Next Sunday I have been asked to present to our small group leaders on worshiping in a small group. This is an exciting thing for me to do because I did a study back in September that really convicted me of the importance, shall I say necessity of worship in a small group. Studying for the purpose of instructing my worship teams about our role in corporate worship, I was surprised by this discovery. While worshiping in a large gathering has great benefits, it is not enough because you cannot do all of the elements in the same way that you can in a smaller gathering. We see in the book of Acts that the first gatherings of the church included a ‘big’ setting and a ‘small’ setting. While I as a worship leader am mostly responsible for the big setting, I am increasingly convinced that the smaller setting is equally important and ought to be a critical focus of my leadership as well. I would like to discuss why it is critically important to worship in our small groups and give some practical ideas for how to implement worship in that unique setting. First of all, we need to willfully worship God, because our natural tendency is to worship everything else. Among other things, worship places our greatest value on God. Perhaps my greatest propensity for sin is in breaking the 1st of the 10 Commandments, “You shall have no other gods before me.” While I am called to worship God personally, worshiping with other believers unites us in this purpose of ordering the activities of lives, our desires, our affections, everything around him at the center. Colossians 1:17 reminds us that, “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Second, we must figure out how to do worship in a small group gathering. Acts 2 outlines 4 elements that believers do when they gather together to worship God. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42-47, NIV) I discussed each of these four elements in my previous blog entry so I would like to emphasize what these look like in a small group. 1. The apostles’ teaching is listed first because I do believe that it is meant to be the foundational focus of our gathering together. We are not called to be devoted to our own opinions, and even our own studies, but instead to the apostles’ doctrine (as recorded in Scriptures), and taught to us by gifted teachers like our own Gary Inrig. It is not more important than the other elements, but the Scriptures give us a foundation on which to learn to practice the others correctly, and so the apostles’ teaching must come first. The small group setting allows us to not just take in incredible teaching during a sermon once a week, but to digest and apply it together. I think that it further opens the door to the voice of God through the Holy Spirit, and through the exhortation and example of our brothers and sisters of the faith. a. Gratefully, this seems to be the basis of our Koinonia groups and is the foundation of any corporate worship gathering. 2. The fellowship seems to be a corporate gathering because of the article ‘the.’ It’s not just fellowship, which could be defined as I hang out with a friend at a coffee shop, or I hang out with my immediate family. This refers to a corporate gathering of believers for the purpose of doing life together. Within the context of this passage, it is debatable whether this referred to the large gathering in Solomon’s Colonnade (probably over 2000 people), or to the smaller gathering in their homes around meals. I think it was both. Fellowship is the translation of the Greek word koinonia, and so “the fellowship” just means the gathering of believers, specifically, the participation with other believers. So much is implied by this word, but the specific application seen in this passage is one of sharing life together and showing extraordinary love. It is in the small group setting where you can be really known and thrive as a member belonging to a physical group of God’s family. This is where your needs are known and where God provides for them through acts of extraordinary love. On the other hand, you also have an opportunity to meet the needs of others. In a recent sermon by Rick Langer on Psalm 145, he noted that we are both a needy people and a needed people. The small group is the place to be both needy and needed within the context ‘grace and truth.’ People operating in grace and truth give extravagantly but practice accountability. The demonstration of ‘giving it all’ in Acts 2 is meant to display the most extreme level of sacrifice for one another within the family of God, but there are many other day-to-day needs we also meet – needs for sincere friendship, encouragement, and grace-filled reproof, correction and training in righteousness. Loving each other well is not only a way to worship God, it is also a great testimony to the world that we are his disciples. a. Do you as a leader cultivate this type of fellowship as an act of worship? It takes a vulnerability on your part as a leader and a prayer that others will find this a grace-filled place to in turn be needy. It seems to me that love for one another within the family of God was given the highest priority by the apostles. (1 Cor. 13, 1 John) 3. The breaking of bread is referring to practicing the Lord’s Supper – taking communion together. Later on in the passage it captures the small group setting like this: They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. It seems that communion was a part of their meals together. Jesus used the common elements of bread and wine in order to make our remembrance of him an everyday practice. He expected his followers to always be mindful of him when they met together to share a meal – to always be thankful. a. I would encourage you as leaders to incorporate communion as a part of your fellowship together – perhaps a part of a meal. For example could gather right away around the table with some crackers & cheese, grapes, wine or juice. You begin by leading them through a simple taking of communion and then fellowship for a while, making sure that the overall attitude is one of thanksgiving around receiving the gospel of Jesus Christ. I’ve never done this before, but would love to try it. 4. Prayer – the corporate practice of prayer is an essential element of worship. I have found that hearing others pray unites our hearts in the same purpose (that is the ‘amen’ of prayer). It also teaches us how to pray – we learn prayer from those who practice prayer. Even the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray because they saw how he personally practiced it. I also think that prayer makes us corporately dependent upon God and gives him great glory as we declare praise to his answers to our prayers. Finally, intercessory prayer (prayer for each other) is what increases our love for one another. Here are some practical ideas to grow in the area of prayer in your small group. a. pray the Lord’s prayer out loud together at the beginning or end of your time together. b. Keep a list of biblical prayers (prayers by Paul are incredible) and craft a prayer time around these c. Focus corporate prayer time on the larger needs for our church and church family and encourage individual times for the unique needs of individuals d. Focus prayer and lay hands on individuals who are in times of crisis 5. What about singing? While it is not mentioned in this passage, there is encouragement elsewhere to include singing as part of our fellowship together. Right in the midst of a great passage on how believers should behave toward one another we have this command. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.” (Col. 3:16, NIV) I don’t necessarily see our current practice of an extended time of singing modeled in the New Testament church, but neither do I think that it excludes it. We do have the example of Jesus doing this in the upper room by ending their time together singing a hymn. Here are some ideas that I think are appropriate for including worship in song in your small group gathering. a. Begin or end your time with an a cappella singing of a familiar hymn or praise song b. Have someone share a recording of a song that has been influential in drawing them to a place of worship. c. As a special occasion, invite a musician/worship leader to come and lead your group in a time of worship in song. Ideally, this should be a 20-30 minute time woven with Scripture, corporate prayer and songs of praise and thanksgiving. Concluding this brief look at small group worship through the model of Acts 2, it is interesting to note that the result of the corporate worship gatherings was that God was adding to their number daily. When the church is doing these four elements of worship well together the result is that God causes the church to grow numerically. People are drawn in and must be invited in. We are a family whose Father is not passive, but active. He came to seek and save the lost. He is most interested in adoption, having paid the greatest cost to bring lost children to him. And these children do not have it all together – they are needy and needed. May we never forget that we are too. Let us keep our arms open to invite and receive new members into the family and invite them to join in worship to our Great God!