Acts 2:42-47 says,
42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
This has been a goal of ours since the inauguration of the church-plant. We’ve always wanted a congregation that values the interdependency and the intimacy that this passage describes. It’s extreme, but imagine a group of believers that are together daily, taking care of each other, and sharing the Gospel with others in their community. The atmosphere is so contagious that when newcomers experience it, they want more. They stay longer in order to discover what makes the group so unique. Their lives change whenever they realize that a Resurrected Savior is at the heart of it all.
Reading the passage, we decided that we wanted to be a group that does more than just Bible studies and worship services. We wanted to be a Christian Community that lives out what is described in Acts. So we committed to living it out daily, within smaller groups of believers. We launched a Small Group ministry. But it didn’t work. We failed several times.
- We first decided to do sign-up sheets in order to place each member in a group. We had to change things when no one signed up. We learned that Peruvians don’t do sign-up sheets.
- We then selected three men who were capable of leading a study. Our goal was to get the whole church involved, and so we divided the small church into groups that were geographically-convenient for each person. If you lived in the neighborhood Marsical Gamarra, for example, we had a group waiting for you, just a few streets over. We put a nice map of the city in the lobby, with faces and contact information of each leader, pointing to the location of their group on the map. But we later realized that the city was small enough to open all groups to everyone.
- Our goal was still to get everyone involved in groups, and so, we then made brochures of each group so that we could hand them out to individuals during the worship services. Each one had a specific brochure with the details about their meeting. We became a headquarters that would insure that all were invited to groups. One day, we realized that we were doing all the work, while the leaders were waiting in their homes for strangers to show up. It didn’t work.
- That led us to an important discovery. The missionaries couldn’t operate as a headquarters for Small Groups. We couldn’t do all the inviting, sending strangers to people’s homes. Brochures and maps were never an effective, passive way for building a Small Groups program. The beauty behind what we read in Acts 2 was the intimacy and the built-in community of friendship. We had to equip our leaders to invite their friends and family.
- We began to put the responsibility on the leaders of the groups. They would now organize their groups and invite those who would participate in them. We assigned a discipler, a more mature Christian, to each leader so that the he or she could grow spiritually and learn how to effectively grow a group. During this time, new members of the Cusco Mission Team were assimilating into the group. They were fresh eyes that could evaluate the ministry. They saw what we couldn’t, which was that the groups were still highly dependent on the involvement of the missionaries. One of the biggest areas was that we were providing all of the curriculum for the leaders. We were still acting as a headquarters for groups. Why couldn’t the leaders work with the disciplers in order to develop their own studies?
- Therefore, we entered into a new level of the ministry. In order to insure that the leaders could grow spiritually, and also that they could put together effective Bible studies, disciplers were working with each one weekly on their groups. However, we quickly saw that it was too open. It was too flexible. We had no way to measure how the groups were doing. We didn’t know if they were growing, or if new visitors were studying the Bible with evangelists. We sacrificed structure and growth for freedom and flexibility. It was unbalanced.
- This new insight led us to the ministry we currently have. We designed a manual that can be used by every leader. The manual is organized by the calendar, and each leader grows through several different aspects of the manual: there are weekly forms in order to write the study, attendance sheets with evangelism opportunities, discipleship instruction, and evaluation forms. Each leader is currently using a manual in order to grow spiritually and lead his or her group. It’s not perfect, but so far it’s been a tool to maintain a good balance.
The above words are not only about Small Groups, but it’s an honest look at how many times we fail in mission work. I don’t want to paint too bleak of a picture, but at times it’s filled with a long series of failures and disappointments. A system never works perfectly the first time, and a perfect leader never appears out of nowhere, ready and willing to get to work. But along the way there were several bright spots in the series of failures.
- We now have 12 Small Groups that are, for the most part, Peruvian-led. It would be easy for the missionaries to lead every group, but our work centers on us replacing ourselves. Small Groups have been a great way to form leadership in a less intimidating setting. Instead of community built around the missionaries, we have it being built around the Peruvians.
- Benevolence has happened in the groups. Recently one member of a group was struggling financially. She couldn’t afford to pay for her son’s school tuition, among other stresses she was struggling with. Her group decided that they would pay for it. Aside from her relief, she was also brought in closer to the Christian Community.
- Evangelism has also happened in groups. We have several visitors that attend Small Groups every week. The large numbers of the worship services can be intimidating. They prefer to first meet with a few friends in someone’s home. I currently have a Bible study with a lady who began meeting in a group.
- A lot of ministry has happened in groups. We now organize almost all of the our church activities and events by groups. If we are celebrating the church’s anniversary, for example, each group takes on a different aspect of the organization.
- Confession and growth have happened in groups. Because of the trust and the intimacy of friends in the Christian Community, individuals have opened up to others and have counted on them for accountability and help in their spiritual maturity.
Before the events that are described in Acts took place, Matthew records Jesus’ words to his disciples in Matthew 28:19-20,
19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
Following Peter’s sermon in Acts, the newly-established church got busy obeying Jesus’ words, and the realization of it is described in Acts 2:42-47: the believers met daily in one another’s homes, living out their new mission.
We’re reaching for this vision. We haven’t achieved it yet, but we’re working towards it. Please pray for the young congregation in Cusco.