Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Book Review: Why Small Groups? (Mahaney)

Yesterday, I rediscovered a book that's been sitting on my shelf for a while-- Why Small Groups? edited by C. J. Mahaney. I don't remember when or how I got it, but I decided to read it yesterday.

Why Small Groups? addresses a question that far too few pastors have considered: Why are we doing small groups? Many of us know how to do small groups; we understand, teach, and implement the mechanics. But why are we doing them? We need to take a big step back and try to understand the purpose we are trying to accomplish through them. In Why Small Groups?, Mahaney and fellow authors begin with the Biblical basis for small groups and the theological purpose for them.

Since the book is a collection of chapters written by individual authors, there is sometimes a lack of a cohesive strategy or model of small groups. For instance, one chapter assumes that small group members must be members of the church first while another chapter assumes a small group can be a front door for the church. In my opinion, that's not a big deal because it's not the how but the why that this book is addressing.

Some of the distinguishing characteristics between this book and many of the others that have been written on small groups include the following:
  • It is written by practitioners- men who have come up through the ranks from small group member to pastors. They have seen small groups from every angle.
  • It includes a thorough discussion of the doctrine of sanctification and how it relates to the purpose of small groups.
  • It gives a clear Biblical and theological explanation of the relationship to and importance of small groups to the mission of the local church.
There's also a great chapter on Biblical confession, confrontation, and conflict within the group setting.

The Appendix "What It Means to Me?" by Walt Russell takes a hard look at the difficulties faced in small groups when different members bring their own opinions to the interpretation of the text. This very good essay helps leaders understand the difference between the meaning of the text and the significance of the text and how to make that distinction within the group setting.

Certainly, different traditions will find things to disagree with (male-only leadership, small group members must first be church members, etc), but the question that Mahaney is posing is one that we must address: Why are we doing small groups? What are we trying to accomplish?

Why Small Groups? addresses this important question in a clear, Biblical way.


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