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Small Group Ministry Function



Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits. These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra tunic. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them.” They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them. (Mark 6:6-13)

Empowerment is for ministry. Discipleship always moves toward ministry and mission. In salvation history God’s people have been gathered for restoration and empowerment and sent out into mission. The small group is the gathering space to help people experience forgiveness, healing, encouragement, affirmation, trust and courage. This is preparation to be sent back out into a hostile and alienated world that needs to hear, see and touch the presence of Christ lived out through empowered individuals and groups.

Jesus’ early call to discipleship, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men [and women],” is an invitation to gather, to journey together, and to go out and minister to other hurting people. Every gathered group of disciples is in some way called to go out and fish, to seek others who also need the presence of Christ in their life. Jesus sent his small group of twelve out into ministry to share in his mission. The calling of the Twelve to follow was also a calling to participate in the ministry of Jesus.

Jesus gave the Twelve his authority. As we have already noted, this term means “out of one’s essence or being.” Jesus’ “authority was charismatic in the sense that it was immediately received from God, or rather was the immediate authority of God.” That is, his authority was the authority of God, out of the very essence, being and character of God.

Jesus received this essence as he communed with God. There is an intimate connection here between the deeds of Jesus and the being-essence of Jesus.

What was the connection between this exercise of authority and the ministry of the Twelve in pairs?

Why didn’t Jesus send the Twelve out one by one? Mark states that the authority was given to the Twelve and the works were to be accomplished two by two.

The seventy-two were also sent out two by two (Luke 10:1-12). Jesus was consistent regarding this pattern of forming mission-ministry teams. While he himself seemed to function alone (although he was usually with the disciples in ministry) at times (Mark 1; Luke 4), his disciples were expected to minister in teams (very small groups). This teaming order seemed to be connected with the giving of authority.

If the essence and being of God is plural, that is, if God exists and works in and through divine community, then the Father’s essence was expressed as intimate relationship with and through the Son. The authority and mighty works were accomplished through their community—the relationship of the Father with the Son and of the Father through the Son.

The same authority and similar mighty works could be accomplished only in the relationship of Jesus with and through the Twelve and others. The need for grouping and pairing for the sharing and release of the authority and mighty works was what Jesus wanted the Twelve to understand. Such authority existed only through intimate relationships of faith. Trusting and empowering interpersonal partnerships had to be grown and made visible to others—those between the disciples and him, and the disciples with one another in intimate relationship with the Father. The authority of God was given out of community to community and through community.

Love is mission and ministry. Love must have an intention to reach out to another as encounter, embrace and empowerment. Only God could say to humanity “it is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18), because God’s essence is not to be alone, but to be in community. God’s mission flows out of this essence. God’s nature is love. God’s being is community. God’s mission is to assert love and create community. God’s
authority is to empower (give away) the divine essence of love and establish new communities.

Community can only create community. The love of Jesus had to move to mobilize new communities. The “twos” of apostleship were bound by the nature of their Source and Spirit to establish God’s new communities whenever they could establish a locus of love in a household. As Jesus said to the apostolic groups of two as he was sending them out, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town” Mark 6:10). This team “beachhead” of visible love, this “seed” of community planted in a “welcoming” and receptive household was the visible, touchable, knowable and imitable reality of loving divine community planted (tabernacled) among humanity to show us the way and nature of God.

1 John describes this apostolic mission of love: We declare to you what was from the beginning, . . . what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life . . . we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:1-3 NRSV)

The Future Impact of the Twelve After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it. (Mark 16:19-20)

In the mobilization of this divine community of love there are profound implications for small groups as the continuing ministry order of Jesus after the resurrection and Pentecost.

The positive historical impact of Jesus’ work with the small groups of Twelve and other disciples is beyond human comprehension. Human history and eternity have been transformed through the life of Jesus with this small group. Jesus did not use traditional political and religious systems to change the world. He used a small group. This small group of twelve became the seventy, which became the one hundred twenty, which became the thousands composed of many small groups multiplied in homes throughout the Roman Empire.

The original small group became the millions of small groups that have met in the name of Jesus throughout human history. Human institutions and structures were and will continue to be transformed through the forgiving, reconciling and ransforming relationships of communities of people who gather in the nature and character of Jesus with the Twelve.