The following is a review of Chapter 7 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.
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You’ve read the stunning stats. You’ve heard the rumblings of the epidemic of pornography now overrunning the church. You’re concerned that the nature of your increasing counseling sessions indicates that the problem has arrived at your church. What do you do? As a shepherd, you want to protect your flock. You want to increase accountability and transparency. You want to provide more counseling. You want the saints at your church to live like saints. So you implement a small group ministry. Great move! But here’s a word of advice. Read and carefully take to heart the admonitions written by Dave Harvey in his chapter, “And Now for the Big Picture.”
As indicated by the title, Dave Harvey looks back over the work of the previous chapters in Why Small Groups? and writes an application conclusion. This chapter is hard hitting. Harvey is very frank about the problems the church is facing, and he does not sugar coat his answers. I liked that. The main point in his chapter flashes in neon red, Christians need to be more committed to the church! He writes “[the] Church can’t be a mere accessory” (94).
He stresses this point with quotes, illustrations, and principles, and then more quotes, illustrations, and principles. He cites:
“Perhaps the greatest single weakness of the contemporary Christians church is that millions of supposed members are not really involved at all, and what is worse, do not think it strange that they are not.” – Elton Trueblood (92)
“[M]any churches have not learned the lessons that most parents stumble on sooner or later. Churches imagine that the less they ask or expect of believers, the more popular they will become and the more contented the worshipers will be. The reverse is true. . . .” – David Wells (94)
In this chapter, you’ll also see quotes from Douglas Wilson, C.J. Mahaney, Charles Colson, Randy Alcorn, John Stott, John Calvin, and even an excerpt from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s classic sermon “Drum Major Instinct.” Harvey harmonizes their voices together in concert to inspire the reader to possess a greater passion and commitment to the church. This may seem odd in a book that advocates small groups, but that is precisely why Harvey wrote this chapter. He pleads with Christians to rekindle their love for the church. Small groups he explains are vital, but they are a means to an end and not the end—the end which can only be fully achieved through the church.
Although not as Scripturally saturated as Mahaney’s chapter, the strength of Harvey’s appeal is its biblical theology contending that Christians commit themselves fully to the church. His foundational passage is Acts 2:41-42. Utilizing a translation from Eugene Peterson that states, “That day about three thousand took him at his word, were baptized and were signed up,” Harvey camps on the words “signed up” (94). He explains that once “signed up” the early Christians devoted themselves to the church.
So the reader doesn’t assume he is talking only to Christian giants, Harvey uses Average Joe, true to life, illustrations of Mark, the man who loved his church more than the money and success of corporate America (91), or Stu and Lisa, who looked for and found a church of devoted members by finding devoted small group members first (94-95), and lazy Brian, who was transformed by realizing “I’m a part” through a small group (98). And there are others. These anecdotes are compelling because they show how real Christians through small group ministries overcame real challenges because of their commitment to the church.
Consistent with his passion for the church and how small groups have to fit into that big picture, Harvey does the careful shepherding work of warning against what he calls ‘viruses.’ He explains that “‘Viruses’ can neutralize our devotion to the church and small groups” (100). He works through a list of five different viruses:
- The Church-Lite Virus
- The Feelings Virus
- The Ambition Virus
- The Church-Alternative Virus
- The Leisure Virus
In a balanced but again, hard-hitting critique, he develops, as well as you will find in print, the place and potential dangers of para-church ministries, The Church-Alternative Virus (102-106). His concluding appeal is provocative. “What could happen if God married the heroic zeal of parachurch visionaries to a theological conviction for the local church? The church would be revolutionized . . . and the world might never be the same!” (106).
A non-negotiable for any good book is that it has a good ending. So let me leave you to evaluate his. After quoting Martin Luther King, Jr., “I just want to leave a committed life behind and that’s all I want to say . . .” Harvey ends Why Small Groups? by saying:
As you finish this book, we trust you come away with practical insights and suggestions that will make your small group even better. Our goal in writing it, however, penetrates deeper. We have tried pointing beyond small groups to the purpose for which they exist—Christ’s glorious Bride, the church. Love your church. Lay down your life for your church. Pour out your passions and energies to accomplish God’s plan for the church. Your small group has enormous potential—harness it for the benefit of your church. For this is where God has called you. This is where he is changing you. This is where he wants you to leave a committed life behind. And that’s all I have to say.” (107)
To the pastor seeking to faithfully discharge his duty to shepherd his flock, to the church leader desiring earnestly to be used by God to strengthen the church, to the church member longing to grow in faithful obedient devotion to Christ, this reviewer, is convinced that you will find in Dave Harvey’s labor trustworthy words, truths that will heal, and a passion for the church that is contagious. I give “And Now for the Big Picture” two big thumbs way up!
And that’s all I have to say.