Considering the Cons
While my friend's questions challenged me and got me thinking about the possible pros, I hesitate to lead sermon-based groups. As I've meditated sermon-based small groups and how they do or do not accomplish the goals of healthy community, these concerns have come to mind:
1. Elevating the pastor's words while inadvertently diminishing God's Word. When utilizing biblically based, well-done curriculum the conversation is strategically turned toward what the Bible is saying. When discussing the weekend sermon, the discussion is built around what the pastor said. The primary voice in the Bible study isn't God and his Word, it's the pastor and his or her words. Instead of hearing phrases like, "The Bible says," or "Jesus told us," or "God's Word demands," small-group members hear phrases like, "Pastor told us," "If the pastor were here he'd probably say," or "I'll check with the pastor and see what she meant." The pastor's voice may inadvertently become known as the ultimate source of truth rather than the Bible.
2. Senior pastor worship. Sermon-based small group experiences can easily lead to high levels of senior pastor worship. My experience has shown that the senior pastor's name is brought up and held in awe at least six times during each group gathering. Jesus' name and his character are discussed much less than the pastor's personality and name. Jesus is subconsciously established as the senior pastor's sidekick, the secondary personality in church life. Before long, many believers speak more of their pastor and the great sermons than their Savior and his redeeming power.
3. Those farthest from Christ won't attend. Those who are far from Christ are not going to attend church services which means they'll never feel comfortable in a sermon-based small group. Let's face it: People who are far from Christ are not going to come to a group to discuss a sermon they haven't heard. To expect a not-yet follower of Christ to come weekly to a sermon-based small group is like asking someone to come to a weekly book club to discuss a book they refuse to read. They aren't going to attend.
4. Group members don't learn to dig into Scripture on their own. When groups discuss and determine what God is saying to them through Scripture, group members learn the vital skill of interpreting Scripture for themselves. Unfortunately, many sermon-based studies skip this step because the pastor has already interpreted the passage. Without this focus, though, many may never learn to think on their own or use their Bibles or interpret Scripture independent of others telling them what it means.
—Rick Howerton is the Global Groups Environmentalist for NavPress Publishers and a regular blogger. This article is adapted from his blog; used with permission from the author.