Note: This article is Part Two of a two-part interview. Click here to read the first half of this discussion.
SmallGroups.com: You say you're not against curriculum, so what do you see as the value of curriculum in a small-group experience?
Reggie McNeal: I think it helps to convene and frame the experience. Bible studies and other curriculum certainly have the capacity to be truth launchers, because my life experience doesn't necessarily reflect the truth of the Bible. So I think curriculum can speak truth into our lives.
But if people just know the truth and don't deal with the truth, we're not making progress. In fact, I'm afraid we sometimes inoculate people against the truth when we don't go deeper and deal with our own lives—if truth is just an idea we discuss instead of something that we're holding up as a way of life.
So if "Bible study" is as far as a group goes, then it's not going to be very helpful.
Well, yeah. If curriculum consumes the majority of our group time, we can be duped into thinking that because we've dealt with the curriculum for tonight, we've dealt with people. But that's not true. People development is laborious. It's hand-to-hand combat, or maybe heart-on-heart combat.
For instance, we have a small group at my house, and we're going through the red letters of Jesus. We're in Mark, and we're just biting off one set of red letters every week. It would be easy just to leave the discussion out there. For instance, this week it's Jesus commanding a demon to come out. Now, a group could get all hung up on the reality of evil and spiritual warfare and all that, and they would probably have a great discussion. Be we chose to focus more on questions like: What kind of resistance are we meeting in our lives? Is the lack of resistance to evil in our own life a symptom of not really following Jesus? Does following Jesus mean you're going to run into stiff resistance?
That's how our curriculum was framed. It was a mirror for us all to look in.
Let's look back at the first shift: internal to external. You use the phrase "blessing strategy" a lot in your book. What do you mean by it?
Again, that attractional thing is so big in us that, in the past, we thought our job was to invite people to church so they could get fixed there—as opposed to us becoming agents of the kingdom right where we work, live, play, and eat. But people aren't desperate for church; they're desperate for God. And Jesus didn't teach us to pray, "Thy church come." He didn't say, "I come to give you church and give it to you more abundantly."
So I tell congregations not to have an evangelism strategy, because that's not working anyway. Most churches aren't growing, right? And even when we do "evangelize," we're actually inviting a lot of people just get converted in the church culture—to become like us. Here's what I say instead: Have a blessing strategy and watch what happens to your evangelism.
I think we have got to recover what it means to be the people of God. If you go all the way back to Genesis 12—where the whole "people of God" thing gets going and the metanarrative begins that we're swept up in, you and I as followers of Jesus—the deal that God cuts with Abraham is that he should be a blessing. God basically said: I'm going to bless you, Abram, so that you can turn around and bless everybody who is not part of your tribe, not part of your clan, who voted democrat—everybody who's not like you.
So the Bible really sets up the external focus from the get go. It was never the intention of God to build a reservoir of blessing in Abraham; it was supposed to be a conduit of blessing to the world. That's why I only have one sermon I preach these days everywhere I go. I'm just challenging people to go out and practice being the people of God this week. Go out and bless three people. I'm talking about intentional acts of blessing, not random "rake and run" kind of stuff. Try to initiate three intentional acts of blessing, because they open up spiritual conversations. And that was the whole point.