I have often debated quietly amongst myself the matter of small group homework. As a small group leader I put in many hours each week preparing a lesson and pastoring those in my group with encouraging notes, emails, hospital visits, an occasional lunch date and prayer. This is what I love to do and I am committed to the sacrifice of time and energy. But what about the members of my small group? Their time is valuable and most have jobs, families and commitments that vie for their attention. Each week I strive to offer them a place to belong and a place to grow. Those two hours become a sanctuary set apart from the rush of living and allow each person time to worship, to learn, to pray, to fellowship. I've always designed my lessons to accommodate those new to the group or those who didn't get a chance to read the chapter of our current book or section of Scripture. But, I've never given homework … until now.
The often forgotten small group dimension, outreach, has been knocking at the door of my heart this past year. I've specifically been challenged by Steve Sjogren's book 'Conspiracy of Kindness.' Reading this book stirred my soul. I was challenged to embrace the lifestyle of showing a watching world the gospel of Jesus Christ through servant evangelism.
My small group read this book two summers ago. Our meeting times were spent out in the community putting what we had learned to the test. We washed windshields, returned empty garbage cans, handed out cold cans of pop to construction workers, inserted quarters at the Laundromat, and cleaned public toilets. Then we would gather back together to enjoy refreshments and share our experiences. Without exception the reports were filled with excitement and awe at the response to God's love shown in practical ways. It's been over a year since we read this book, but the stories still come to my attention. This idea of servant evangelism has made its way from just a great idea to a way of life for many in my small group.
I now give my small group members homework. I send them out the door into the coming week with a challenge, an invitation to apply what they've learned. There is a world watching those of us who make known our faith in Jesus Christ, but sadly, our preaching alone often hits ears turned deaf to its perceived platitudes. As much as we need to be living in community growing in our faith we also need to be drenching a parched world with the life-changing gift of God's love. The following are a few examples of homework I've given my small group:
- Encourage your small group members to ask God, one time in the coming week, "How can I show Your love to the next person that crosses my path?" Then do it. Take a few minutes during your next meeting to hear some of their stories.
- Ask each member to bring in a photo of someone they know who needs God in their life. Take the photos and make Xerox copies and staple them together. Give each member of your group this outreach album and encourage them to pray for each person.
- Ask each person to invite one person (family member, neighbor, co-worker) to lunch in the coming week. Emphasize that many people don't have someone in their life that would sacrifice their time to just be with them. Often the invitation alone is enough to help heal a wounded heart.
- As a group put together a basket filled with candy, baked treats, packets of hot chocolate, etc., surrounded by personal notes of encouragement, scripture, and/or written prayers. Give this basket to a predetermined person or family in need (new baby, newly married, death in the family, new to town, graduation, promotion). Spend some time at the end of your meeting praying for these people.
Small group homework is not a burdensome chore; it's where our knowledge can become the living body of Christ.