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Small Groups Help the Church Live Out the Baptismal Covenant

By Steven Manskar and Scott Hughes

“Brothers and sisters in Christ: Through the Sacrament of Baptism we are initiated into Christ’s holy church. We are incorporated into God’s mighty acts of salvation and given new birth through water and the Spirit. All this is God’s gift, offered to us without price.” [1]

On behalf of the whole Church, I ask you:
Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness,
Reject the evil powers of this world,
And repent of your sin? [I do.]

Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you
to resist evil, injustice, and oppression
in whatever forms they present themselves [I do.]

Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior,
put your whole trust in his grace,
and promise to serve him as your Lord,
in union with the Church which Christ has opened
to people of all ages, nations, and races? [I do.]

According to the grace given to you, will you remain faithful members of Christ’s holy church and serve as Christ’s representatives in the world? [6]

Will you nurture one another in the Christian faith and life and include these persons now before you in your care?

With God’s help we will proclaim the good news and live according to the example of Christ. We will surround these persons with a community of love and forgiveness, that they may grow in their trust of God, and be found faithful in their service to others. We will pray for them, that they may be true disciples who walk in the way that leads to life. [8] …

“…We are all one in Christ Jesus. With joy and thanksgiving we welcome you as members of the family of Christ. [11]

Members of the household of God, I commend these persons to your love and care. Do all in your power to increase their faith, confirm their hope, and perfect them in love. [16]”[i]

The Church is called by God to be a covenant community in which people experience the unconditional, self-giving love of God and, in turn, become channels of that love for the world. The reality of this community is that we do not choose it, but that Christ calls us into it. For it is in the community of the church, the household of God, the family of Christ, that God, by grace, gives us the gifts of faith, hope, and love. The church’s task is to order itself in such a way that those gifts are accepted, developed, and employed for the building up of the body of Christ and for working with Christ in his work of preparing the world for the coming reign of God.

One of the ways that Christian formation happens best within a congregation is through an organized system of small groups. Not all small groups are designed the same or have the same purpose. Some groups might be more administrative in function or more directly aimed for faith formation like a Sunday school class or small group or Bible study.

For small groups to thrive in any congregation, they must occur within a culture of discipleship. Just having small groups for small groups sake is likely to fail or worse lead to poor teaching and broken relationships. While some people have experienced abundant life through the community and faith formation they have received through small groups. Other people have experienced pseudo-community, shallow teaching, and cliques, when they had hoped to find much more. It is imperative that churches are clear about the expectations for participants of small groups and help participants connect the formation that should occur within the small groups to their formation as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Small groups are strategic arenas of discipleship formation that help participants to live out and live into their baptismal vows that were quoted above. In small groups participants experience care, find a place to belong and to serve, experience tangible acts of love and forgiveness. The goal for this series, is to give you some ways of helping every group in your church to become a place where faith is increased, hope is confirmed, and persons are perfected in love.

Reflection Questions

  • How is baptism the foundation for discipleship?
  • What is the discipleship culture of your church? Is it intentional or ad hoc?
  • What steps could you take to make the connection between baptism, discipleship, and small groups (and any other formation focused group – Sunday school or bible study) more explicit?

[i] “The Baptismal Covenant I” from The United Methodist Hymnal (The United Methodist Publishing House, Nashville) 1989, pp. 33-38.

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