The following is a review of Chapter 6 of Why Small Groups? by C.J. Mahaney. This free e-book is available on the Sovereign Grace Ministries online store and is a helpful guide for accountability groups.
. . . .
“We love our comfort, don’t we?” It’s just so American, and unfortunately has become so Christian. However, according to John Butler, comfort-loving is antithetical to growing in Christ-likeness. Butler confronts this pervasive cultural trend in his chapter of Why Small Groups? titled “Never Say Comfortable.” He writes: “Small groups can provide excellent opportunities for us to die to excessive love of comfort by embracing the changes and challenges God brings our way” (77).
As you read through this chapter it is quite obvious that Butler, like the rest of the contributors in this work, writes from a wealth of hands-on small group experience. That’s a big plus: for the pastor trying to initiate a small group ministry, one thing I can guarantee is that he will make a lot of mistakes. That is, unless he has a coach. In Why Small Groups? Butler finds eight. He is an experienced coach who helps pastors, small group leaders, and participants develop successful small groups.
In the first section, “Making Way for New People,” Butler introduces the reader to a problem he calls koinonitis. He explains that this is an obvious play off the Greek word for fellowship, koinonia. He defines it as a “kind of a disease.” It happens when Christians “become ingrown and selfish” (78). In a style consistent throughout this chapter, Butler utilizes simple examples to clarify and apply his point with clarity. In order to avoid cliques and koinonitis, he goes so far as to walk the reader/small group members through what to say to make a new visitor feel welcomed.
Don’t miss the importance of this principle. When ministries and churches turn inward, they miss the whole purpose of their existence. God commissioned the church to turn outward in evangelism so that people will turn upward to worship God. The snowball effect of koinonitis may not be readily evident in terms of dealing with personal struggles for purity (and hence my purpose for writing this review for Covenant Eyes), but they are connected. Sin is rooted in selfishness, and no one who is selfish can grow to maturity in Christ-likeness. So Butler’s caution is important. The fact that a pastor implements small groups won’t automatically cause the participants to grow spiritually. The pastor must make sure that the groups are motivated by selflessness. By heeding this careful advice, Butler surely saves pastors who are eager to start small groups years of headaches.
In the section “Many Hands Make Light Work” Butler gives an illustration of a friend who became an Army Ranger. He then tells wittily how “Too often I consider myself some kind of “Special Forces” soldier, a “breed apart.” The self-deprecating and funny part, he confesses, is that he thought so highly of himself “…because of some puny act of service that challenged me in some small way! That’s just pride,” he explains, “because serving people is normal New Testament Christianity, not some elite operation requiring heroic effort” (82). You can only laugh at this transparent story if you too confess that you have been there, done that. Following his quip, He drives home his point with a quote from Jerry Bridges: “Serving others usually requires no special talent or ability. . . . The reason most of us do not see opportunities to serve is that we are continually thinking about ourselves instead of others” (83).
As I talk to pastors in churches, and in a wide variety of cultural contexts, I consistently find one universal need—the need for more leaders or better leaders. A clear answer to this is small groups. Nothing—nothing, including seminary—develops church leaders better than good small groups. This is how Jesus developed leadership for the church, isn’t it? “He appointed twelve, so that they would be with Him, and that He could send them out to preach” (Mark 3:14). Butler says, “Small groups benefit by growing . . . and then multiplying” (84). As groups get bigger, in order to maintain their effectiveness, they need to split and start new smaller groups. That means you need more leaders. And small group meetings, among other things, effectively equip men to lead small groups by giving them on duty, hands-on training.
Another benefit to small groups that Butler’s chapter alone emphasizes is outreach. When led with the right focus (serving God by serving others) the small group participants begin to see the needs of the lost around them. As new believers join small groups “they still know more unbelievers than do Christians, so it’s often easy for them to reach out effectively to their unsaved friends” (86). He places small groups right on the front of the evangelism battle ground. A church with a lot of small groups will often have a lot of direct contact with unbelievers. So small groups leaders ready to capitalize on these open doors can raise up an effective witnessing army when they equip the participants to share the gospel.
In his concluding section, which he calls “The Sum of the Parts,” Butler says, “I have seen first-hand that the small-group structure had much to do with a church’s level of success. . . .The role of the small group is unique—it represents the practical application of a church’s beliefs” (88). I too have seen the same, and I thoroughly believe that pastors who respond to the plea to utilize small group ministries will see the same.
“Never Say Comfortable” is neither an eloquent exposition on discipleship, nor is it a theological treatise to be marveled over, and it doesn’t try to be. It is a practical guide that offers small group leaders and participants valuable principles learned from years of experience. Anyone looking for this kind of advice will not be disappointed with Butler’s work. This chapter makes a helpful contribution to Why Small Groups? and should be carefully read and then implemented.