"Don't teach about worship as part of the small-group order when you're speaking to our leaders," the pastor told me right before the seminar started. "We don't practice worship in our small groups. It's too much of a hassle to train the leaders to direct worship—and after all, our small groups are primarily for non-Christians."
"Okay," I nodded—outwardly calm. But inwardly I was wrestling with this new revelation.
What surprised me about the small-groups ministry at this church was that its normal, typical small groups excluded worship. I understand that a certain number of groups will have more of a seeker-sensitive approach—but to exclude worship altogether from the bread-and-butter small groups? I felt that this church had cut out one of the major arteries that flows directly to the heart of God.
I strongly believe that small-group ministry is a powerful tool to reach the lost, but is this our only purpose? We're flooded with information about how to be "seeker-sensitive," but have we paid as much attention to being God-sensitive? How does God feel when we pay more attention to the seeker than the Almighty?
The Scriptures help straighten us out.
Jesus says, "Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only"(Matthew 4:10). Worship first; service second. This order is repeated later on in Matthew when Jesus says, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." Afterwards comes the second command: "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:37–39).
And then we read about the M sisters: Martha and Mary. Martha excelled in serving but failed in worship. Mary cared about only one thing—the person of Jesus Christ. Who got the "A" grade? Jesus tells us: "Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her" (Matthew 10:42).
One more example: In the last book of the Bible, Jesus talks about an incredible church that produced good works like a modern-day factory. Yet after highlighting the impeccable deeds of that church's congregation, Jesus rebukes them: "I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lamp-stand from its place" (Revelation 2:4–5).
How does all this relate to small-group ministry? It tells me that an upward, God-focus must be at the center of every small-group ministry. While techniques to lasso non-Christians are great, they shouldn't be at the core of our ministry. God is the core. Let's be encouraged to make our groups God-sensitive.
The Normal Small Group
In the same way that the human body needs a good diet, most "normal" cell groups include certain staple ingredients. I recommend the following practices for basic cell groups:
- Upward Focus—knowing God through worship and prayer
- Inward Focus—knowing each other through fellowship
- Outward Focus—reaching out to those who don't know Jesus through small-group evangelism
- Forward Focus—raising up new leaders through training and discipleship
No two small groups are exactly alike, but each maintains the ingredients.
Prayer in Small Groups
Prayer is part of that upward focus. In my own cell group, we almost always begin with prayer. Then we enter worship, which is a form of prayer. Notice how prayer and worship are linked in Revelation 5:8–9:
"Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song: You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation."
We also start the lesson with prayer. During the lesson time, God speaks to us through the Word. Invariably there are prayer needs, so we allow a time for prayer requests. Finally, we pray for unsaved loved ones to know Jesus Christ and come to our group.
The sensitive leader utilizes the style of prayer that best fits the context of his or her small group. When non-Christians are present, for example, an all-out, "fiery" prayer meeting is probably not the best. Silent prayer might be in order, or praying in pairs. Group leaders must remain sensitive to the situation and utilize the type of prayer that best fits with the circumstances—but do pray.
Worship in the Cell
Singing and prayer form part of the upward focus in a small group. Entering God's presence through song is an important part of the worship time.
You don't have to play guitar or sing like Amy Grant to lead God-honoring worship. I've experienced worship times in which the members choked out a joyful noise (with the emphasis on the word noise). God doesn't require a tabernacle choir. He looks at the motivation for singing. Some groups simply prefer to play a tape or CD, while the members follow along.
The worship leader should pick five to six songs before the worship starts. Or the worship leader might invite group members to select the songs before the worship time and then sing them in sequence. I think it's best to concentrate on God during the entire worship time, rather than stopping and starting to pick the song. I also like to intermingle praise and prayer between songs.
Don't limit the worship time to just singing songs. At a cell-groups seminar, one participant shared, "It's important to go beyond singing songs. Our group has experienced God's presence through reading Psalms together, praying sentence prayers, or even waiting in silence."
Go for It
Make your group God-sensitive, while asking him to show you how to reach non-Christians. Put him first in your group, and he'll give you a new, dynamic atmosphere that will both edify the saints and evangelize the unbelievers.
Copyright © 2001 Christianity Today. Originally appeared on Smallgroups.com.