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.