Admittedly, early American Evangelicalism had its issues. But, it also had its strengths.
Organizations like the Salvation Army and the Union Gospel Mission, and many more of the like, were started and thriving in major urban centers across the nation. The church was taking care of the poor and socially deprived.
That is, until the so-called “Great Reversal”.
When content is king
Due, in large measure, to the rising popularity of theological liberalism and its close association with the “social gospel” in the mid-20th century, the Evangelical church intentionally distanced itself from the work of poverty alleviation for fear of being associated with the liberalism of the day.
The result was far more emphasis on theological precision — and accountability therein — than on obedience and love.
…you get Bible studies
If you have spent much time around small groups, you have likely experienced this. Years can go by in a group without ever actually doing anything.
Every week, it’s a new text to collaboratively expound. Discussion is oriented toward having a correct theology of the text, rather than being changed and moved by it.
In a good small group, you may venture out to a local soup kitchen or do some kind of church-wide service project. But what rules is still content. It’s as though, we know we have to do something with texts like, “as you did to one of the least of these…you did to me” (Mt. 25:40). But it’s so unnatural and forced. The culture of the group remains estranged from the hospitable, gracious, and restful nature of the family of God.
Toward a new culture
In addition to looking at the family rhythms, here are a few tips for transitioning from a content-driven Small Group to Missional Family.
- Don’t worry if someone’s interpretation of a text is not fine tuned. Move on.
- Don’t over value participation in discussions. Demonstrate that everyone is accepted despite any contribution.
- Put your Bibles away. Incorporate the Word in real life talk, even if no one recognizes it as Bible.
- Learn from the children in the family.
- Talk about the gospel always; especially when it’s not expected of you.
- Be open about how inadequate you are.
- Be moved by people’s stories, and the stories of Scripture. (Yes, it’s okay to cry.)
- See each other more than once a week.
- Be generous with your fridge rights.
- Invite people over on a whim. Don’t be hurt (or surprised) if they say no. Invite again.
- Enthusiastically welcome each others’ friends and family, like they’re your own.
- Say those three words often. (I love you.)
When a group’s culture reflects its place in the family of God, tending to one another’s needs, and those outside, is a much more natural — even familial — obedience.
Makes one think of what Jesus said about his family, “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my mother and brother and sister” (Mt. 12:50).