Gospel Driven Small Groups

  1. By Shane Sunn
  2. On Nov.09.2013

Saint Patrick doesn't just provide small groups for its members and regular attendees; it is small groups. Small groups are the place where people get to know one another and care for one another, but they are also the place where people learn to apply the gospel to their everyday lives. When we speak of "gospel driven" small groups we are making a statement of theological conviction. We believe underlying every passage of Scripture is the gospel message. Without understanding how a passage relates to and finds its fulfillment in the finished work of Christ, one will not be able to interpret or apply it properly. Luke 24:44f He said to them, "This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms." Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. John 5:39 “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me…”

We believe that in order to teach and apply any biblical text properly, one must understand how it finds its fulfillment and explanation in the gospel story. Failure to understand how any particular part of Scripture finds it ultimate fulfillment and application in Christ will lead us toward moralism and/or mysticism. Moralism says, “This is what you should do to have God’s favor (to apply this passage). Mysticism says, “This is what you should feel in order to have God’s favor.” Certainly the Scriptures command obedience and have something very significant to say about our emotions, but without the Gospel the true power for change is omitted and either moralism or mysticism is substituted in its place. For example, the application that is often made from story of David and Goliath is, "You need to have courage like David had courage." Such an application is guilty of using the text to formulate moral precepts that we should imitate. This isn't to say that we aren't to exhibit courage or any other moral virtue like David when we face the enemy. But the question we must ask is, "How?” Can we become more courageous simply by trying harder? Not likely, but this is exactly what moralism encourages us to do. Mysticism offers no answer either because while it hails courage as a great virtue, it never quite gets there in terms of practical obedience. Every passage not only offers an example for us to follow but also tells us how. If Christian teaching doesn’t answer "how" then it has not been faithful to the full revelation of Scripture and the likely application will be no different than the moral requirements of other religions. Why? The power for change is still centered in the self. Where is the gospel in the story of David and Goliath? Jesus the true King and descendent of David defeated the most significant Goliath and it’s only by faith in him that true courage can be produced. Otherwise, my responsibility to be courageous would need to be compelled by religious duty, or by putting on the mask of some kind of mystical courage that is fake and of no earthly good. True courage arises from admitting that I’m not courageous just like the Israelites, but that I have a David. In other words, true courage arises from admitting the truth about myself and then finding my acceptance in the One who was courageous for me. This produces inward change that results in true courage. The other produces outward change but doesn’t change the heart.

The distinct purpose of small groups varies from church to church. Because we are committed to a “gospel-driven” model, both evangelism and discipleship are accomplished simultaneously in our small groups. We deny that you graduate to more advanced teaching than the ongoing application of the gospel to the heart of the believer. This isn’t to deny that persons advance in the Christian life, its just affirming the means of advancement. Beside the purposes of evangelism and discipleship our small groups will serve as the primary place our people are nurtured and cared for. Churches who look exclusively to their leadership to nurture and care for its members inevitably have many “fall through the cracks”. We believe that “community” is the best counselor and offers the best care giving. Our pastoral staff and other leaders are certainly involved in nurturing the congregation, but again we want everyone to realize that a significant degree of nurturing takes place in small groups. So our small-groups are encouraged to demonstrate the “one-another” commands of Scripture to love one another, share with one another and speak the truth to one another in love.