What role does the Holy Spirit play in small groups?

Depending on which denomination or church tradition you are part of, you may view the role and work of the Holy Spirit slightly differently, and even within a denomination, views will change from church to church, and from group to group. Even individuals within the same group will most likely have diverging views about the Holy Spirit. But all Trinitarians will agree that the Holy Spirit is one of the persons of God the Trinity, and as such, has an important part to play in our Christian faith.

With so many views about who the Holy Spirit is and what part He has to play in small group life, how do we find balance and common ground?

Unity, liberty, love

You might have heard the phrase, ‘In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things, love’. There are a few variations of this phrase, including, ‘In essentials unity, in non-essentials charity, and in all things, Christ’. You won’t find these phrases in the Bible, and their origin is still debated today, but for many they has become keys to agreeing on the important things and disagreeing agreeably on the fringe things. This does, of course, leave open to interpretation which things are ‘essential’ and which are not – but hopefully you get the idea!

Trinitarians can all agree that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are God. The relationship between and work of the Father and the Son are often a lot easier for us to begin to understand, but the relationship and work of the Holy Spirit can be a bit more difficult to get one’s head round.

One place to find common ground is that God is good. As the Holy Spirit is God, we can say that the Holy Spirit is good. The Holy Spirit will never do or say anything that God would not do or say, because the Holy Spirit is God.

The Trinity

What part the Father, the Son or the Holy Spirit (or any combination of the members of the Godhead) have in answering prayers or working miracles, we will probably never entirely comprehend this side of heaven. But we do know that when God answers prayer and works miracles, we can praise and worship Him.

So if people disagree within your small group about the role each member of the Godhead plays in answering prayer and working miracles, encourage them to use language that will bring people together in agreement – ‘Let’s thank God’, ‘Praise God’ and so on. No Christian would argue against thanking and praising God! The matter of whether it was the Father, Son or Holy Spirit (or two or three of the persons of the Trinity in unison) who played any particular role is of little importance compared to recognising that God loves us and answers our prayers.

Sometimes people say ‘God’ when they are specifically trying to refer to the Father, which can cause confusion and disagreements. If there is misunderstanding in the group, perhaps you could urge people to use the phrase ‘Father God’ or ‘the Father’ when referring specifically to that particular member of the Godhead, and ‘God’ when referring to God as a whole, meaning Father, Son and Holy Spirit as the Trinity.

What does the Bible say?

What do we know about the Holy Spirit? John 15:26 says, ‘When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father – the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father – he will testify about me.’ This tells us that the Holy Spirit is an advocate – one who speaks for us and stands alongside us. This doesn’t mean that He always agrees with whatever we do – in fact, the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin (John 16:8), but He will not condemn us (John 3:17). This means He doesn’t make us feel bad for the sake of making us feel bad – He simply exposes our sin so that we can confess and receive forgiveness. We also know from John 15:26 that the Holy Spirit is sent from the Father, and is the Spirit of truth. And we know that the Holy Spirit testifies about Jesus.

So, knowing that the Spirit is from the Father and testifies about Jesus, if you or someone in your group thinks the Holy Spirit might be saying or doing something, ask yourself: does this sound like something God (the Trinity, the Godhead) would do or say? Does what is being said or done sound like it advocates and stands alongside us? Does it convict us of sin so we can repent, but does not condemn us to leave us in a permanent state of guilt? Does what is being said or done sound like it comes from the Father – and is it truthful? Does it testify about Jesus – pointing us to repentance and realignment with Him?

Anything else?

You might hear people say that the Holy Spirit has done something a little bit more ‘out there’ than you might expect. We should remember that all things are possible for God. We know that if God wants to, He can turn water into wine, part seas and bring the dead back to life. It might just be that He has indeed done the thing that the person is claiming.

We know that God is infinitely creative and infinitely loving – and He loves to interact with us, His beloved children. So why wouldn’t He want to be with us, work in and through us, and give us good gifts?

On the other hand, God does not do anything that will contradict what we know of Him from the Bible. That’s not that say that He couldn’t – nothing is impossible for God – but although He could, He often chooses not to out of love for us. For instance, He could permanently turn the sky green and grass blue, or cancel gravity, or make everyone grow an extra eye overnight… but He chooses not to.

With the help of the Bible, and yes, with the help of the Holy Spirit Himself, let’s weight up what we hear. Let’s not dismiss things out of hand but accept that for God, all things are possible. But let’s also be wise and be aware that not everything that people claim is from God is from God.

So where does that leave my small group?

Individually and as a group, ask the Holy Spirit to guide you in your Bible reading, to be in your prayers, and to help you in your walk of discipleship. Ask Him to show you the areas of your life you need to bring before Jesus. Ask Him to help you praise and worship Jesus and to walk more in step with His purposes and plans for your life.

Don’t be scared of the Holy Spirit. Invite Him to be at work in you and your group. He will help you discern and be wise about what if from Him and what isn’t. Most of all, remember that God is good, whomever of the Godhead we’re talking about! And love one another!


About Mark Baker

Mark is an editor and is passionate about small groups. He loves writing, reading, and finding out more about God and His purposes for our lives.