Jesus gives us the privilege of being involved with Him as He heals people’s lives. We are to be people removing each other’s grave clothes like Jesus asked those at the graveyard to do after He raised Lazarus from the dead. He could have had Lazarus come out unbound, but now as then, Jesus wants us to participate with Him in helping people be set free from those things that bind them. (John 11)
Don’t just have a closing prayer but really pray and ask God to give you insight on how to pray for yourselves and each other more effectively. Pray for each other every day of the week and call to check on special concerns.
After you have been together for a while, God will probably give each of you a vision and strategy for accomplishing that vision in your own sphere of influence. Maybe you will want to adopt a country to pray for. Watch the TV and newspapers; they will tell the needs of that country. Be ready to accept spiritual responsibility; that is, embrace what is on God’s heart for a given area. In Mark 3:14, Jesus “chose twelve to be WITH Him…and to SEND them.” Vision and ministry are always on God’s heart. As you get together, purify your lives and grow spiritually; you will become better husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, business people, and individuals. He is also preparing you to be involved with Him in being the light of the world. Vision is a major part of core groups. Don’t start a core group in order to accomplish great things but that is often the natural result.
Get together with a small group around Jesus, then spend time together, pray and hang on!
Address Comments to: Glenn Murray