Small Group Addiction – Exactly what is the Connection? by Pr. Rossow

In the last few months I have heard two different stories of folks thinking about moving from a Church Growth parish to a confessional one. What was the reason they could not make the switch? In  both cases they could not leave their small group. So I ask, what exactly is the connection to the Church in these situations. It looks to me like there is a small group addiction.

We have asserted on this site that small groups are not good for the church and these stories support that point. In each case the individual sensed that it was right to move from a heterodox church (mixed teaching) to an orthodox church (right teaching) but could not break the tie with their small group. So the small group has inculcated a belief that church is about making connections to other people.

Now church is certainly about making connections to other people but that is secondary to right teaching. Connections to other people combined with mixed teaching puts one’s soul in peril. In addition, most small groups are organized around Bible study. That begs the question, who is the teacher in the small group? Teaching the Scriptures is no easy task just as brain surgery is no easy task. Brain surgeons have temporal life held in balance by the scalpels they wield. The pastor holds something far more important than temporal life in the scalpels of his Words. He holds the eternal souls in balance and so with a surgeons skill he operates on the heart making sure that he does not slip the slightest to the left or the right but always holding the proper balance of law and Gospel. I have sat in many small groups and witnessed botched spiritual surgeries that either scar the soul with the law apart from the Gospel or leave the cancer intact because of a false desire to administer a candy-coated Gospel apart from the law.

So do the right teaching parishes without small groups leave people without connections? Not at all. Walther teaches that churches should have societies so that Christians can socialize. Before the Rogerian psychology of the 60’s and 70’s messed us up, the church was quite happy having Walther league, couples clubs, card clubs, bowling leagues, and the like. Prayer and Bible study was understood to be done at the divine service. These groups were for fun and socialization. Add to the mix of humanistic psychology a little bit of false Reformed and Pentecostal theology of levels of sanctification and you have people thinking that they need small groups to really connect to God through others and have some kind of meaningful spiritual experience. Connecting to God through Christ’s body and blood in the Divine Service is apparently not enough for these emotion starved, humanistic psychology desiring people and so they become addicted to their small groups and cannot leave for a right teaching parish.

Connections to other Christians are important but they are secondary. They are not the Gospel. The Gospel is the Gospel, the forgiveness of sins. That happens in the Divine Service through Holy Absolution, Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. Now that is something to be addicted to!

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.

Comments

Small Group Addiction – Exactly what is the Connection? by Pr. Rossow — 569 Comments

  1. @Walter Troeger #496

    > I don’t understand your comment. You don’t believe that we used Rick Warren’s books in a seminary class?

    It is beyond a stretch to try to tie CPH to a Rick Warren book via the campus bookstore. Campus bookstores have to carry what the instructors tell them to.

    Was the Rick Warren book taught uncritically? When and by whom?

  2. @”Rammstein” – I am on the roster of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod as an ordained pastor. I am called by the members of the Missouri Synod, via the board of Concordia Publishing House, to serve where I’m presently stationed.

    I see no such listing for Walter Troeger. I simply asked if he was serving somewhere, based on his comment that he attended the seminary. I’m still waiting for his response.

  3. Michael,
    Which Congregational Call, is Pastor McCain registered? CPH & Syond Exec. aren’t a call.

  4. mbw :
    @Walter Troeger #496
    > I don’t understand your comment. You don’t believe that we used Rick Warren’s books in a seminary class?
    It is beyond a stretch to try to tie CPH to a Rick Warren book via the campus bookstore. Campus bookstores have to carry what the instructors tell them to.
    Was the Rick Warren book taught uncritically? When and by whom?

    “Campus bookstores have to carry what the instructors tell them to..”

    Isn’t there any accountability put in place at the seminary that enforce what material is being used in the classrooms? The Rick Warren book was used in a P101 class at the seminary in St. Louis. The book was purchased at the Concordia Publishing House Bookstore on campus. The book was used in small groups at Lutheran Churches in the St. Louis area (also Illinois) 4 or five years ago. I forgot when the purpose driven fad was in full swing. I do remember an Issues Etc. program during that time focusing on the bad theology prevalent in the book. Four or five years ago, the book was used specifically at a Lutheran church Missouri Synod congregation in one of their small groups led by an untrained member of the church. No pastor present. And this goes back to heart of the matter of this blog, the danger of small groups and material being used that shouldn’t be used in the first place.
    – Rev. McCain, anyone can take classes at either of our seminaries. You can be male or female, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Baptist,….you can be Joe the Plumber with a bachelor’s degree. I don’t need to be a rostered church worker after I complete my studies at the seminary.

  5. Walter, thanks for confirming that you are not on the roster of the Missouri Synod, nor are you a minister serving anywhere.

    Now as to your question…in which you apparently think you have some sort of point. In fact, you don’t.

    The seminaries necessarily require students to a wide ranging variety of books and resources.

    If you have anything of substance to add to this conversation, particularly by way of response to my blog post about the appropriate way to go about making use of small groups in a Lutheran congregation, I would encourage you to contribute to the conversation.

    But, at least we’ve got the comment count here now over the 500 point. That’s something, I guess.

    : )

  6. mbw :
    @DA #489
    > “To serve as a resource and guide for members of the congregation as they participate in the ministry of Christian education, and to train parents to teach the Christian faith to their children”.
    It sounds to me like the entire context of this clause is Christian education of children.

    It may be that this part of the call document is all about children, or maybe it is not. It sounds more general to me, but I can see how you may interpret it the other way round.

    In regard to small groups, I have seen pastors take this “resourcing and guiding” obligation seriously to the point that they go over all the material with the small group leaders in advance and answer questions (a small group of small group leaders). The practical effect of this is to multiply the ability to cover more material, and to create more convenient times and opportunities for study.

  7. I’ve notice that over on Cyberbrethren, Rev. McCain has published an article about small groups in which he sets forth a definition of one type of small group. It was interesting to see how he structured that defintion. It has several substantially different elements than the one I tossed out. His, I believe, is within and probably closer to the center of the circle of proper groups than the one I developed. Well worth a read.

    Until Pr. Rossow and others here mentioned conventicles, I had forgotten about them. The nature, causes, and failures of conventicles in history are good things to know, and it is essential to evaluating the issues of small groups in our current settings. They were somewhat anti-authoritarian and schismatic.

    My own personal experience with small groups is quite varied. The ones led by pastors have been good to great. Ones led by teachers assigned by pastors have been okay to good. I have also been in others, including participation in on-Lutheran ones. They have been uneven. They’ve had bright spots, and lots of fumbling. They can be trend-, style-, or fad-driven. A certain study can be hot for awhile, and in a year or two hold practically no importance or residual impact, while the group is on to its next high. The next high might actually negate the prime points of a previous one, and the inconsistency tends to escape even the leaders. Some years ago I even received an assignment from a pastor to meet, along with my wife, with a couple who had been badly damaged in a small group. The problems caused ran up and down pretty much the whole Apostles Creed. One really killing error they had been taught had to do with confession and forgiveness. They had been taught that a Christian must confess every sin to be forgiven of it. Any, and I do mean any, unconfessed sin was taught to be unforgiven. The depth of lack of assurance of salvation that leaves is abysmal. To remedy this I had to say that one part of the trouble was even worse than they had been taught. What they had been taught assessed the problem of sin as being more trivial than it really is. The trouble with sin is so enormous and entrenched that no one can even know the deceitfulness of his or her own heart. It is impossible, unless the Holy Spirit would intervene, for anyone to know or confess all of his or her sins. Luther’s writings on confession and absolution helped, to show that what the church teaches was not recently made up, but that familiar passage in Jeremiah about the heart, and the pre-flood passage about the inclinations of the heart, were what really convinced the couple that perfect confession is, humanly, impossible. Confession itself is made perfect by the Cross of Christ, by an imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us objectively in the Atonement, which was already done once for all for the whole world at a certain longitude and latitude, on a certain day, at a certain hour, in geography and history, where, when, and how prophesied, and in the Holy of Holies in the true Tabernacle made without hands in the heavenlies, which cannot be altered by any subsequent event, and is greater than all our sin, so that though sin is vastly more enormous than they had known, so is the Atonement vastly more enormous, objective, and immutable than they had known. This couple was, over a period of about a year and a half, re-stabilized. But I shudder to think of the damage done to many others.

    We should have all the proper small groups we can, but we should be very careful that they are proper.

  8. @DA #508

    > In regard to small groups, I have seen pastors take this “resourcing and guiding” obligation seriously to the point that they go over all the material with the small group leaders in advance and answer questions (a small group of small group leaders). The practical effect of this is to multiply the ability to cover more material, and to create more convenient times and opportunities for study.

    I’m not sure what the value of a formal ‘leader’ or ‘facilitator’ is if they cannot employ authority. In other words, for example, to be able to say “that’s absolutely wrong” and have the authority of your call and your office behind you. No lay person has that. (We all have the bare authority of the Word itself — but we are in danger when we address a group authoritatively as though we have some call to do so / and we denigrate God’s Word when we teach it unauthoritatively).

    It might be a good time to discuss (or more likely argue about) whether there is a Scriptural office of ‘elder’ as a kind of pastor’s assistant. But there does not appear to be anything else to discuss.

    All of this is completely different from a discussion between lay people, or between a lay person and a pastor for that matter. I can say “that’s absolutely wrong” and it’s obvious that I do not claim some special office in so saying — it’s just me saying it.

    There is no Scriptural way to cheat on the congregant-to-pastor ratio issue. We just have to call and care for enough pastors, and establish enough local congregations, for there to be enough pastor to go around.

  9. @Rammstein, DE #504

    He is not serving a church. We have someone criticizing the Seminary so the question was asked are you a pastor? It seems he is claiming a degree from Seminary. I believe only M-Div students would take p-101 which I believe is intro to pastoral ministry.

  10. @mbw #510

    It might be a good time to discuss (or more likely argue about) whether there is a Scriptural office of ‘elder’ as a kind of pastor’s assistant.

    Yes, that is among the relevant topics, and might be near the center of the problem. Theologically, that is more likely to be resolvable in a setting such as Presbyterianism than within Lutheranism. So, although it is relevant and should hold potential, for us, I wonder how much potential it has. Personally, I’ve been influenced by Lenski on this issue, but he will not get anything like a majority within Lutheranism today.

    We just have to call and care for enough pastors, and establish enough local congregations, for there to be enough pastor to go around.

    Theologically, that could be the solution within Lutheranism. The next hurdle would be getting congregations to do it.

    Between those two propositions you stated, I believe you have summed up a very large percentage of the problem.

  11. @T. R. Halvorson #512

    > Theologically, that is more likely to be resolvable in a setting such as Presbyterianism than within Lutheranism. So, although it is relevant and should hold potential, for us, I wonder how much potential it has.

    I need to revisit it, myself. I remember working, with the other elders, through a book about the duties of elders written by a WELS pastor. I may remember incorrectly, but my recollection is that it laid some pretty serious duties on the elders. I confess I don’t know how WELS/LCMS differences on Church and Ministry would affect this. I hope somebody will clue me on this.

    For years WELS was seen by many MO pastors as an attractive haven of confessionalism. But I wonder how many times other, bigger problems were introduced by going there.

    I will say that I’m not really interested in hearing right now from any MO guys who more than tolerate the WELS doctrine.

  12. @mbw #513
    (Did anybody else’s browser take ten minutes to load this page? I wonder why…)

    OK, since I waited the ten minutes, I might as well say something. I’m not aware of a WELS doctrine on elders, except that the current church office of “elder” is not at all what is referred to in the New Testament as “elder.” “Elder” in the NT is basically the equivalent of our “pastor.” At least, that’s what I remember from the seminary.

    In the WELS, “elder” has no official description. Various training manuals have been written. These are all advisory. Each congregation assigns its own duties to those it elects (not calls) as elders, and some congregations have no functioning elders. One of the ordinary function of an elder, as far as I’ve seen, is to visit delinquent members (either with the pastor or on their own).

  13. mbw :@DA #508
    I’m not sure what the value of a formal ‘leader’ or ‘facilitator’ is if they cannot employ authority. In other words, for example, to be able to say “that’s absolutely wrong” and have the authority of your call and your office behind you. No lay person has that. (We all have the bare authority of the Word itself — but we are in danger when we address a group authoritatively as though we have some call to do so / and we denigrate God’s Word when we teach it unauthoritatively).
    All of this is completely different from a discussion between lay people, or between a lay person and a pastor for that matter. I can say “that’s absolutely wrong” and it’s obvious that I do not claim some special office in so saying — it’s just me saying it.
    There is no Scriptural way to cheat on the congregant-to-pastor ratio issue. We just have to call and care for enough pastors, and establish enough local congregations, for there to be enough pastor to go around.

    @mbw #510
    After all kinds of bandwidth has been expended on this post I think that some in this group of readers have finally reached the real issue: authority in the church.
    In the end the question isn’t one of pastoral authority because a pastor is at best an authority who serves a greater authority. The ultimate question here is about God’s Word.
    Does God’s Word have authority in and of itself that any Christian can read and declare?
    If God’s Word is authoritative does reading God’s word require a referee?
    I think this issue of authority underlies many others that have been batted about in this forum. I’m curious what others think.
    pax, John

  14. @John, an Unlikely Pastor #516

    Outstanding questions about the authority of the Word, and its usability by anyone. I tend to take what nowadays seems like an extreme view of Sola Scriptura that perhaps could be termed a hyper-protestantism. That would cause me to answer your questions a certain way, such as that a referee is not required.

    Trouble is, once I have ascribed that much authority to the Word, then I have to let the Word actually have that much authority and accept the consequences. The Word tells me I am a sheep and need a shepherd-pastor. It also says elder-bishops must be appointed to solve serious problems by exercising strenuous authority that even goes so far as to rebuke those who contradict sound doctrine, to rebuke them even sharply, and to even silence them. 1 Titus 1:5-13. As hefty as that is, there it is. So, unless I confess that purpose and authority given by Christ to the pastor-elder-bishop, I am not really as Sola Scriptura as I think I am.

    Scripture itself sets up this tension, and all I can do is recognize and accept it. Tensions like this are difficult to be scientific about. They are more like mysteries. The Trinity, the Incarnation, the Atonement — I guess by now I should be accustomed to mysteries.

    I don’t know how both Sola Scriptura and pastoral authority are both true, but Christ does, and Christ has told me in Scripture that they are, and therefore I know that they are.

  15. @T. R. Halvorson #517
    From your bible reference: “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”

    I certainly accept that this is compatible with Sola Scriptura. Where this thread still breaks down for me is how the pastor is to discharge this responsibility and authority. Specifically in the exercise of this authority, whether or not every word of instruction in the church must under normal circumstances come directly out of the mouth of the pastor?

    Thanks and Peace.

  16. @John, an Unlikely Pastor #516

    > In the end the question isn’t one of pastoral authority because a pastor is at best an authority who serves a greater authority. The ultimate question here is about God’s Word.
    Does God’s Word have authority in and of itself that any Christian can read and declare?
    If God’s Word is authoritative does reading God’s word require a referee?

    Of course the Word has authority all by itself. Jesus Is The Word. The world was created by His Word. When He spoke in Gethsemane, those who came to take him were laid flat.

    This is not the question.

    The question is about who has the vocation, the responsibility, to preach and teach that Word, officially and with full authority, where the hearers have every expectation and trust that such teacher can be held fully accountable for every word, and can be expected to know what he’s talking about, and actually holds an Office described and defined in the same Word. What is your recourse, as a hearer, when you are taught by an amateur? What amateur would want to stand in such a place?

  17. I guess I can now rest my case since Paul McCain has admitted that he keeps the comment section closely monitored by he the pastor. That is exactly my point about small groups. If the pastor is not there to supervise there is no supervision. You cannot supervise without being there. I know he offered up that comment in half jest but it is far more than a half truth.

    As to the notion that the BJS blog is a small group, that is a really good point but as others have said, the comparison just does not hold. First of all, BJS is monitored and does have direct supervision. I read every single comment and keep an eye on things and jump in on strings if there is a false idea and if no other pastor or layman has offered the truth. Secondly, the theological teaching is offered up here by pastors. The teaching is given by pastors (the blog post) and then just as in a pastor led Bible study, there are comments and questions by laity that are supervised. Sorry, that point does not hold. Paul McCain’s admission however, that he closely monitors his blog because of the need for pastoral supervision makes my point about small groups better than I could myself.

    I will answer his points in his blogpost about small groups as I have time. You all need to realize that BJS is not the anti-small group blog. I have demonstrated why they are bad for the Gospel. I have done so from Scripture, the Confessions, and church history. None of my points have been refuted by Paul McCain or others. We maintain that position with the Scriptures, Confessions and Church Fathers but this blog is not going to be consumed by this issue. I think it is a bell-weather issue for the LCMS and again express my sorrow that Paul McCain is out of step with confessionalism on this matter but this matter will be addressed on BJS as we have in the past and with other issues. It will come up as a post a couuple times a year and we will continue to address it with Scripture, Confessions, and the Church Fathers but we are not obsessed with it. Now that this post has fallen off the first page of the blog it will get less attention but it will come again and as I have time, I will address Paul’s blog post.

    TR

  18. Actually, Tim, I think you have a fairly good argument going, it just needs some refinement and when you are a point where you can make your case without resorting to a lot of overstatement and a lack of clarity and consistency, I think it will be a pretty good argument. Looking forward to your further refinements as time moves along.

  19. Pastor Tim Rossow :
    As to the notion that the BJS blog is a small group, that is a really good point but as others have said, the comparison just does not hold. First of all, BJS is monitored and does have direct supervision. I read every single comment and keep an eye on things and jump in on strings if there is a false idea and if no other pastor or layman has offered the truth. Secondly, the theological teaching is offered up here by pastors.
    TR

    Dear Pastor Rossow.

    I don’t think that BJS should get a pass on this topic of small groups. Much of the problem with this site is which pastor to believe.

    Consider your own initial analogy. Just as nobody wants an amateur surgeon operating on them, nobody wants a doctor to be directing their surgery from afar, or worse yet – multiple doctors with differing opinions. On these blog pages, the scalpel can get pretty shaky.

    Also, too often the tone and tenor of comments here by pastors can lead to a lower perception of the office of pastor, which is also not a good outcome. Just saying.

    Peace.

  20. Paul,

    You can’t just say “nice try Tim.”

    You have yet to address any of the substantive issues put forth clearly rejecting lay led small group Bible study. You have written a nice little blog post about the dangers of small groups and what we ought to guard against. That is like writing a blog post on the dangers of eating poison candy and what we ought to look out for in such a case.

    The Scriptural, Confessional, and Father’s evidence against lay led small group Bible study is very clear and you have not addressed a single one of those issues.

    1) Confessions: A man shall not teach (preach) unless he is properly called.
    2) Scripture: God has given to the church pastor/teachers (Eph. 4). These are the righlty callled ones referred to in the Confessions.
    3) Scripture: The only small groups mentioned in the Bible (I Cor. 14) are held up as examples of the church gone wrong.
    4) Scripture: Pastors are the stewards of the mysteries of God (I Cor. 3). Stewards do not give the stewardship to others but are the actual deliverers of the goods (word and sacrament). There are not stewards of what the stewards steward. The stewards steward it.
    5) Church Fathers: After his battle with Karlstadt and others over order in the church, and after the overly-zealous early years of emphasis on freedom in the Reformation, Luther changes his tune on I Cor. 14 and decides that prophets in I Cor. 14 must indeed be pastors. I Cor. 14 is out of step with the rest of Scriptures if these are seen as small groups of Bible study and prophecy apart from pastoral leadership.
    6) Church Fathers: Walther and Luther, especially Walther, who came to spiritual life in a conventicle, have every opportunity to promote lay led small group Bible studies but they do not. It is an abberation that grows out of overly romantic eras that emphasize subjective individualism and antiauthoritarianism.
    7) Confessions: The Small Catechism of Luther clearly teaches that there are two sorts in the church – preachers and hearers. A laymen teaching a small group Bible study is not called to preach/teach (they are interchangeable in the Scriptures and Confessions). This does not mean the laity cannot informally discuss theology or that they cannot rebuke the pastor. They can and should. But they are not called to teach/preach the word.
    8 ) Church Fathers: Walther states clearly in his “Proper Form of the Christian Congregation” that conventicles are forbidden. You can argue that a lay led small group Bible study is not a conventicle if the pastor has provided the lay teacher for it but I am convinced that is not what Walther means. Given the rest of the arguments above, it is clear that teaching in the church is a role given by God to the pastor. Why would you want anyone but a pastor doing spiritual surgery on you anyway. It just makes no sense.

    There is a whole different world out here that you are apparently unaware of. You should try living in a world with some of the most competent, knowledgeable lay elders who really do not want to teach or lead small groups. They have read the scriptures, the Confessions and listened to Scriptural and Confessional teaching and preaching for 18 years and have drawn the conclusion that it is not right for them to teach or lead a lay led small group Bible study. The pre 1970’s world actually is alive and well in the LCMS. It just takes pastors and CPH editors who are willing to put their foot down and stand up for what the Scriptures and Confessions tell us rather than pandering to the whole mess of mega-churches in the LCMS that use and want materials for lay led small group Bible study.

    TR

  21. DA,

    Don’t give consideration to pastors. That is foolish. Give consideration to what they teach and see if it squares with the Scriptures and Confessions. Please see my last post and tell me where I am wrong.

    I am no defender of pastors. I am a defender of the office of the ministry which God has given to his church (Eph. 4). We pastors who fill the office can err and need to told so when we do and humbly return to the Scriptures and Confessions that we subscribe to and swear to sacrifice even our own lives to uphold.

    If you think I am giving BJS some sort of free pass, you have misread me.

    TR

  22. Tim, read my blog post. I indicate a proper way to have small groups.

  23. Tim, I have told you privately over the phone and now I’ll say it again here: You are wrong when you say we are “pandering to the whole mess of mega-churches.”

    If the only way you can make your points is by resorting to lies and slanders like this, then you don’t have much of a case to make.

    It is still interesting to me how you find nothing wrong with BJS attempting to lure sheep away from their appointed shepherds by encouraging laymen to join BJS groups and join the BJS community if they don’t like their pastor or their congregation. Further, you still have not definitely answered the question of whether or not any BJS chapter is allowed to form without the explicit signature and approval of the pastor of the members of the chapter. Why does BJS have any right to try to recruit laypeople out of their congregations to join BJS groups and support BJS?

    Why do you keep dodging these questions, Tim? Is it because you know that the practice of BJS is contradicting your claims about your position on small groups?

    As I have said, Tim, you have some good point, unfortunately you ruin them with over statement.

  24. Let’s continue Tim Rossow’s line of thinking and see how consistent BJS is willing to be. He claims that a layman’s pastor is his shepherd, is the one who is responsible for supervising his doctrine and life and the only one to whom that layman should listen.

    But now let’s see how Tim Rossow allows BJS to try to recruit laypeople out from under their pastor’s supervision.

    Here is how BJS describes “individual membership”

    Because there are plenty of confessional Lutherans stuck in church growth churches and because the internet provides the ability to form “communities” on line, we have created an individual membership. The individual membership enjoys all the privileges of chapter membership with the exception of having regular chapter functions such as a confessions reading group, annual fundraiser, etc.

    Now imagine, if you would, how Tim Rossow and company would howl in protest were a “church growth” pastor were to announce he was forming a group and offering membership to “plenty of Lutherans who are stuck in ultra-conservative churches” inviting them to form “communities” and join as an individual member of his group.

    Where is the consistency in this? Nowhere.

  25. TR
    there’s great wisdom in your word’s about pastors here.
    The question to me is who will be the best to share the news with the pastor that he’s mistaken.
    pax
    John

    Pastor Tim Rossow :
    I am no defender of pastors. I am a defender of the office of the ministry which God has given to his church (Eph. 4). We pastors who fill the office can err and need to told so when we do and humbly return to the Scriptures and Confessions that we subscribe to and swear to sacrifice even our own lives to uphold.

  26. @Rev. Paul T. McCain #78

    Rev. McCain,

    Apparently you are unaware of the outcry by those stuck—for one reason or the other—in a Church Growth congregation for social media such as BJS? As has been pointed out to you a number of times throughout this thread already, BJS is not recruiting people out of their congregations, but is providing the support many Lutherans “stuck” where they don’t want to be are asking for.

    BJS is not recruiting people away from their congregations (and where in cyberspace would they go?) anymore than the blog Cyberbrethren is recruiting non-LCMS members because it provides resources to Lutherans who might be stuck in non-LCMS congregations.

  27. Jim: You are missing my point. It is hypocritical of Tim Rossow to get on a high horse about how horrible it is for a layperson to facilitate or lead a small group study because of how necessary it is for his pastor to do so, but apparently he does not think twice about encouraging members of other congregations, over which he is not a pastor to join BJS as an “individual member.”

    For whatever reason he does so, he doesn’t seem to realize that this practice is not consistent with his words about the role of the parish pastor.

  28. @Rev. Paul T. McCain #81

    It is not hypocritical of Pr. Rossow to encourage individual membership in BJS since we are primarily an on-line community. As for forming local chapters, he has been wholly consistent since pastors must be on board with the formation of a local chapter or it doesn’t get formed.

    So, if your point is over hypocrisy, as you claim, then yes I am not following you, since I don’t see any here.

  29. Not sure what else I can say.

    In fact, I’ve had it with this whole conversation.

    Anyone who wants to know precisely what I think about small groups can read my blog posts.

    I’ll just let Rossow continue to slander me. It does speak well for him or for BJS.

  30. Oh well, I guess when you take your ball and go home, the Church will just have to get along without you.

  31. Rev Paul McCain :
    Tim, read my blog post. I indicate a proper way to have small groups.

    Dear Rev. McCain,
    Would you please re-post the link to your blog site here for reference?
    Thanks

  32. Pastor Tim Rossow :
    DA,
    Don’t give consideration to pastors. That is foolish. Give consideration to what they teach and see if it squares with the Scriptures and Confessions. Please see my last post and tell me where I am wrong.
    I am no defender of pastors. I am a defender of the office of the ministry which God has given to his church (Eph. 4). We pastors who fill the office can err and need to told so when we do and humbly return to the Scriptures and Confessions that we subscribe to and swear to sacrifice even our own lives to uphold.
    If you think I am giving BJS some sort of free pass, you have misread me.
    TR

    Dear Pastor Rossow,

    OK, I have read your post, and also the blog post on this topic written by Rev. Paul McCain at his site. My task is to to evaluate what squares with the scriptures and confessions. Here is the result of that evaluation:

    1. The two of you mostly agree. Yet it is so strange what has happened between you on this post. For the two of you to agree so much, and yet also be at such odds, informs me that there is something going on here (maybe a past history, or some political issue) that I am not privy to. I call upon you both to repent and forgive each other, and work past your differences asap. You have to make the other person really believe they are loved by you. “For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.”

    2. Rev. McMain cautions about small groups, and sets up guidelines and cautions that appear to take into account the concerns you have that are rooted in the scriptures and confessions. In particular, he stresses the pastor as teacher and lay persons as group facilitators. Things are a lot different now than in the 1500s in terms of literacy and education, written material, etc. To the extent that there are practical reasons for small groups in some churches (best determined by the pastors of those churches and their local circuits), they would benefit from doing them this way.

    3. The concerns that you have regarding conventicles appear to be very-well addressed in Rev. McCains blog, to the point that labeling McCain’s small groups as conventicles just does not seem to hold water. However, small groups that do not heed McCain’s warnings certainly do run a risk of becoming conventicle-like.

    4. The thing about BJS as a small group of sorts, and concerns about undermining the authority of the pastor in the local church appears to me to be a real and valid concern. I would like to see this more fully addressed, so we can all determine where it stands on the basis of scripture and the confessions. In particular, how does it relate to a “faction” among other things? Just asking.

    Thank you for the opportunity to share these thoughts. Peace.

  33. It would be better for the sheep if the pastors and theologians here would stick to their vocations by working together to define proper small groups, rather than straying off into some other personal or institutional issue. Otherwise, right or wrong, laymen will work this out for themselves, muff it, and the wolves will pick off the strays.

    Pr Rossow, your post 74 is potent. Does it mean there is no such thing as a proper lay led small group? If there can be proper lay led small groups, can you give a definition or example of one?

  34. Pr. Rossow:

    I have not read every one of the 500+ comments with thoroughness, but it seems that no one has exactly answered your inquiry: what is the attraction to small groups? Why does that young man have a hard time leaving his small group for your confessional congregation? Or to put it in the parlance of today: what need does a small group seem to fulfill?

    Consider:
    • We have all heard the comment about a group of friends: “They are like family to me.”
    • We all live in some sort of “community”, not villages and towns, or even congregations, but communities centered on job or interest or even sex, like the “gay community”.
    • Support groups of all sorts in congregations, work, played out on TV, etc.

    But again, why this response of intimate groups? Answer: we live in a time of great social instability.
    Consider:
    • We live in the first generation in 2,000+ years of Western Civilization that can contemplate: Why didn’t Mom abort me?
    • Serial monogamy in divorce and remarriage is the greatest damage to the family now culminating in pseudogamy. With it, “hooking-up”, living together and the like.
    • Americans move so often and contact with elders is diminished and with it their experience and even wisdom.
    • The daily ingestion of media and the constant message: the sky is falling.

    The above does not make for stability needed to grow as people or as a people. So small groups have become the sine qua non for many and again the first comment above, such a group is more like a family to me. I would guess the young man’s “addiction” is obviously one shared by many. It is true as the Word states: It is not good for the man to be alone. This has become a lust in many ways. The instability and anxiety of our times and the desire, need for such intimate groups was diagnosed by Jewish philosopher, Martin Buber in his book I/Thou (1923). I think the quote below further tells us why the young man and many, many others, so want such ‘communities’ and then why this replacement is inadequate:

    “That institutions yield no public life is felt by more and more human beings, to their sorrow: this is the source of the distress and search of our age. That feelings yield no personal life has been recognized by few so far; for they seem to be the home of what is most personal. And once one has learnt, like modern man, to become greatly preoccupied with one’s own feelings, even despair over their unreality will not easily open one’s eyes; after all, such despair is also a feeling and quite interesting. Those who suffer because institutions yield no public life have thought of a remedy: feelings are to loosen up or thaw or explode the institutions, as if they could be renewed by feelings, by introducing the “freedom of feelings.” When the automatized state yokes together totally uncongenial citizens without creating or promoting any fellowship, it is supposed to be replaced by a loving community. And this loving community is supposed to come into being when people come together, prompted by free, exuberant feeling, and want to live together. But that is not how things are. True community does not come into being because people have feelings for each other (though that is required, too), but rather on two accounts: all of them have to stand in a living, reciprocal relationship to a single living center, and they have to stand in a living, reciprocal relationship to one another. The second event has its source in the first but is not immediately given with it. A living reciprocal relationship includes feelings but is not derived from them. A community is built upon a living, reciprocal relationship, but the builder is the living, active center.” (emphasis my own)

    I agree with Pr. McCain that small groups, centered on the Word, supervised by pastor can work and having “the living, active center”, i.e. the LORD, can be helpful. But the young man is not looking for that at all. One time my wife asked my mother to come to Bible study with her, telling her that her son is a pretty good teacher: No, said my mom, people only want to talk about their problems. A colleague, a campus minister would say that when he was in the Midwest, he would start up a Bible study and 20-30 people would show up but the next time there would be five, “…because they realized it was actually a Bible study and not a worship service”. So in the face of the anonymous crowd we seek a friendly, caring face. Remember: back in the ‘70s, the lure of the cults and their number 1 lure was ‘community’. The ‘Moonies’ would tell vulnerable college students, come to our meeting and we will care for you.

    So if this diagnosis is correct: should the Church participate in those kind of “small group” ‘ministries’? My answer with you is: No. As Buber points out those “feelings” and their “exuberance” and “freedom” will not change things. They have not yet.

    But we are still in this society and culture in which the rug has been pulled out from under out feet by ourselves, the Old Adam. We do not have societal communities of memory any longer in which wisdom of any sort can be handed down generation to generation. (The Mormons, by the way, are very attractive to many people because of this). Families have crumbled (see Mormons again: FWIW, I think Mitt Romney could be our next president BECAUSE he is a Mormon in this culture). In what ways does the Lord, the living, active Center, build us up? What sort of people does the Lord call us to be? No ‘ministry’ , that is, a program, will substitute.

    In Christ Jesus,
    Pr. Schroeder

  35. @DA #86

    > The two of you mostly agree. Yet it is so strange what has happened between you on this post.

    I saw a nasty habit of disrespecting and piling on Paul McCain over on LQ, starting a while back. That nastiness came here, possibly by HJ, whom otherwise I like and respect (as far as I know HJ — see my other comments on fake communities). It is now fashionable to pile on him here.

    We all choose fathers in the faith to some extent I guess. McCain has earned a genuine stature and uses the credibility he has earned. Sometimes this involves rebukes of younger pastors. What happens next is always dicey. If I were one of the younger pastors I think I might benefit from publicly just taking the little beating and not fighting in public. But each one will make his own decisions. This may be subjective, but I find it more offensive (in the Scriptural sense) when one of the rebukees fights back too much, than when they get slapped down to begin with.

    Of course I respect TR too. But the fact is that this blog has been used by some ordained people whose imprecations especially against lay people should have been deleted by management. Not every confessional pastor likes BoJTS! They have their reasons! And I do not think the reasons are too far from the attempted comparisons between this site and a small group (run by someone who is NOT YOUR PASTOR). I think this all has to be kept in mind. Sorry.

  36. @Pr. Mark Schroeder #88

    This is an excellent analysis. Add to this the fake communities – which are really networks [refer to the work of John Taylor Gatto here] – that are everywhere in our society and churches.

    Vanity seems to have increased with wealth and security. Historically does anything drive people back to the true church other than disaster?

    Regarding wealth and security though: people want big institutions that maximize work done by staff. Large churches have an advantage here and can layer their staff so as to have very few pastors per congregant. This attracts a lot of people. It is just too messy, difficult and humble to start up a truly local church of only two or three hundred members. So pastors in the big churches can’t possibly spend the time and attention that they can in smaller churches. But in the small churches, the pastors are often essentially starved and mistreated. Because of our vanity, wealth, self-absorption and security.

  37. I saw a nasty habit of disrespecting and piling on Paul McCain over on LQ, starting a while back.

    You know, I don’t read this thread this way.
    I read Pastor McCain being very diplomatic and convincing in his cited blog post, but rude, harsh, and uncivil to others here in many of his posts, and others trying to throw him a gentle clue that this is not a good (or effective or Godly) way to make his points, and his failing to pick up on these clues. I read Pastor Rossow being quite significantly forebearing, in the face of fairly severe provocation, and I also read him being quite nuanced in expressing his views, both of which I respect a great deal.

    Although I don’t completely agree with Pastor Rossow, I think that his original ideas are well worth discussion and have a great deal of merit. It’s interesting to think about the extent to which the word ‘addiction’ and characteristics of addictions might apply to small group commitments, and why that might be. This is something that I have never heard anyone say before, and it’s a very interesting observation with some truth to it. We should be able to discuss this civilly.

  38. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.

    Can it be said that Paul has been giving advice to Tim for a long, long, long time…?

  39. @Old Time St. John’s #93

    > It’s interesting to think about the extent to which the word ‘addiction’ and characteristics of addictions might apply to small group commitments, and why that might be. This is something that I have never heard anyone say before, and it’s a very interesting observation with some truth to it. We should be able to discuss this civilly.

    agreed

  40. @James #95

    ahh … you’ve tapped a rich lode of heresy there James, with denial of universal justification, instigation of understudies in confessional churches here and there, an internet ‘church’ and other fun things! All in reaction to the Kokomo Four, CG advocates and liberals in every corner and in every closet, and a seeming need for some kind of stardom. Too bad – he had a real gift!

  41. @mbw #91

    “Historically does anything drive people back to the true church other than disaster?”

    mbw:

    This is off-topic and off thread. This understanding has quite a durable half-life. In my second parish, a dear woman, Helen would say to me: “You know pasta (this was N.J.), you know what would bring people back to church? A war.(drop the ‘r’ sound!)” It is also related to the oft-cited, “No atheists in foxholes.” In a deistic way, yes. But it is ‘let’s make a deal’ with God: if you get me out, then I will…I do not think that any kind of disaster will drive people back to the church. Even if for awhile, the disaster passes and it’s back to square one. It certainly is not-Biblical:

    1 Timothy 2: “1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

    Peace is necessary for evangelization. We pray for Caesar so that we have peace. After all, the Lord is God of peace, not confusion (see 1 Corinthians 14: 33). And to have the kingdoms of God’s left hand doing what they are suppose to do is for “…a peaceful and quiet life” because God desires “all people to be saved”. I think Luther said that a Christian politician is worth a thousand priests. Or at least, lawful government pursuing lawful means and ends. I surmise that the apostle knew quite well Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles to pray for the city (Babylon!) and seek it’s welfare, Jeremiah 29, esp. verse 7. If it is crisis, conflict, confusion, no one will hear the Gospel: after all, someone with a gun to your head is not a time to hear the Gospel, or a wild-fire threatening one’s home or the ravages of war. Notice also: that the continual contrivance of crises, conflicts and confusions that politicians, pundits and predictors put forward on the media in order to instill fear. Luther picks up on this in his teaching in The Large Catechism on the Daily Bread petition that the devil likes nothing better than for us not to eat our bread in peace. Further: it is not our life-time experiences, however disastrous, bad, sinful, or evil, that will drive us to the Gospel: only God’s Law can do that.

    Fwiw, Pr. Schroeder

  42. @Pr. Mark Schroeder #98

    Please don’t assume that I am wishing for disaster. There’s plenty now, and plenty ahead.

    Personally, trouble drives me to God. This can apply to groups of Christians.

    And people tend to forget Him in good times.

    I agree that peace and outward good order are good, and can be good for the Gospel.

    “All things …”

  43. @mbw #97

    But wait……it gets better! Pop some popcorn and hold on to your seat!

    A pastor is allegedly confessional but is secretly a staunch advocate of church growth?

    http://ichabodthegloryhasdeparted.blogspot.com/2011/06/my-wife-wonders-why-mccain-glende-and.html

    http://ichabodthegloryhasdeparted.blogspot.com/2011/06/can-lutherqueasy-be-read-as-pure-comedy.html

    Bloated LCMS bureaucracy, indeed!

    I honestly am not sure who or what to believe.

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