Small Groups are in our DNA
|Rev, Steven W. Manskar
By the Rev. Steven Manskar
DNA is the genetic material that determines physical traits and characteristics. The composition of your DNA determines if you have brown or blue or green eyes, dark or light-colored skin, straight or curly hair. Each human being's DNA is unique to that person and his or her family of origin.
Our United Methodist DNA
Small groups are an historic trait of Wesleyan Methodism. For at least their first 100 years, the Methodists were known as the people who knew that Christian formation took place in small groups known as "classes," "bands" and "select societies." Being a Methodist meant being part of a small group that "watched over one another in love" to help each other grow in holiness of heart and life.
"The soul and the body make a (person); the Spirit and discipline make a Christian." John Wesley frequently used this adage to describe the "method" of Methodism. Small groups are the discipline of Methodist Christian formation. The General Rules are the map. Small groups provide the compass and support for the journey toward holiness of heart and life.
In Methodism's first century, every Methodist was assigned to a small group known as a "class," which met weekly for at least an hour. A mature layperson led each class, providing pastoral care and nurture. The meetings included prayer, hymn singing, Bible reading, teaching and accountability shaped by the General Rules, all to teach Methodists how to live in the world as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.
John Wesley understood that Christianity is a social religion. Participating in a community that promises to watch over one another in love is necessary for Christians. Wesley knew from Scripture, tradition, reason and experience that holiness is both a gift and a process of character formation that requires participation in relationships of love and trust in small groups.
Our DNA as human beings created in the image of God
Small groups are also in our DNA as human beings created in the image of God. We are relational creatures because God is a community of three persons bound and united as one in love. We could say that God is the original small group. God's essential character is the relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The three are united as one who lives in relationship with the cosmos.
As human beings created in the image of God, we are made for relationship, and we have the capacity and need to give and receive love. We become fully the persons God created us to be only through a matrix of relationships God provides by grace. Loving relationships are as important to our life and health as food, water and air.
The relationships God provides through small groups are as essential to Christian formation as worship, Scripture and prayer. Congregations will be well served by shifting their thinking about small groups from an effective technique for community building to an essential part of a Christian-formation system.
The Rev. Steven W. Manskar is director of Wesleyan leadership at the General Board of Discipleship in Nashville, Tenn.