This post by Nigel Coles was originally published at Seventy Two
The rule of six. Are we being offered a gift or is our activity simply being constrained?
I am a bit of a weirdo when it comes to number patterns, I kept daily stats on my computer throughout lockdown, and I’d already been having conversations with whoever would listen, about multiplying small groups and how six seemed an ideal number on Zoom, even before social gatherings of more than six people became prohibited by law.
Physical or virtual, the UK church can maintain a focus on the seed of the word of God taking root and flourishing in the lives of a growing number of people, even and especially in these times. Whether you’re a church leader of many years’ experience or a day one follower of Jesus Christ, we all have a part to play and some responsibility to take.
Step one: Determine to be shaped by faith, not by fear. It’s a heart thing. The virus is revealing the object(s) of our passion. If we over focus on our circumstances, whether good or ill, our relationship with God and the character of God will become blurred. The virus has brought into focus the reality of the spiritual health of the UK church. I wonder what you’re seeing as a result. At the end of the day the ‘church’ is made up of individual followers of Jesus, we are the ‘living stones’ being built together. Let none of us be under any illusion; we are all a part of both the problem and the solution.
Step two. Pay attention to the core spiritual disciplines. ‘You can trust the word of God and you can trust the Spirit of God’. That’s the mantra I keep repeating to groups, especially those starting or leading them, when they get concerned about the shape not looking like their traditional Bible study. My counter-question: ‘how have people’s lives been shaped to become more like Jesus by how you’ve previously operated?’ tends to make the point.
Alan Hirsch highlights five things as ‘core spiritual disciplines’ in “Forgotten Ways” (is the virus revealing what we’ve forgotten?):
- Engagement with Scripture
- Worship and service
I’ve been a Baptist Minister for thirty-four years now, which means I’ve been a regional Minister longer than a local Minister. Consequently:
- I’ve come to see our main Sunday gathering more through the eyes of a member of the congregation than as a provider/leader
- I’ve not been reliant on whatever my local church serves up on a Sunday morning, to sustain me.
I realise I have a myriad of opportunities to engage with other Christians every day, which help me deepen the roots of my faith and relationship with God, which is both unusual and an immensely enriching privilege. However, lockdown brought no new challenges to my growth as a disciple, because I have been in the habit for many years of taking responsibility for my own life in God. Sadly, the virus has revealed a large slice of the UK church have become reliant on someone else opening up their Bible for them.
For anyone who’s not aware, we’ve developed The Discipleship Cycle as a mechanism to help individuals engage with God’s purposes through their lives by engaging with scripture. The app will be released in the new year, so watch this space.
Step three. ‘Do not give up the habit of meeting with one another, as some are in the habit of doing’. My hunch is, when the writer to the Hebrews first penned these words, our small group was more what would be brought to mind, than the typical Sunday gathering I attended pre-March 2020.
For me, our small group has been the most significant source of spiritual encouragement and rootedness out of anything, since the pandemic hit our shores. At no point over the last twenty years have I succumbed to the temptation to believe I can do this alone.
If I’m tempted to despair, it’s when listening to the desperation in people’s voices to return to meeting as they once did. Please don’t mishear me; I’ve no issue with meeting on a Sunday. I love being a part of the large gathering, vibrant worship, big-scale encounter experience. Yet I have to say honestly, being part of a small group enables and nurtures life in God, in reality, day-to-day, more than anything.
If you’re in a position of leadership my plea would be: maintain your focus on making and growing disciples, but think smaller not larger, for your delivery slots. If you don’t have any formal leadership responsibility my plea would be: ask to join with a few others to engage with scripture together and pray the life of God into one another. If you can’t find a group to join, start one.
The rule of six is a gift.