If you are from the Wesleyan tradition like myself, you are probably able to attend a house group. It is something akin to Wesley’s ‘Classes’, where people can gather and grow in Christ and therefore holiness….. but is it as described, and would Wesley approve of our approaches to house group?
If you look at most groups, you will see people that may have one or more characteristics that make it possible/preferred or easier to attend such a group. It may be age, it maybe friendship, or it maybe a comfortable group to take part in. It may even be the only house group you can attend due to the day it happens, or if the church is small it maybe the only house group! Again, I ask the question, would Wesley approve?
My reason for asking this important question is because whatever the answer/answers are, they will dictate various approaches by people to the time being together. Personally, I have only ever been a member of one such group, and it lasted for 3 years filling the gap between first becoming a Christian and then leaving the area altogether as I entered theological college and ordination…. all of that took 7 years….. my first 3 years despite the house group, was lacking in the way of discipleship in some ways, but also very strong in practically. I would say that the biggest challenge to Ministers is whether we can convince a congregation that what they have been doing for so long (and many before them as well) hasn’t been anything resembling what Wesley intended, and definitely not something that Jesus wanted from the group of people he called to follow him.
Wesley had a grading system built into his classes which made each class appropriate for the people and the journey’s they were all on. They ranged from people who were just interested at one end (and no less valued) compared to those people who were clearly seeking to be growing in sanctification (no more valued a group). This is very different compared to what we often see in our churches depending on how big a church a person attends.
What is the motivation for people going to such groups today? Many of the groups meeting are effectively practicing communion as they gather and share food, understanding that God is present with them. They may not understand it that way, but that is exactly what is being done! There is a degree of accountability amongst them, although this varies in honesty and approach within the group – Wesley would often ask some key questions regarding their spirituality…… how do we do the same today?
Unfortunately, I see something quite different. Often we have attenders who have exactly the same approach to a Sunday Service…. they attend, they are an audience. If we look carefully at what a church tends to do during a week, we will see that we have turned into a group of information gatherers. Is this a good or a bad thing? Well, I like gathering information (probably more than most people), but I have a real problem when information gathering is the sole reason and motivation for being there. It seems a very individualistic approach to me, not one that reflects the things that form that very over-used word – community.
In order for real community, people have to be willing to be honest, vulnerable, listeners and doers. The Christian faith is not one of gathering information for gathering sake, or for a personal agenda of becoming encyclopaedic. It is not a growing collection of morals to be saved either with an haughty attitude to others.
Jesus certainly wouldn’t have approved on our current methods either. Why? Well, if you look at how Jesus spent 3 years with a rabble of people who seemed to hardly ever ‘get it’, you see that there often seemed to be a theoretical issue to be considered and then at some stage during their various literal journey opportunities to remember the theory and put it into practice. The biggest element missing in today’s congregations is the practical element of practice. People’s faith has embraced the Enlightenment ethos of private faith so much that so many people have been conditioned to continue a life of singing and praying in church and very little in the way of fruit because they have privatised their own faith. Faith has been taken out of the public domain so gradually over the last 2-300 years.
How do we regain that lost ground? Well, it will take time. Nothing worthwhile comes quickly, easily or with integrity unless a period of discomfort, learning and practicing the Good News in our EVERYDAY LIVES. Sunday Services are totally pointless and hypocritical if what has been read, sung, prayed and listened to (hopefully) doesn’t have life outside the church building through the week.
We need to have a new and fresh thirst for God, and a receptivity to what can be seen and heard of God’s action with His creation. I believe we have lost it and it needs to be regained. But in order to do that well, we need to live for Christ, being a blessing and good news to all people….. not just the comfortable, respectable and nice people. Jesus would have been with the opposite of those mentioned…… especially.