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  1. #1
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    Thoughts On A Core Group

    THOUGHTS ON A CORE GROUP - Glenn Murray

    We often talk about relationships but rarely take time to understand and improve them. True fellowship and intimate, nurturing relationships cannot be experienced sitting with a large number of people on a church pew. We say, "Good-morning" but rarely get personal. That only happens when we meet with a smaller community of like-minded people. Let's talk about how to go deeper with Christ and each other and experience what God has for us. A core group is the best vehicle I've found to strengthen and support my relationship with God and others.

    If we want to understand how to live life, it’s best to look at the life of Christ. Since we are focusing on relationships, let's look at how He managed His relationships. He related to various people in very different ways. It seems Christ had levels of relationships, sort of like concentric rings. The large crowds, or multitudes, were in the outer ring. He related to them in parables; they didn't really get to know the person of Jesus. The next circle was the 500 who saw Christ after the Resurrection. He revealed a little more of Himself to them; they saw Him in His glorified body. The next circle was the l20 who received the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. The next circle was the 70 who were sent out two by two. Christ gave them power to cast out demons, heal the sick, etc. Closer still were the twelve disciples, and even closer, were the inner circle of three: Peter, James and John. It's quite obvious that Christ revealed more of Himself to these three men than to any others (at the Mount of Transfiguration, raising the daughter of Jarius from the dead, Gethsemane, etc). Finally, Christ had the one, John, the beloved, who He chose to care for His mother after He was gone. At the Last Supper, Peter, who was one of the inner three, asked John to ask Jesus who was going the betray Him. He knew John, who was physically next to Jesus, also had the closest relationship. The smaller the number of people, the more Jesus revealed of Himself. Maybe this is why John, one of the Sons of Thunder, became known as the "Apostle of Love."

    There are two ways to look at this model. First, which of those rings of relationships are you in? Are you in the multitude with all the non-believers, who know Jesus by name, but not much else about Him? Are you with the 500, who might represent all the believers in the world? He asked the 500 to show up on the day of Pentecost, but only 120 (24%) did. Are you in the group who simply shows up to see what Jesus has for you each day? Are you like the 70 who were involved in ministry? Maybe you are in the group of twelve, involved in a small Bible study. This is terrific but not as rewarding as being in that inner group of three. The Bible says Christ limited Himself to time and space; therefore, He was limited in the number of close friends He could have. Since Christ is no longer limited by time and space, He can have this same kind of relationship with each of us. A core group is similar to being one of the three closest to Jesus.

    The second way to look at the model suggests that if Christ lived like this, then we ought to do the same. Daniel and the Hebrew children, David and Jonathan, as well as Paul and Barnabas followed this model. Most of us are already following it in some ways. The multitudes of people we meet know us in parables. They know some things about us but don't know personal details of our lives. We all have a smaller group of people, maybe our church, whose members know us a little better. We may even be in a small group Bible study; this may compare to the twelve around Jesus. These relationships are close, but not as intimate as they could be. We need to go even deeper in our relationships and experience that to which Christ really called us. For this discussion let's call what we are talking about a core group. You can call it a covenant group, support group or growth group. In Australia, they are called cells. The name is unimportant; we are simply talking about a small group (three to six) meeting together in the Spirit of Christ to discover all that God has for them.

    It is important to have women's groups, men's groups, and/or couples groups because men share differently with women in attendance and vice versa. All types of groups are useful because they allow for different levels of sharing and growth. This paper is about small groups of men or women not in Paul-Timothy relationships (Discipler-Disciplee) but rather peers like Paul and Barnabas.

    HISTORICAL EXAMPLES

    John Wesley started a movement in England that eventually became known as the Methodist Church. It was called that because of the "method" he used. It is said "he filled all of England with little groups".

    One of these groups was called the Clapham group, named for an area of London. In this small group was a Member of Parliament, named William Wilburforce. The group met regularly for many years and had a major impact on England and the world. They all had different visions, and they individually involved themselves with things in their own sphere of influence. Wilburforce became convinced that slavery was absolutely wrong in God's sight. With the support of the men he met with, Wilburforce worked for over 45 years on the abolition of slavery. First he got bills passed which made it illegal for Englishmen to engage in the slave trade; eventually, he convinced the Parliament to make it illegal to own slaves. John Newton, formerly a ship captain who hauled slaves to the New World and the writer of the hymn "Amazing Grace,” is one of the men who came out of this movement.

    Another example of the power of small groups is the l00 year revival. It began among the Moravians and was led by Count Nicolaus von Zinzendorf. He favored two types of groups. One consisted of four or five believers who came together to strengthen and purify their lives and be available to the call of God. The other type of group included a mixture of non-believers and believers who met in a different sort of setting. This mixed group was not intended to be as deep as the first type; rather its goal was to create a comfortable setting in which to discuss the things of Christ with those who so desired.

    The idea of small groups is used in present day by many organizations. The Mafia operates like this. The primary unit of the Marine Corps is the four-man squad. Communists use cells as their basic structure. Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses move in twos and threes. It seems everyone uses these principles except the body of Christ. Could this be one of the reasons we are less effective than we should be?

    SCRIPTURAL EXAMPLES

    Ecclesiastes 4:l2 (paraphrased) says, "One person standing alone is easily attacked and overcome, two not so easily overcome and a three stranded cord is not easily broken." This clearly shows that the independent life is vulnerable. The Bible teaches us that we need each other and that we should have an interdependent spirit. The writer goes on to say that if one lies down alone he gets cold, but two together will stay warm. We know that one log won't keep a fire going but three logs will. The idea, in the Hebrew, when it says one standing alone is easily overcome is that each of us has a backside. It is our blind side. We all have them, but when we have others guarding our blind side, we are safer and less easily overcome. If a brother is with me physically he can warn me if someone is approaching me from my backside. We also have blind spots spiritually, emotionally, relationally, socially, in our marriage, etc. The idea of guarding one another is useful in these areas. We all need someone we trust to warn us of approaching danger. The poet, John Donne, knew this when he said, "No man is an island."

    Matthew 18:19 says, "If two of you agree about anything, it will be done by My Father in heaven." One does not have this power. The word "agree" is important; this happens when two people are close enough to one another that they can understand each other's heart. To "agree" describes a person with a trumpet and another with a trombone blowing the same note; they may be different instruments but they are making the same sound. Relationships, like good music, take time, trust and practice.

    Deuteronomy 32:30 says, "One can put 1,000 to flight, but two can put 10,000 to flight." There is something very powerful when we get together. If we are together, then God begins to work, and Satan doesn't want this to happen. One of the major tools of the Devil is division. He knows the power that comes from unity.


    cont`d...
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  2. #2
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    VALUE OF A GROUP LIKE THIS

    You get to know Christ better! Paul, in writing to the Colossians and "all those who haven't met him" (that's us), says, in chapter 2 and verse 2, "My prayer for you is that you would be encouraged in your spirit and knit together in love...and the result will be that you will know Jesus Christ better in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." One of the major things that happens in a core group is you get deeply encouraged in your spirit, week after week, and are knit together in love. Paul's prayer is answered in core groups.

    You get to know yourself better! You can't make spiritual progress until you really know yourself. An alcoholic cannot be helped until he is aware of and admits and agrees that he has a problem. This is also true in the area of spirituality. For growth or healing to be realized we must know and admit our need. The first step in spiritual growth is understanding who we are. For me, it seems that self-discovery comes through self-disclosure. One time, as I was sharing in a group, it became increasing clear that I was prejudiced about a certain type of personality. I hadn't consciously known that until I began to talk about it. From then on, this area of my life received attention. Additionally, the people around us see us in a different way than we see ourselves, and they can reflect a truer picture of who we are. A good friend is the best mirror.

    Originally in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve had fellowship with God. After Eve was tempted and she and Adam acted against God's desires for them, they destroyed that fellowship. God came down and called to Adam, "Where are you?" Is it possible that God didn't know where Adam was? Was he playing games the way we do with young children when they are learning to hide? Of course not; He knew exactly which bush they were hiding behind but He wanted to give Adam a chance to confess (agree with God) his fallen condition. With Cain he said, "Where is your brother?" The Scripture is clear that God already knew the facts but He gave Cain the opportunity for restoration. Admission would have brought forgiveness, but Cain tried to cover his sin. The angel wrestled with Jacob and asked him his name. The angel wanted him to say "My name means supplanter" (cheater). Jacob needed to admit his character was the same as his name before God would bless him. God asked a similar question of Elijah as he sat depressed by the brook. "What are you doing here?" God knew, but gave Elijah to opportunity to say, "I'm scared; Jezebel said she is going to kill me." Of course, God knew the facts about all these situations but He was asking relational, not factual, questions. We sometimes say to a person, "What are you doing?" when we already know what that person is doing. Our question is meant to help them understand their actions. God is still asking these same questions and He often uses close friends to communicate them to us. When questions like, "Where are you?", "Where is your brother?" or "What are you doing here?" are asked of us in the current vernacular, our best course of action is to give an honest reply and begin the healing process (1 John 1:9).

    You get someone to guard your strengths! We all have weak areas in our lives, but we also have wonderful strengths. The great Scottish man of God, Oswald Chambers, once said, "An unguarded strength is a double weakness." It takes some thought to gain the full meaning of this statement. Our strengths, though God given and useful, can be used in a negative way if not guarded. A core group can help guard our strengths and give us balance. Our strengths make us respect each other but our weaknesses make us love each other.

    Illustrations: 1. Some have a wonderful natural strength of self-confidence. This strength lets them tackle and accomplish things others think too difficult. It's a valuable strength, but people are often hurt when the strength isn't used in the appropriate way. 2. Some have the ability to see the needs of people (sometimes before even they do) and use their energy and skills to help others. If such a person tries to help too many others with their needs it can become a burden and a weakness to the helper.

    You gain accountability! Accountability is the only reason for corporate and individual morality. Accountability to God is inevitable so why not prepare for it (Rom l4:l2). We are a nation of covenant breakers, both corporately and individually. We broke most of our Indian treaties. Divorce is rampant. We say, "I'll pray for you" and then forget. We make vows to God after retreats or sermons and fail to keep them. Why do we fail to keep our covenants? Lack of accountability is the answer. Who holds us responsible for living what we profess? We need accountability in our personal life, our relationships (with God, our spouse, our family, our friends and our work), our attitudes (about the events of life, self, others, money), and our decisions (before and after). It is very important that our accountability be voluntary rather than mandatory. Many core groups use the idea of a "table of accountability.” Whatever we volunteer to throw on the table, is that for which we can be held accountable. This way our friends are not meddling but rather are helping us live out our own desires. At the beginning, we can at least throw our relationship with Christ on the table. We need the group to ask us from time to time how we are doing with the Lord. As trust grows, we need their help to guard our most important human relationships. For example, one of the men I meet with said to me one week, "Glenn, I think you may have hurt your wife's feelings last Sunday night after church." When I asked her about this she said I had, but it wasn't very significant. When I asked for the details, she told me that I had joined her and a few others after I finished talking with another group. She had been in the middle of recounting an experience we had both shared. I had interrupted and told the story from my perspective making her look and feel foolish. After she shared this, I asked her to forgive me, and now I have a new sensitivity to her in public. I am pleased to have a brother who cared enough to bring even this seemingly insignificant matter to my attention.

    You have a place to be affirmed! The need for affirmation is very strong in all of us. It is a legitimate and God-given need like food and water. We require affirmation to mature in a healthy way and it is absolutely necessary for our well-being. Like food and water, if we don't receive affirmation we will die emotionally. If we don't receive it legitimately from others we will get it any way possible. We will boast, become an over-achiever, or a clown, act badly, or take many other routes to fulfill this need. Those in the core group should be fulfilling this need by affirming each other.


    cont`d...
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  3. #3
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    HOW TO GET STARTED

    One way to begin a core group is to pray for another like-minded person. Keep your eyes open; God wants us to be in this kind of close fellowship. If someone keeps coming to your mind, then you should go to him or her and simply explain your desire for a closer fellowship. Ask if they are interested in meeting for six weeks to talk about the idea. Don't make a long-term commitment; remember, it will work only if God puts it together. If we try to make it happen, it will become burdensome like a wheelbarrow that only works as long as you push it! That kind of relationship is not a support. If after six weeks it seems right for the two of you, then pray for one, two, or three other people to join you. Talk over any additions and come to unity about this before you ask someone new.

    AGREEMENTS BETWEEN MEMBERS

    Have no leader except Christ! You need a facilitator but this can be on a rotation basis. A core group should function like the twelve did around Christ…all were brothers and Jesus was the leader.

    Have openness about your life! Some people are more able to share themselves than others. Allow each person to do this at his or her own pace. The Sun and North Wind saw a man walking along wearing a heavy overcoat. They decided to see who could get the coat off him. The North Wind tried first. He produced a howling gale, but the stronger the wind, the more the man drew his coat around himself. The Sun said, "Now its my turn." So he beamed sunshine down on the man, and soon, of his own choice he removed his coat and walked happily in the sunshine. When we surround people with warmth, they will remove unnecessary layers of protection.

    Keep confidentiality! The benefits of a core group will not happen without trust. This means we don't even share with our spouses what happens in these groups. The things we need to talk about will only be shared with those we are convinced are trustworthy.

    Love enough to confront when necessary! Proverbs 27 says, "Man sharpens man like iron sharpens iron." However, remember that we don't sharpen a knife or an axe by taking out chunks. We file it slowly and gradually until we have a sharp edge. This same method works best with our relationships; slowly and gradually we will sharpen the character of those with whom we meet.

    Exercise unconditional love! No matter what we learn about each other we are going to stay together. Agree in advance that we will continue to love even if we discover things that are difficult to handle. An old Arab proverb says, "Oh the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to measure words or weight thoughts, but just pouring them all out grain and chaff alike, sure that a faithful hand will keep what is worth keeping and with the breath of kindness blow the rest away." So the question is, with whom do you feel safe?

    Pray for each other regularly! Make a commitment to pray for each other daily.

    WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU GET TOGETHER

    There are no rules regarding what groups should do, but the following are ideas that have been helpful to others. Acts 2:42 seems a good place to start; it says that those who came to Christ after Peter's sermon devoted themselves to four things: the Apostles teaching, breaking bread, fellowship and prayer. That seems like a pretty good precedent to follow. Let's talk a little about each one of them.

    Apostles teaching. Read the Scriptures each time you are together but agree in advance that you will NOT have a Bible study. Bible studies are wonderful and necessary but not in a core group. Make your time in the Bible a little different than you may be used to. Most, if not all, people who involve themselves in a core group are believers and already know more theology than the Apostles knew. Remember that the Apostles didn't have Romans and the rest of the New Testament. If we have been around churches for a while, we do know more than they knew, yet they impacted the world in ways we have not. This is probably because they knew Jesus in a way that we don't.

    We all know more theology than we are living. That is one of the big problems with the church; we are overfed, fat sheep. It’s time we began to actually live what we profess to believe. In a core group if we are committed to Jesus Christ and each other, we have the potential to turn this around. Typically in Bible study, we read a portion then try to figure out what it means. When we think we understand what it is saying we conclude that we have grown spiritually. This is not spiritual growth, but rather intellectual growth. Spiritual growth only takes place when we are obedient to what we have learned. A better and more advantageous way to spend time in the Apostles teaching is to read until you come to a portion you do understand and are not living. Stop there and discuss how to help each other live it out. When we are obedient to what we know, He will reveal more.

    Example: In James, it talks about the problems the tongue can cause. If those in the group love and trust each other enough they might talk about how each could improve in this area. It is easy to understand what this says but we may not have given enough time to reflect about our own life. Ask each other, "What do you think about my tongue?” “Do I need to give more attention to it?" If you love each other enough, you might tell each other that you talk too much or that you are sometimes harsh or critical or you don't talk enough. You can then begin to be obedient to what the Scripture says about it. The time in the Bible should challenge you to help each other live what you already know.

    Breaking Bread. Eat together or take communion. Something special happens when we eat together. In most of the world, one of the major indicators of the quality of a relationship is being invited to eat a meal together. Eating together leads to closer fellowship.

    Fellowship. The ideal situation would be to have a group in which all members grew up together and knew a lot about each other. Since that is very rare, we need to take the time to really get to know each other.

    Here are some things to help facilitate getting to know each other on a deeper level: (1) Tell life story in detail, maybe in chapters. (2) What is the most valuable thing you own, not related to money? (3) "I Am..." naming 20 things. (4) Tell about fears, failures, and success while growing up. (5) Create shared experiences like recreation, retreats, dinners, etc. (6) Have one day when you can't talk about anything outside the room. (7) Have assumed, but unspoken, check-in questions each week such as, "How are you doing with Christ, spouse, children, other relationships, etc.?"

    Talk about and work on giving up our independent spirit. We should be interdependent and mutually submissive. There are three stages of life: dependence (childhood), independence (adolescence) and interdependence (maturity). All of us need support, growth and even inner healing. Jesus gives us the privilege of being involved with Him as He heals people's lives. We are to be people removing each other's grave clothes like Jesus asked those at the graveyard to do after He raised Lazarus from the dead. He could have had Lazarus come out unbound but, now as then, Jesus wants us to participate with Him in helping people be set free from those things that bind them (John 11).

    Prayer. Don't just have a closing prayer but really pray and ask God to give you insight on how to pray for yourselves and each other more effectively. Pray for each other every day of the week and call to check on special concerns.

    VISION
    After you have been together for a while God will probably give each of you a vision and strategy for accomplishing that vision in your own sphere of influence. Maybe you will want to adopt a country to pray for. Watch the TV and newspapers; they will tell the needs of that country.
    Be ready to accept spiritual responsibility; that is, embrace what is on God's heart for a given area. In Mark 3:14, Jesus "chose twelve to be WITH Him...and to SEND them." Vision and ministry is always on God's heart. As you get together, purify your lives and grow spiritually; you will become better husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, business people and individuals. He is also preparing you to be involved with Him in being the light of the world. Vision is a major part of core groups. You won’t start a core group in order to do things but doing things is usually a natural result of an effective core group.

    CONCLUSION
    Get together with a small group around Christ, then pray, spend time together and hang on!!!
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