"The whole is more than the sum of its parts." Aristotle coined this phrase that summarizes what people mean by "holistic." A similar concept is intended by the word "synergy": A phenomenon that occurs when two or more influences act together to create an effect that is greater than if each agent were to have worked separate from one another. Both are fitting when talking about small groups because when believers gather in Jesus' Name, a supernatural dynamic is birthed into existence that redefines the gathering itself and radiates the richness of the collective experience (Matthew 18:20).
Furthermore, when people say something is "organic," they are usually trying to convey that it is pure or living. It is also fitting to apply this word to small groups because when believers come together to do God's will, Jesus' Presence makes the nature of their gathering holy and life-giving. In Christ, a gathering is infused with supernatural power and has all the latent potential to be used by God as a beachhead for His Kingdom expansion.
First off, for a group to express its holistic organic identity in Christ, it must draw its breath from the life-giving air of the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.
This is what we see the newborn Church doing in Acts 2:42-47. These believers were instinctively acting out of their original design like a newborn baby drawing its first breath and crying out to have its most basic needs fulfilled. In doing so, they manifested what God predestined the Body of Christ to do on earth (Ephesians 3:10-11). The Early Church provides us with a model for holistic, organic community life that can be replicated in small groups.
The Purpose Driven church health model from Saddleback Church (Rick Warren) is such a widely-accepted biblical paradigm because it is rooted in the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.[i] Taken together, the "five purposes" of worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry, and missions give us a picture of holistic, organic "church-life" that can translate into "group-life." A key to helping your group function holistically is to structure your group life around these purposes and give place for everyone's gifts to be expressed through them.
The priority or emphasis each group gives to these purposes will vary depending on those in the group. Furthermore, the strategy or style with which a group works out these purposes will differ based on the collective ability of the group. An organic small group respects these five purposes, but has a flexible arrangement in terms of how it organizes its group life around them and expresses them. This does not mean it is unbalanced or 'unholistic'. It is not possible to balance the purposes in every gathering, but a healthy balance (body symmetry) is possible over time through intentional leadership. If you are aiming to balance the purposes in your group life, it helps to take a long-range view, which reflects (and respects) the natural development of relationships.
The same small group can reinvent itself many times over the course of several seasons of life together. During certain seasons, it may give priority or emphasis to just one purpose without neglecting the others. For example, a group may decide to focus on fellowship and build their friendships by having social events and fun outings during the summertime. Come fall, they might choose a bible study of interest to them and top it off with a holiday party. In the winter, they could elect to explore what their spiritual gifts are, use them to affirm and minister to each other, and brainstorm how to use their gifts to spread the Gospel. In the spring, the focus may turn to missions as the group plans to minister to others beyond the group through a ministry of your church, a local charity, or a cross-cultural mission. The next summer, the group may elect to enhance their worship life through outdoor events, concerts, or even a short study on what worship means. Was there an emphasis on all five purposes in each season? No. Was there an emphasis on the five purposes over the course of 12-15 months? Yes.
One benefit to this approach is that there will always be different groups with different group dynamics in different places along the relationship-building process and spiritual growth continuum. This will create more connection and growth opportunities that can meet people where they are in their spiritual journey and results in a diversification of entry-points into your church's community life. It is advantageous to diversify your small group ministry for the same reasons financial advisors urge their clients to diversify their investment portfolios: To increase its strength, stability, security, and scope of possibilities.
A holistic, organic group is formed when believers gather in Jesus' Name. A group expresses itself holistically and organically when it does what the Lord has designed it to do.
What this looks like will vary from group to group because every group has its own unique dynamic, influenced by the personalities, passions, and supernatural giftings of the people who are a part of it. The same is true of churches. This is a positive, and God wants us to learn to play to our strengths (instead of being something we are not) and work together with the strengths of other believers so that His purposes in this world may be accomplished.
When believers think about spiritual gifts, they tend to think about them on an individual level. Understandably, it begins there for most. However, if it stops there, it stops short of how God can use us to advance His Kingdom purposes. We need to also think about spiritual gifts in the context of the group. In fact, the key to unlock your group's potential for being a force for God can be found by discovering the unique combination of spiritual gifts represented by your group members. This is the application of systems-thinking to spiritual gifts in the context of small group outreach.
Paul did not want us to be ignorant about spiritual gifts because they help us understand where we are suppose to be and what we are suppose to be doing (1 Cor 12:1).[ii] The more we decipher our gifts, the more we discern our calling. This is worked out in community, and a small group is the ideal place for this to happen. Small groups provide the human connection that is necessary for God's purposes to be worked out in our lives. A holistic, organic group understands the importance of connection and the power of working and growing together in Christ. Group members can do what God has called them to do more effectively as they develop their supernatural, synergistic, and systems-thinking group-life.
We must think systemically about spiritual gifts as opposed to operating out of a silo mentality.
I need other people to help me discover my God-given gifting and I need them just the same, if not more, to realize my God-given potential. I must be connected if I am truly committed to living a life of purpose.
The collaborative power of a small group is unleashed when members are using their God-given gifts to fulfill the 'one anothers' of the New Testament (e.g. love one another, forgive one another, carry one another's burdens, etc.). The more group members use their gifts to build one another up in love and serve the common good, the more holistic and organic a small group will be (1 Cor 12:7; Eph 4:16).
What are the distinctives of a holistic group? A holistic group is a supernatural, synergistic, systems-thinking group by nature. It expresses itself organically through its unique group gift-mix. When thinking about how to function as a holistic organic group, we are better starting off with asking WHO is in our group rather than WHAT we should be doing. Holistic group life follows gifting just as form follows function. The group fulfills God's mission together as they engage in the five purposes with respect to the unique combination of giftings represented in the group.
Spiritual gifts are the conduit of God's power to the group, so it is crucial that we are senstive to the supernatural composition of each group.
Although different groups hold the same purposes of worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry, and missions in common, the way in which they work out these purposes will be unique because each group has a unique dynamic. Again, a group is holistic and organic when it functions according to its true identity and purpose in Christ. This is discovered and developed by tapping into the collaborative power of its God-given collective gift-mix. When this happens, a small group can maximize its impact for Christ in the world.
[i] Learn more at www.purposedriven.com ABOUT PD
[ii] In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul speaks about how the Body of Christ is unified even though it is made up of many different parts (v. 12). God orchestrates the placement of every part just as He wants it to be (v. 18). Then He brings the various members together wanting them to be united in such a way that every part will empathize with the joy or pain experienced by one (vv. 24-26). None alone, but all together. And just how is one's 'place' or role determined in the whole body? It is by gifting.