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Setting Group Members Free

Setting Group Members Free

Recognizing how group members' church and family backgrounds affect them

Rick Howerton  |  posted 3/12/2012

If we desire our small-group members to grow and flourish, we must recognize what holds them captive. Sometimes a sin pattern or incorrect theology can cause someone to be held captive. Other times, it is much more subtle—something they themselves may not even realize. And unfortunately, people who mean well can be the ones causing our captivity. Thankfully, small-group leaders can play an important role in helping group members break free. Here are three boxes that can hold group members captive.

The Denominational Box

This is built each time a denomination creates its own rendition of what Scripture is stating but that rendition contradicts, adds to, or tweaks what the Bible really says. In many instances these denominational ideals are referred to as "denominational distinctives." That is, expectations, guidelines, or doctrinal ideas that are considered distinctive to that one group of believers. For instance, several major denominations have declared that drinking alcoholic beverages in any amount is wrong. However, I believe most pastors, even those that are part of those denominations, would agree that Scripture only says drinking to the point of drunkenness is sinful.

While past generations may have been striving to be good Methodists, Lutherans, or Baptists, younger generations are leery of these titles. Instead, they are longing to become mature followers in right relationship with God, allowing the Bible, not a particular denomination's thoughts, to affect the way they live. Today's believers are wary of accepting denominational distinctives, and they become suspicious of church leaders, churches, and denominations who try to push these on them.

Small-group leaders must be willing to encourage their group members to think critically through their beliefs, digging into the Bible for themselves. Leaders can also help group members to understand those beliefs that unite believers—even focusing on something like the Nicene Creed.

The Local Church Box

This confining and debilitating box is built each time a local church creates stated or unstated expectations that go beyond biblical expectations for those who are part of that body of believers. This box has a profound effect on those who attend that church.

These decisions can leave church members angry, confused, and embarrassed. I remember talking with a small-group leader after a conference I led. She was heart-broken that her young adult son had declared he would never go back to church. The small rural church had transitioned to a contemporary worship style with a worship band. Many in the church didn't like it, though. So when the lead pastor moved on, leaders in the church declared that drums would never be allowed in that church again. Some in the meeting even declared that drums were satanic. This small-group leader's son had been the drummer. She was hurt by this unnecessary action that had caused her son to fall away.

When local church boxes are built and people are forced into them, the levels of bondage are overwhelming. Individuals forced into this box carry heavy loads placed on them by those who mean well but miss the mark. We must recognize that sometimes what is determined to be an important addition to the constitution and bylaws is actually a passive form of spiritual abuse.

Small-group leaders can help group members name these unfortunate experiences. And by naming them, healing can begin. They can also empower group members to be involved in the decisions made in the church and connect them with appropriate church leaders when they have concerns.

Topics:Bondage, Brokenness, Doctrine, Integrity, Shepherding, Spiritual formation, Spiritual growth, Transformation
Date Added:March 12, 2012

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Anastasia Beavers

March 26, 2012  12:31pm

If we all choose to act like Jesus... it wouldn't matter what we played, how we played, or where we played our our heartfelt and orthadox love songs/prayers to him. I do however, like the artical. It has many good points.

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March 17, 2012  12:27pm

Humility is the hardest virtue. The article was entirely correct. It simply wasn't comprehensive. There are many areas in which we in the Church need to examine ourselves closely in the light of Scripture. Humility is the heart of faith, and the young man was driven from the church by heartless elders who would not be humble. In the 1600s one cried out in Parliament, "Gentlemen, please, for the love of God, consider it possible you may be mistaken!" We would do well to consider that ourselves, for we are not inspired. Our gifts are given to us for others' good (1 Pet. 4;10), 6 of the 10 Commandments are about how we treat others, the Sermon on the Mount is about relationships (to God and to others), Jesus' parables are mostly about relationships--what then is the heart of God? Meditate on Phil.3:10 for a while and see what God says to you. There's so much more for us to be. Don't settle for a box to live in. Run the race instead, and take someone with you.

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March 14, 2012  7:53pm

I cannot disagree more with the first two posts. As a 57 year old grandfather, I am saddened by the seemingly lack of grace toward this dear young man. It seems to me that those of us in the "older" generation should humbling consider the impact of our attitudes and actions, and how that may be closing the church door on those coming behind us, our children & grandchildren. We should always care more for those in the next generations more than our own tastes, preferences and comfort.

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Paul Dowdy

March 14, 2012  7:29pm

I'm not sure I agree with this article . Who is to say what scripture says in "secondary beliefs"?Would not the people that are saying "this is what scripture says" doing the same thing the others did by building their boxes? I'm not against drums in a worship ,but where does it say in scripture drums are accepted? Are Small Group leaders to be totally objective in deciding what "boxes" members are in? It would seem they grew up in family boxes also. Just thinking

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March 14, 2012  6:27pm

I agree with the authors thoughts about tradition not allowing us to have the freedom that scripture, if interpreted correctly, would in many cases allow. I do have a problem with the young man who rebelliously proclaimed his intention not to enter church again. To blame his reaction on the church's decision not to allow drums is the classic blame game of our day. Perhaps the churches decision was wrong but his reaction was also wrong. Life is not fair. We cannot always have our way. Why, because we are incapable of seeing the big picture as God sees it. I wonder if it was actually the Lord who decided that it was time this young man's ego needed to be crushed. We cannot choose how we are to be crushed, but everyone of us needs to be crushed from time to time. The first thing this young man needed to do was to ask God what He was trying to teach him through this experience. Also, was the church remiss in its teachings on how to handle situations when we feel we have been wronged?

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