Note: This has been excerpted from Community: Taking Your Small Group off Life Support by Brad House.
Practical theology is very popular in the church today, and rightfully so. Our theology should affect the way we live. Because we are chosen, holy, and beloved, we can live lives of compassion, humility, meekness, patience, and forgiveness. Our understanding of the atonement, for example, should change how we parent as we pursue and forgive when our children rebel, how we interact with our spouses as we lay down our lives to each other, and how we conduct ourselves as employees as we submit to and respect authority. Practical theology states that our theology determines our praxis.
When Theology and Praxis Get Switched
This emphasis on practical outworking of theology can lead to error, however, when we get theology and praxis inverted. When our experiences determine our theological convictions, we have become pragmatists, and not in a good way. That is not to say that pragmatism must be avoided. At the end of the day, what we call people to must be attainable and practical. Life is not theoretical. Our expectations for community are achievable with the help of the Holy Spirit as we abide in Christ. However, pragmatism does not determine the goal. Biblical convictions set the goal, and then we can work out the practical implications. Practical arguments are valid when they don't require you to alter your conviction and instead help you stick to it.
Unfortunately, most small-group ministries I come across while consulting have been developed primarily out of pragmatism rather than conviction. That is, often they have been built from a perspective of what will work rather than from a vision of what Jesus has done. The problem with starting from pragmatism is that it approaches solutions with preconceived limitations. It does not question the validity of those limitations but seeks only to accommodate them. This lowers our expectations of what God can do in and through community and leaves no room for the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. I want you to question the limitations that you have accepted in the past for community in your church. Work with those that are valid and develop community that breaks through those that are illegitimate.
Another concern I have with starting from pragmatism is that it causes us to accommodate the limitations of apathy, cultural priorities, and sin rather than calling people to a passion for Jesus, God-centeredness, and holiness that are anchored in the power of the Resurrection. Pragmatism says you should not expect much from people. It tells us to lower the bar and find ways to spoon-feed some God into their busy lives. That, however, is not the gospel.
Jesus' practical experience with the disciples could not have given him much hope that they would be able to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. Yet he did not accept their limitations nor lower his expectations. He called them to make disciples from Jerusalem and beyond.
A Word of Encouragement
Because we have been redeemed, made new, and given the Holy Spirit, we get to share the good news of Jesus. Don't give up on your convictions and settle for pragmatism. Keep this in mind as you work through the practical steps of building community groups within your church.
As we move toward strategy and application, we need to remind ourselves that our greatest ally in advancing the kingdom is not a good strategy but the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. As you build community in your church, begin with prayer. Pray at least as much as you create spreadsheets. Pray for God to move and use you and the men and women of your church. He promises to respond for the fame of the Father.
—Taken from from Community: Taking Your Small Group off Life Support by Brad House, copyright 2011. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org.