In my most recent blog I stressed how important relationships in small groups can be. This time we look at the role long-term Christian small groups can play in helping people to re-align their thinking more with biblical perspectives.
Each Christian small group is made up of people from all walks of life. Each small group member has a unique history. Sadly, many members come to the group with the scars of life either deeply hidden or obviously on the surface. Small groups that enjoy rich and deep relationships among the members can help individuals to address some of these issues.
Congregation meetings, at their best, can be very good at imparting information and maybe enthusing people into action, but congregations are not the ideal context for helping people grow individually and deal with the personal history and emotional scars. I believe this can be and should be the role of Christian small groups. Let me explain.
The familiar words from the apostle Paul in Romans 12:2 stress that we all need the renewing of our minds. How can this be? How does this renewing occur?
Modern neuroscience is discovering more and more about how our brain works. One of the most relevant discoveries here is how the brain can be changed from very negative thinking to develop positive constructive patterns of thinking that actually reshape the brain itself. Christian neuroscientist Dr Carline Leaf has provided many insights into the process of positive change in our thought life. We all need this change process in some measure. Hurtful experiences, painful emotions and associated negative thought patterns are not conducive to a joyful Christian life. To a greater or lesser degree, we all have negative thought patterns and the way we operate in daily living is influenced strongly by our thought life.
So how can small groups help their members develop a more positive, biblical aligned thought life? To begin, we need to recognise that change takes time. Second, change only happens when a negative way of thinking is replaced by something positive. It will not simply go away.
The Apostle Paul describes the positive change process succinctly:
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable –if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.
(Phil. 4:8, NIV)
As group members deepen their relationships with one another the group will come to understand some of the negative experiences, painful emotions and destructive thought patterns that have developed in others within the group. Helpful change will not come about just by speaking platitudes such as: God loves you and we love you too (though of course this is true). People need to see that not only is change desirable, but that is possible for them personally. They need to come to the Bible not just as a source of information but as a living, vital transforming resource that God has given His Church.
Probably, like me, you know people who have a good understanding of Scripture but the information has not taken root and has not been transforming in their lives. They do not live as though God values them and seeks their best. Some may be able to quote the correct verses but there is big gap between the reality of those truths and the working out of them in their lives.
We should take every opportunity to speak truth to each other, Scriptural truth, practical truth – not just occasionally but on many occasions and in the appropriate contexts. Engendering hope and faith is something that Christians in committed relationship can continue to do over time. This is the value of small groups, especially so if group members keep contact between group meetings. If we do keep speaking transforming truth to one another we will gradually begin to believe that not only are these facts Bible truths, but that they can be true for us personally.
In a number of small groups in which I have been involved I have been privileged to see this in operation as members have spoken truth and life to one another consistently. Some of the transformations have been so encouraging, so life-changing.
Thoughtful group members will be aware of individuals who have been deeply damaged and find it quite difficult to receive positive affirmation or hope. The context of secure Christian love, expressed sincerely and unconditionally, can open these people up to begin to hope, and then to believe, and then to accept a new way of talking to themselves and thinking about themselves. They will begin to see themselves more accurately as God sees them. They will begin to understand that past experiences do not have to define their future, nor do past failures or hurts define their intrinsic value to God.
Remember that this takes time. It won’t happen overnight. It cannot be faked or come from an unfounded enthusiasm of members. It must be real. It must spark hope and then action. Truth changes people. Christian small groups can be excellent catalysts of this change.
1. Are relationships in your group sufficiently developed so that members are able to speak the truth to one another in love (Ephesians 4:15)?
2. Do you see evidence of members changing, becoming more positive and more hopeful, because of their involvement in the group?