|The Lamb's Bride
|The Lamb's Bride
P.O. Box 8240, Colorado Springs, CO 80933
How Small Group Community and Biblical Fellowship Can Help Solve Some of the Major Problems of Society
Copyright © 2000 Dick Wulf. Permission is granted to copy and distribute.
Churches that implement biblical small group community and congregational fellowship can impact many of the problems we face in society. Marital unfaithfulness, materialism, child abuse, incest, loneliness, religiosity, single parent burnout and television addiction shamefully occur in our churches. We even find poverty, racism, pornography and suicide in the church. Other kinds of problems the church can address include crime, delinquency, New Age religion, and unemployment. And a critical problem of some churches, poor church attendance, can powerfully be addressed. However, if these things are to be adequately addressed, both congregational fellowship and small group community will be necessary. **But small group community is critical.**
See also Marital Unfaithfulness.
Sexual purity is very difficult for single people these days. In fact, Christians have always been shocked at how much sexual immorality goes on in the secret lives of Christian singles. In a society where everything from commercials on television to movies and magazine articles seems to promote sexual "if it feels good, do it" messages, is it any wonder that adultery is one of the discarded prohibitions of the world and so many Christians?
The church cannot significantly stop adultery of its members with sermons and rules alone. These must be augmented with close interpersonal relationships of respect and accountability. While so many Christians do not control their sexual behavior for love of God, many will abstain for those Christian brothers and sisters whose respect they desire.
Small group community offers the church that wants to obey the Lord's commandments a way to battle sexual temptation and sin. By increased purity the church can avoid God's judgment and continue their witness and work for His glory. If all the teenagers in a church were involved in small groups of eight or less people of the same sex, there would be a significant drop in adultery by these younger church members. It might not be apparent, since secrets are kept so carefully when private sin is indulged. But there would be more reasons for constraint, and the results would be seen by God. Similar results would come if all adult singles were in small groups along with married people and people of all ages.
How can biblical relationships among believers help battle child abuse? In churches that make possible a closeness between believers that is rarely permitted by normal church programming, a lot can be done to eliminate the causes and terrible results of child abuse. Inconsistency in parenting, quick tempers, and parents who need parenting themselves can be identified in the church that really cares. (The even more disastrous problem of incest is discussed later.)
Hints of child abuse can often be seen during informal church social events. In the same way the signs of potential child abuse also stand out in the church which watches for such symptoms. Picnics, game nights, and other lengthy church occasions where families must relate together have utility for more than fun.
During these lengthy times of large-group biblical fellowships harsh responses to children can be seen as signs of parents who are overwhelmed by their responsibilities, parents who know no other way to parent because they themselves were raised harshly, and parents who are abusive because of their self-centered nature. Many abusive parents behave as if they are the children they are the ones who require their needs be met before they address their children's needs. Abusive and potentially abusive parents can often be identified without much difficulty.
Every time the church gets together is an opportunity for deeper loving. Parents who abuse and parents who might abuse do not gain any particular enjoyment from treating their children harshly. Although they might be embarrassed when first confronted, almost all abusive parents eventually welcome any help given.
When such behavior is seen at a church function, church leadership can be alerted. The parents can be counseled or referred to counseling after they are helped to admit that parenting is extremely difficult for them. They should not be talked to with judgment. Instead, they should be approached kindly with recognition that they do not want to be harsh with their children. Even though these abusive parents claim that their children deserve to be treated harshly (they call it firmness), they often admit that they occasionally feel they are losing their own self control in dealing with their children.
In fellowship, abusive parents can be identified by others, but within the trust of small group community parents can admit their difficulties to their friends. Since all parenting is difficult, every parent should at one time or another request help for a problem with raising children. Those that do not should be encouraged to speak about their relationship with their children, for their silence may indicate deeper problems. Open discussions about the troubles of parenting will encourage abusive parents to open up and seek help.
Likely the most helpful thing a small group community can do is provide respite help on an emergency basis. Whenever a group member thinks that he or she is getting close to the point of child abuse, the children can be dropped off for a few days at the home of one of the other group members. In New York City, my daughter Becky runs such a program in a hospital. The church can do for free what costs a lot when done by secular society.
Unfortunately, most abusive parents do not have a clue that they are out of bounds in using force with their children. Some even make capital punishment seem like a Christian virtue. The civil community has great difficulty dealing with these parents who wrap their abuse in Christian doctrine. Only other trusted Christians can get across to these people that they are not being good Christian parents. Small group process with different contributions from various group members is often necessary to help abusing parents break down and recognize their sin.
In many cases the counsel and prayers of the small group will be sufficient to help parents know how to learn good child management techniques. But this instruction may require several months for the abusive group member to bring up many different problems. However, it might also be necessary for group members to invite abusive parents to spend considerable time in their own home to model proper, non-violent parenting.
The small group that takes the Scriptures seriously must take responsibility to see that all the children of group members are biblically raised. These children must possess adequate mental health as adults to faithfully serve Jesus Christ without the fallout of earlier childhood abuse.
Most people who commit crimes do not greatly surprise those who know them well. This is because people who are rebellious or have criminal tendencies can be spotted by their behavior. They manipulate and use people. They treat people as objects for their own gratification. They are very friendly but not genuinely personal.
In congregational fellowship, people with a tendency toward crime can begin to learn social skills and relate to people as human beings with value. If the church can sustain long-term contact and involvement, the beginning steps of socialization can be made within the larger and less intense social and worship gatherings of the church.
Small group community can be extremely powerful for individuals who have anti-social tendencies. Accountability about what is going on in the criminal's life is critical. Accountability is a basic ingredient of biblical community. Individuals who have committed crimes in the past can often be prevented from recidivism if the small group helps them get the critical areas of their lives together, especially those having to do with employment and debt.
Delinquency could be noticeably reduced if every Christian parent were in small group community. It is especially powerful when group members realize that the child of another group member is beginning to go astray. One research finding of years ago pointed out that in a large group of delinquents the most distinguishing factor was that none of the teenagers had an adult friend. Members of the small group community can befriend the teenage children of other group members who are going astray, and, with a commitment spanning a few years, help that youngster get back on track and stay on the straight and narrow. Yes, it will take time. But that is what the church is all about.
What a great affront to God it is that incest exists in Christian families! This is one of the most ugly sins and mars greatly God's glory, giving Satan a large foothold to sneer at our Lord. The church must do all that it can to prevent incest in its ranks.
Little can be done in the larger fellowship times to impact incestual behavior because incest is one of the most carefully kept secrets. However, women's programs in the church can have open discussions about incest and sexual deviation. Many women are afraid of the church's silence on such things and will not come forward to tell of the nightmarish problem in their home. Christian piety does not need to resemble an ostrich with its head in the sand.
Much more critical is small group community in the church's attack against incest in its midst. In a small group incest will almost never be admitted. But the strong relationships and intimacy that develop in a small group meeting for community may strengthen a wife or child to admit the incest to a group member and get help.
However it might come out in the open, the civil authorities will likely get involved. The incest perpetrator needs the support and help of friends. The small group will need to increase its contact with the perpetrator and provide him with a quality of relationships he has never experienced before. The group should delegate two of its male members to meet more often with the guilty man and enmesh him in critical friendship, asking regularly about his behavior with his daughters or sons.
Since so many incest perpetrators were incest victims themselves, they may need the group to pray through with them for inner healing. Telling their story and receiving the group's sincere sorrow will help. It will be good for the person and the group to be able to express great anger at the sin of incest in the perpetrator's past.
So many people in society are lonely! As society gets more complex, the great amount of knowledge that must be learned and understood further isolates people from one another. Jobs, children's activities, maintenance of possessions and taking advantage of society's many pleasures consume great chunks of our available time. Time necessary to develop and nurture meaningful relationships is scarce. People caring for one another seems to be last priority. What has resulted is a society full of independent, autonomous individuals, most of them unaware of their loneliness until life becomes overwhelming. When the need for warmth and closeness becomes conscious, it is unavailable because friendships must be developed in advance of their need.
While this should not be the case, shamefully many, many Christians are very lonely. Maybe Christians are even more lonely than non-believers because they know that they should be able to be open and honest with other believers.
It seems that Christians do not value intimacy much. There is little interest in the church for those kinds of activities that lead to vulnerability and the ministry of caring. Therefore, those believers desirous of transparent closeness, accountability and familiar friendships have nowhere to develop such Christian relationships. These believers who recognize their loneliness may have one or two close friends, but their knowledge of the Bible has taught them that they deserve community involvement, a type of family intimacy in the church. Just going to church does not end loneliness for many Christians.
Some Christians experience deep loneliness due to marital dissatisfaction, family dysfunction, job struggle, financial insecurity, aging, loss of health, and a variety of other hardships. Such loneliness with its accompanying depression can only be solved by some form of intimacy.
Small group community is critically necessary to end the loneliness of Christians. Believers need a place where they can talk about real thoughts and feelings. They need people truly interested in what is going on in their lives. It is a "must" that church members have an opportunity to get help from one another for all the difficult areas of living.
Until the church does better than society's best efforts at friendliness and community support (social clubs, service clubs, liberal churches, cults, taverns and dance halls, special interest groups, street gangs, etc.), we will be of little use to lonely nonbelievers in our midst. Inviting nonbelievers to our church functions must show a more substantial friendliness than they can receive at their drinking places, bingo parlors or is shown them by the local used car dealer. Smiles and handshakes will not do much. A real availability to one another and to visitors could, however, rescue many unsaved people from loneliness and some of them from eternal separation from God in hell. Genuine, biblical fellowship is necessary for relevancy to the secular community.
Specialized small groups meeting not for community but for learning and support can involve non-Christians. Church-sponsored groups for those struggling with alcoholism, problems of co-dependency, parenting, debt, finding employment, etc. can be made available to citizens of the community. These groups can powerfully attack loneliness in society. And need-based groups such as a Boy Scout troop can also help the community when sponsored by the church.
Likewise, small groups in the church organized for service can reach out into the community and battle non-Christian loneliness. And if every small group meeting for community were to take on a limited community service project, some of those projects will attack loneliness (not cleaning up liter, but things like serving in nursing homes or repairing a poor family's house).
Marriage is a difficult relationship. Almost every marriage has at least one critical time when the relationship could dissolve. Some marriages never get off to a good start, others struggle for years. All of these conditions should be easily identified when Christians have a degree of intimacy within small group community.
The problem of unfaithfulness in the church has grown by leaps and bounds. Certainly the permissiveness in our society and a general acceptance of divorce as a solution has negatively impacted Christian marriages. But anyone who has much contact with individuals who are divorced knows that they would have done many things to avoid leaving their marital partner. The church can help.
Another reason why an individual ends up in an "affair" is that he or she meets someone who is more sensitive than is the spouse. It feels so good to be understood that married individuals fall in love outside their marriages. Actually, most of the time this falling in love is merely finding someone they can trust. Trust is confused for romantic love and problems develop. But in the small group community, intimacy, trust and sensitivity are all part of the experience. Every group member can find understanding from other people, both of the same sex and of the opposite sex. In a group with the sincere and firm dedication to one another, such sensitivity and closeness is not nearly as dangerous as it might be in another Christian setting.
Congregational fellowship in a church will allow people to recognize pain on one another's faces. When members in the larger fellowship notice some unhappiness, they can ask if anything is wrong and also mention their concern to church leadership. Church leadership can check to see if there is a problem. In small group community there is even more protection against marital unfaithfulness.
Within small group community there is the purpose to help one another live for Christ as together they fulfill God's desires for His church. Therefore, it falls within the purpose of a small community group to watch out for one another's marriages and find solutions where there are problems. Such intervention in a Bible study might be seen as intrusion, whereas when members join a small group community, if led correctly, there will have been agreement that problem areas are open to group counsel and any intervention for the good of the group member and couple.
This does not say that any marriage in a small group community will survive, but it does mean that a great deal more help will be given to struggling spouses. Conflict will be more obviously seen in the small group. Since it is pre-arranged that talking about the condition of the group's marriages is acceptable, the group can jump right in and save a marriage or two in it's life span. (This is another reason for small groups to last longer.)
We must note the critical importance that small groups in the church have purposes that are all-encompassing. The problem with Bible study as a purpose is that people get to know one another well enough to develop some intimacy and sometimes results in marital unfaithfulness between two group members. Since the group is not meeting for the purpose of assuring that group members live obediently, but merely to study the Word of God, there is not the required depth to cut off friendships that lead into affairs. Thus, small group community is in some ways much safer than small group Bible study and other small groups in the church.
Understandably, materialism is a big problem for non-believers. Having things becomes overly important for so many individuals who live for this world that they are willing to borrow up to their earlobes and suffer the hardships of debt. People forced into bankruptcy face a more precarious lifestyle.
Materialism has no place in the life of a follower of Jesus Christ. Our Lord said we could not serve God if we serve or are in bondage to money. Living to acquire things is not taught in the Bible. Therefore, churches must do whatever they can to rescue their members from love of money and things. Excessive savings for retirement might also fit into this same category. People's heartstrings need to be untied from their possessions. And their insecurity about the future must be overcome.
True congregational fellowship keeps people in touch with the work of God in the lives of people, both in the church and around the world. Many opportunities can be given during fellowship meetings for people to donate to the support of those doing the work of God at home and abroad. The more critical needs of neighbors and missionaries can override the superficial wants we have. Self-denying love can win out if we are in significant contact with people.
In small group community where deep intimacy develops, individuals who are materialistic will be more than challenged. The non-materialistic lifestyles of those group members who have overcome their needless desires, who have overcome the hype of our superfluous advertising industry, and who have overcome competitiveness with others of similar income will set an example to follow. Since values change by identification with other people, those who have chosen materialism can in the closer fellowship of the small group identify with individuals who live simpler lifestyles and donate more money to the Lord's work. Hopefully they will learn to deny their materialistic desires in order to be able to give resources to a group member they know well who is struggling to feed his family or pay his mortgage or medical bills.
POOR CHURCH ATTENDANCE
Most people who avoid church do so because they see it as an optional experience. It matters little if they are not present on Sunday morning. And, unfortunately, there is not much evidence otherwise. While they know that the church must gather to worship God, they often trust that the church will have many present to carry on that important task. But God commanded us all to gather for worship. It is the highest priority.
There is another reason God wants Christians to gather together that can help church members also be there to worship together. The Lord has commanded us to love one another deeply, with sincerity. This cannot be done without getting together. Sunday is a critical time to love and "be there" for each other. It is most likely that when church members miss Sundays regularly they are not missed. After all, church "happened". Or did it? This attitude usually does not develop when individuals are involved in small group community! Someone is always watching for them because of the depth of the relationships that have developed. People look for one another either to give or receive help, encouragement, affirmation, and a host of other birthrights of Christians.
In adding a new level of significance to church membership and being together with other believers, congregational fellowship and small group community add significant drawing power for the church. Individuals will feel church attendance is not optional because somebody may need their help. Church attendance will also not be optional on days when they need someone else's help and are certain it will be available because of their close relationships in small group community. It is one thing to miss the Sunday School and the Sunday morning service with the certainty that no one will miss them or need them. It is an all together different thing to know that someone will most likely need them in some sort of significant way because they are involved in a church with true fellowship and community. If the Together Commands are taught to church members, then individuals will know that they are not expendable on Sundays.
The closer ties a Christian has to other Christians, the more guilt will be felt in using pornography. The hope is that this guilt will signal God's displeasure. Hopefully, forgiveness will be sought from God through confession. Then, if the group has been open to admission of major sin, help with repentance will be requested from the group.
Since this and other addictions have strong roots, it may be the group's mission to also get the person to take advantage of professional therapy. But the group must not delegate to a counselor the task of seeing that the pornographic addiction stops. Only the closest relationships can truly hold someone accountable. And long after the counselor has disappeared from the scene, it is Christian friends continuing to hold him accountable that will prevent relapse to porn.
The new church in the first and second centuries was noted for it's sharing of resources. Wealthier Christians were expected to and freely liquidated their assets. The money was re-distributed for the poor in the church. They provided for basic necessities such as food, clothing, shelter and, in those days, especially funeral expenses. It was a major part of the early church's witness that the believers cared for one another financially.
Today churches should be able to assure the basics for its members, meaning food, clothing and shelter. Unfortunately, this is hampered because Christians generally group themselves in churches by wealth. Churches filed with upper middle class Christians might want to help some of the smaller and poorer churches in their community.
But it is in small group community where individual needs are best discovered and material needs taken care of as necessary.
If the church can't do away with racism, nothing can. Only people who can adopt God's view of the different people He has made can adequately deal with racism. Unfortunately this is not the case in the church. But it could be! And it should be.
Especially in small group community can barriers between races be broken down. As individuals get to know one another intimately enough for a deeper understanding between people, mutual respect for the differing cultural aspects of each race can develop.
Congregational fellowship can help somewhat with racism if groups of one race get together with groups of another race from another church. This could be for worship together, joint-service projects, workshops or pie socials.
Formality and superstition undergird present religiosity. We are called to be followers of Jesus Christ, and if we look at His life closely in the Gospels, we find that it is not formal or in any way superstitious. There is a place for formality in the worship service. Formal liturgy may be important to a great many Christians and is as timeless as the Jewish and Christian faiths.
Superstition on the other hand, doing things ritualistically to acquire something from God, is not at all biblical. Examples of meaningless ritual within the Christian lifestyle is a touchy subject, and we hope not to overly offend. But we are opposed to Christians doing ritualistic things and feeling that they are pleasing God. Some of the things that can be done ritualistically without true spirituality are: attendance at Sunday School, family devotions, not placing anything on top of the Bible, among a host of other things. While they may be good ideas, they are not things that obligate God.
Obeying the commands of Scripture for Christians gathered (The Togethers) will bring a whole new dimension to a person's walk with the Lord. It will take attention off of simplistic rituals, whether for formal worship or superstition. Implementing each of The Togethers can be a good safeguard against formal, empty and superstitious religion.
There are a number of people who measure their relationship with God by whether they go to church on Sunday. Understanding that The Togethers are commands, not just optional good ideas from God, these people will hopefully understand that mere form of worship is displeasing to the Lord. Maybe they will realize that mere formality in Sunday worship alone is not sufficient to truly please God. Hopefully in small group community Christians will learn that worshiping God is more than merely putting in one's presence at the church on Sunday.
SINGLE PARENT STRESS
It is far more difficult to be a single parent than we who are not in that situation can imagine. Just for example, it is a major task to go to a church event with another couple. Think of the dilemma that comes when the single parent is dropped off after an evening workshop at church and her children are already asleep. She then has to find some way to get the babysitter home without leaving her children alone in the house. (Of course, those who took her to the workshop could take the babysitter home and solve this problem). But also imagine the tougher job of working all day and coming home to have to take care of all the children's needs without any help from anyone else.
Then there are all the family decisions that have to be shouldered alone. What kind of a car should she buy? What time of night should she set as a curfew for her teenage children? These types of decisions are usually shouldered by two people, a mother and a father. Even where one parent is passive there is at least the comfort of consent. Single parents have to make all of these decisions and feel all of the stress by themselves.
Congregational fellowship can help if the church remembers the special needs of single parents when they have large gatherings for suppers, mission conferences, etc. Especially the need for inclusion is critical.
But it is truly in small group community where the single parent's emotional needs can be adequately addressed. In small group community there are unlimited possibilities. Essentially all of the things that can be done by an extended family can be done better by the small Christian group. If it is balanced by age, the group can provide surrogate grandparents, uncles, aunts, and "buddies" for the kids. The small group community can also provide periods of rest for the mother. One night a week the kids could go to other people's homes for dinner and to stay the night. One weekend a month the single parent could be freed from all child-caring pressures as the kids go for a "vacation" with various families from the small group. Emergency financial needs, the need for male help from male group members, as well as many other needs can also be met by the small group.
How often we are surprised to hear that someone in the church has committed suicide. Almost 100% of the cases that I have experienced as a Christian (as well as a professional psychotherapist) were suicides by people too isolated from others for the depression and pressures of life to be seen and addressed. Their despair surfaced only after the suicide when people were trying to figure out what may have caused such drastic and tragic action.
Congregational fellowship cannot do much to stem suicide, but small group community can in fact prevent most suicides. Individuals who are known and loved and helped in a small group that knows them well will most likely not take their own lives. While there will be very few exceptions, it is a well known fact that the best answer to suicide is involvement with people in intimacy and mutual ministry to one another. People who are useful and needed by other people think twice about suicide. People who are deeply cared for usually let those people help them rather than run from reality through suicide.
No one really needs soap operas if they are involved intimately in other people's lives in a helpful way. In small group community people know one another well enough to have more than adequate involvement with the daily struggle of human beings. They will have a lot to think about, a lot to be concerned about and, especially, a lot to pray for.
Congregational fellowship and small group community, because they bring real involvement between people, can make television seem empty and hollow. Many people fill up their lives with television because they are lonely and want some sort of involvement. Many are afraid of real involvement, but this can be overcome after a short period of time in a church that is obedient to the Together Commands. Involvement with people can truly win out over staring at televisions or computers.
One of the key words in finding a job these days is "networking". This term reminds us that our friends and acquaintances can help us greatly in finding employment. Most people in society have limited contacts. What many non-Christians would do to have the network that a whole church can provide!
Congregational fellowship can help find jobs for unemployed church members. Often churches announce who is out of work and ask for prayer support. But church leadership can do more. Pastors, elders and deacons can communicate expectations that church members will ask around to see what appropriate job opportunities exist. The church office can receive phone calls telling of places the unemployed can call or go to and apply. The larger fellowship can also help the unemployed with food, clothing and money.
Unemployed persons in small group community can receive careful counsel regarding their strengths and weaknesses regarding specific types of work. They can even role-play job interviews to see why interviews are not producing results. Group members can also provide food and entertainment for the family of the unemployed group member. Lots of encouragement and hope are needed when unemployed. This is a specialty of small group community.
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