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 — 576 Comments

  1. @James #100

    > I honestly am not sure who or what to believe.

    You are doing some reading at a sick place – trust me.

    This is very simple. Believe McCain and Rossow and every MO pastor you actually know. They all oppose the false doctrine found at the site you are reading.

    Research the history of election and justification controversies in the MO synod if you really must. This will help you, if you need to go there.

    > secretly a staunch advocate of church growth?

    I did not even read what you pointed to and I already told you that GJ was looking for a CG-er under every rock, didn’t I? Only his internet ‘church’ is orthodox, you know.

  2. MBW
    You raise a strong challenge to blanket declarations of pastoral authority. Clearly the person who challenges “Heir Pastor” when he is out of line with the Word might be in for a tough ride; but the Truth is always worth sharing.
    peace to you
    John
    mbw :@John, an Unlikely Pastor #79
    > The question to me is who will be the best to share the news with the pastor that he’s mistaken.
    Whomever is ready, willing and able to be punished for doing the good deed.
    @mbw #92

  3. @mbw #101

    I should trust every MO (LCMS) pastor I know – Even when I see that the LCMS pastors don’t trust each other. I have seen the toxic arguing on the ALPB forum, on LQ, and even in places on this website. What is a non-Lutheran to think. Does he/she want to join a denomination where the members are always at each others throats.

    I should trust every MO pastor I know – Even when I am expected to trust that the Willow Creek Association materials in our small groups do not contradict LCMS doctrine?

    I should trust every MO pastor I know – Even if the pastor refuses to remove the NOOMA DVDs from the church library after Rob Bell releases “Love Wins.” Apparently, Bell’s newest book does not make his earlier works questionable in the eyes of some LCMS pastors.

    I should trust every MO pastor I know – Even after I learn that the LCMS is following TCN’s recommendations and is aggressively replacing the hymnal and the liturgy with non-denominational contemporary worship materials in as many LCMS congregations as quickly as possible.

    I should trust every MO pastor I know – Even after I learn what the LCMS has done to Rev. Todd Wilken and to Issues, Etc, and even after many of those same people instrumental in removing Issues, Etc. remain in positions of power at LCMS headquarters.

    I should trust every MO pastor I know – Even when the LCMS refuses to conduct an audit of Church Growth programs. How effective are they, or are they a waste of money. No one knows. No one dares to raise such questions. Why is this so.

    If every MO pastor trusted each other, Steadfast Lutherans would have no reason to exist. The Missouri Synod is a sick organization. There is never any good news on these websites – Including the Ichabod link I posted upstream. All of them report nothing but bad things.

    The Koinonia Project couldn’t come fast enough.

  4. @James #103

    Hi James. You can hold every MO pastor accountable for right teaching on justification. The author of the site you were pointing to holds a contrary doctrine. This is poison.

    You cite things that are problems (I guess – I have not seen these with my own eyes) in some MO congregations.

    But I take your citation of the heretical website as a diagnostic on you. I think you are focusing on negatives when the overall picture in the MO synod is one of right teaching that you will have a hard time finding someplace else.

    One question though. What does this mean, very specifically, and where did you hear it:
    ” many of those same people instrumental in removing Issues, Etc. remain in positions of power at LCMS headquarters.”

    Listen: MANY good men have been forced to CRM. Wallace Schulz was fired over Benke. Martin Noland was fired without cause. What are all of those men DEMANDING? Or have they accepted the unjustice and MOVED ON?

    This singling Issues Etc out for special treatment is getting a little old. They’re doing better than ever. Just ask them! They don’t want to work for the synod. Just ask them!

  5. @James #103

    James, the Ichabod site is by a guy who left both WELS and MO … did you know that? He sees the MO synod the same way you do .. but he teaches false doctrine. How do you feel about that?

    Your bitterness and one-sided mischaracterization of the MO synod as “a sick organization” actually is a perfect fit for other Issues fanatics I know. This is really sad but it’s being egged on by blurbs on the program like “Luther had Wartburg … we have Collinsville” (from what or whom are they exiled now? who is persecuting them?)

    You do need to understand that statements like “many of those same people instrumental in removing Issues, Etc. remain in positions of power at LCMS headquarters” (WHERE DID YOU HEAR THIS?) actually make it harder for the new administration to clean things up … because a normal person will correctly see this as desiring a vendetta and a purge. God save us from that.

  6. @James #103

    FWIW…Objectively, Ichabod has some good points aside from his mixed-up, badly worded doctrinal beliefs- woman’s roles, support to organizations that tolerate false teachings, other things that many other blogs discuss. He seems to have sources and is the 1st to report on things, that raises question on practices that seem to go on quietly behind the scenes.

    The commentary/photo shop pictures are humorous at times but they are ultimately slanderous. He does not just report the news and the facts and his own opinion. He takes these people through the mud until they are buried. It hurts the people he chooses to sling mud at, not only them but their families and churches. He brings it up over and over, even if the person identified was to realize their mistake, they can not ever get away from it.

    If you must read Ichabod for your one-stop-shop on your “can you believe, who did what now” (gossip?). Remember, he is not your pastor. He is not a called pastor by any church body. He is an independent. His commentary is oftentimes intertwined with fact, exaggerations and slanderous statements. Don’t believe all you read, check out the link to the source. If there isn’t a source linked take with a grain of salt until further proof is documented. Don’t get mixed up on the doctrine/sermons and what he says so & so says. It is very confusing and not good for every Christian’s soul to try to figure it all our. Find a pastor that has a good balance on Christian freedom vs. wise and beneficial practices.

  7. James, the really good stuff is getting done at the local LCMS congregation (and school) level.  There’s more than enough wonderful ministry going on there to keep you from getting discouraged.

  8. @mbw #105
    I do understand that the guy on Ichabod was a former WELS pastor, who went CLC, and then was kicked out of his congregation. I understand there is a lot of exaggeration and noise at that (primarily WELS) site. I only read the articles that criticize the LCMS. (Nope, I don’t follow the UOJ debate). I also read posts that criticize the LCMS on ALPB and on Steadfast.

    I fondly remember the recent Issues, Etc blurb: “You cancelled the wrong program.” Issues fanatics? Sorry, but Issues, Etc. is superior to the Lutheran Hour. What about Steadfast fanatics. Or maybe ALPB fanatics. (Yes, ALPB has also not been very nice to the LCMS.) Or Rev. Fisk fanatics? I guess ongoing suspicion of LCMS headquarters qualifies as a fanatic. Such resources provide a check and balance to Church Growth (or Church Girth) excesses.

    Many of those same people instrumental in removing Issues, Etc. remain in positions of power at LCMS headquarters. Just because the “confessionals” won the 2010 election does not mean that existing LCMS employees have suddenly quit, retired, or were “purged.” I do not want to see any purges, nor acts of revenge. As a humble layman, this is not my battle, but I cannot help but watch from the sidelines and sympathize.

    The fact that the new administration has to “clean things up” (your admission) is an indication that there is something very wrong with the LCMS as an organization. So much public infighting within LCMS has also scared a lot of LCMC and NALC pastors away. Why aren’t those pastors and congregations, who are continuing to move in a more confessional direction, striving to join the LCMS?

  9. @John Rixe #107

    I have not left the LCMS, as I do believe that it teaches right doctrine. The issue has always been pastors ignoring right (Lutheran) doctrine in favor of Church Growth theology. And small groups (of which I am a member) are used in many LCMS congregations to promote a theology foreign to Lutheran doctrine.

    The grade schools are the most underrated LCMS resource at the local level. I gladly support my local congregation, where the real work gets done. I refuse to give a dime to the district and headquarters.

  10. @James #108

    Yes, James, you have some very valid points. Specifically, no, many pepele are still at St. Louis. Many know in U.S. government that Presidents go through a few department heads every term. But just because you you have a new CIA Director, Head of the FBI or Secretary of State, starting just below the high profile leaders are the life tim functionaries who are always there, and sometimes necessary to keep things going. (reinventing the wheel isn’t always a good idea)

    From what I hopefully remember right, here is an LC-MS example. I was in highschool in the late 80’s. I remember LeRoy Wilke visiting ND once, when he was involved with Board for Youth Services, as it was called then. I went to Denver 89 Youth Gathering. I think even back then, Terry Dittmer was helping/leading LYF, and worked on youth gatherings. When Mr. Wilke moved up to head Congregational Services, Terry became head of Youth Ministry. So he is someone who goes back to the Bohlmann years, 3 administrations ago!

    It will be interesting to see what happens now, with the convention mandated restructuring, lack of funding and cuts being made. Even then, I do not see a wholesale purge and everyone changing over. I think it will come down to leaders and functionaries, the direction of Synod, Inc. and the like. And yes, there could be certain rabble rousers hanging around who can still mess with things, and Issues could happen again. Hopefully not…

  11. @Jason #110
    Jason,

    I recall Ross Perot arguing in 1980 that GM was bloated and needed to be restructured, but the board of directors ignored him. Look at GM now. I am glad to see restructuring in the LCMS finally take place, although it too should have occurred decades ago. I hope that the LCMS as an organization will be able to retool for the 21st century while still observing its doctrine.

    There is something seriously wrong with the system when pastors would rather work in an office at synod headquarters instead of taking a call. I have seen the same behavior in Education. Some people enter the Education field with zero intention of becoming a high school or grade school teacher. They would rather become administrators. Not good.

    What a mess!

  12. @John Rixe #107

    What James is into is not just discouragement, but an addiction of its own kind.

    @James #111

    Ross Perot was a gadfly who helped a really bad president get elected.

    The restructuring was opposed, on correct grounds, by all or nearly all conservatives and confessionals.

    Some may have strengths in administration. I’d rather see those strengths identified by others than have people promote themselves. I’m glad the men who are in our synodical executive office are in the former category.

    I don’t think you realize how serious is the heresy and bitterness on the web site you like to use against decent men here. If you don’t get that, all of your conclusions past that point are very dubious.

  13. @mbw #112

    Ok, ignore (the mostly WELS) Ichabod. That still leaves you with LCMS-critical websites such as ALPB, Issues, Etc., and Steadfast. All of these websites are run by pastors. Someone has to keep LCMS upper management accountable.

    Regarding restructuring – I am glad to see it happen. However, I am not in favor of centralization of power. Districts are worthless and should be dissolved.

    Addiction. Visiting websites and blogs that criticize the LCMS organization is an addiction? You mean I am not supposed to be doing this. What about all the LCMS pastors that are addicted to arguing endlessly with each other on blog sites? Does this mean that as a layman, I am not supposed to read, nor contribute to any of these posts?

    Why don’t all the LCMS pastors with opposing viewpoints gather together and work out their differences *privately* instead of arguing on publicly-accessible websites. LCMS theologians are making us laymen very, very suspicious of LCMS headquarters. It is very, very bad PR for the Lutheran church. I never used to be this way until I started hanging out at these websites and watching the pastors argue for a few months.

    I like to visit Lutheran websites to look for positive news, but I rarely find any.

  14. @James #113

    > Why don’t all the LCMS pastors with opposing viewpoints gather together and work out their differences *privately* instead of arguing on publicly-accessible websites.

    I agree with you VERY MUCH on this. For my part, I’d replace ‘private’ with ‘appropriate scope.’ It should not be too hard for legitimate lay members of congregations to know what’s going on. I shall refrain from grinding my reclaim-Walther’s-voter-assembly ax this time, though.

    If the things pastors say to and about each other here and elsewhere are offensive, how about individual pastors calling out – by name – individual lay people with whom they have a beef? Sometimes people who are not even in the discussion.

  15. @mbw #114
    Thank you very much for this. As a layman, it saddens me deeply to watch the vicious infighting on websites such as this one, and with no resolutions in sight. Over 500+ posts on this thread alone and there is still no consensus. Is there light at the end of the tunnel? The church is broken. I have become discouraged by watching LCMS pastors attack each other. Such public outbursts scare potential members (and even some current members) away.

    What else is there to say. For the sake of the church, I hope that the LCMS pastors can reach consensus soon. Blessings to you and your ministry.

  16. @James #115

    James, thank you. I am sorry for being harsh. I was at a church harmed by the teaching of the owner of the website we’ve discussed. One of his disciples wrote a shoddy ‘book’, mistranslated Walther (not even knowing German), and caused a lot of trouble. It made news in the synod, sadly. It divided people and showed where many stood and where they would (or not) stick their necks out for the truth. Marquardt, Manteuffel and others lent written support. Scars remain.

    My ministry is only vocation: to my family, and at work. I wish blessings on the same, for you.

  17. @James #115

    > Over 500+ posts on this thread alone and there is still no consensus.

    In my opinion, Pastor Harrison has a good and right approach on this. Scholarship + humility. Knowledge + faith. Hard decisiveness + gentle kindness. And even if he did not have these (though I believe I see them) recognizing that things of real value do not conflict even if they cannot be levelled or squared. No theological error is good. All should be humble and self sacrificial. Knowledge of and proper respect for church history is invaluable. Open-mindedness and humility to understand what other people actually think and perceive is important in order to know how and where to discuss the Truth with them. Every good thing we use was once new. Some new good things could come. The hour is late and we should be yearning for His return, therefore we must accept that we will suffer, maybe a lot, and we won’t vainly try to create heaven on earth. Lutheranism is not the entire church on earth. We concede no errors in our confessions. An error-free confession is not a matter of faith, but it’s ultimately life or death and has to be maintained, and that includes questioning and arguing. We proclaim, share and confess and don’t expect to be loved by everybody for that. We must see the built-in, monstrous pride that must and does come with our sincere belief that our confessions are uniquely correct. We don’t have any idea what numbers God will produce through His Gospel. We don’t know if 85% or 51% or any number of the “Missouri Synod” will be faithful. We pray that we will.

  18. mbw and James,  your last few comments have been excellent.  I wish we layfolks could figure out how to encourage some LCMS pastors to calm down a little.  Their thoughtful discussion of issues is healthy, but the personal attacks are demeaning.

  19. I’ve been invited to join a small group at my new church (LCMS) and the first several sessions are from this book:

    http://www.amazon.com/Beginnings-ChristCare-Group-Experience-Member/dp/B000V6LS0O/ref=sr_1_8?ie=UTF8&qid=1320239161&sr=8-8

    One of the features of this small group is that we can hold each other accountable.

    My first objection to this group is that they are using a book written by a Seminex graduate who is now leading small groups at a Vineyard church (William J McKay).

    http://www.the-vineyard.org/staff

    Perhaps that should be objection enough. This certainly doesn’t feel like something I should belong to, but I am having trouble articulating my issues.

    Any suggestions?

  20. “Prayer and Bible study was understood to be done at the Divine Service.” I find this interesting. When a Christian is in distress, is he supposed to be refused the comfort of praying with a fellow Christian with whom he is in doctrinal fellowship and essentially told he is out of line for wanting to pray with someone outside the high holy Divine Service? This has been my experience of late in confessional Lutheranism. When Scripture tells us to pray without ceasing, has confessional Lutheranism been granted some sort of exemption. Are families now to stop praying together at the dinner table and told to “hold it for the Divine Service?” And of course we single people are really out of line for suggesting that some one pray with us outside the Divine Service and should be disparaged as having a Reformed mindset! I’d like a little more explanation to this “understood” terminology. I think some confessional Lutherans have over corrected their course in response to the Reformed wrong ideas of prayer.

  21. @Alan #570
    The idea is to avoid the forming of “spiritual” cliques, separate services for the hip and the uncool, ostracizing of the misfortunate, false teaching, segregation by personalities, age groups, marital status, ethnicity/fine German heritage, financial/professional success, ability to travel to the small-group meeting place, etc., etc., because it will result in divisions. These segregations are going to develop, but we advise against it. There is no Jew or Greek. There is one LORD, one faith, one Baptism. No way is the intent to prevent a Christian in distress, to be refused the comfort of praying with a fellow Christian, or for families to stop praying together at the dinner table. These things are to be encouraged, indeed required.

  22. @Alan #570

    When a Christian is in distress, is he supposed to be refused the comfort of praying with a fellow Christian with whom he is in doctrinal fellowship and essentially told he is out of line for wanting to pray with someone outside the high holy Divine Service?

    No, because doing so would be contrary to the priesthood of all believers. There is no such prohibition.

    This has been my experience of late in confessional Lutheranism. When Scripture tells us to pray without ceasing, has confessional Lutheranism been granted some sort of exemption?

    No, I’ve seen no such exemption in the Constitution or Bylaws.

    Are families now to stop praying together at the dinner table and told to “hold it for the Divine Service?”

    Confessional Lutherans are strong proponents of the Family Altar and daily devotions: https://steadfastlutherans.org/2013/08/establishing-the-family-altar/

    And of course we single people are really out of line for suggesting that someone pray with us outside the Divine Service and should be disparaged as having a Reformed mindset!

    Confessional Lutherans are strong proponents of catechesis and recommend studying the Book of Concord in your small group gathering that you might not have a “Reformed mindset.” Praying outside the DS is not only encouraged but commanded by Scripture. Daily prayer and meditation is kind of a big deal to Confessional Lutherans.

    I’d like a little more explanation to this “understood” terminology. I think some confessional Lutherans have over corrected their course in response to the Reformed wrong ideas of prayer.

    Keep reading this blog for more explanation. You may want to check your anger at the door.

  23. @Alan #570
    I would add that our Fellowship is at the Altar. We do not have congregations within the congregation, or hold what might be considered a “Private Mass”. Social events, and even prayer meetings are not “Fellowship” in the Sacramental sense. This in no way means prayer meeting is to be discouraged, while at the same time the “Mass” is not to be segregated nor is it to be a DEMONstration of social elitism. Of course we have closed communion, to which you have not stated you have been excluded.
    “When a Christian is in distress, is he supposed to be…told he is out of line for wanting to pray with someone outside the high holy Divine Service?” I do find this to be disturbing. There must be more to the story, and probably best not be discussed in detail on-line.

  24. St. Stephen and Mark, thank you for your comments and responses.
    I certainly agree that the forming of “spiritual cliques” is problematic. But since being a confessional Lutheran, I’ve never come to the conclusion that praying with one’s pastor or a Christian friend with whom you are in fellowship outside of the Divine Service qualified as a spiritual clique or a bastion of Reformed thought. This is the type of situation I have been encountering of late as a confessional Lutheran. I’m not really angry anymore at this point, but more confused as to where such an idea might come from…confused on the doctrine of Lutheran prayer. The citation I pulled from Pastor Russow’s blog seemed to hearken back to this idea without any clarification as to who understood prayer to be “in the Divine Service” or for what reason and with what what qualification. It also makes me feel more isolated as a Lutheran Christian and reluctant to approach anyone in the congregation for comfort or spiritual help for fear of being rebuked as having a Reformed mindset.

    I regularly attend the Lord’s Supper at a fellowship which practices closed communion. No I am not excluded and am thankful for the gift of forgiveness of sins in the Supper which I do not merit in any way. But prayer is also a form of fellowship and worship, and I am confused by the response I’ve gotten at a request to pray with an individual outside Divine Service. It is also a person I have a great deal of respect for and have learned much from with regard to Lutheranism, making the situation more bewildering.

    Stephen, you are right, it would be inappropriate to discuss details in a public forum, and I would not wish to. I’m stuck with praying on my own(outside of Divine Service)and praying for those involved as well as my own enlightenment where it might be needed. But I still am disturbed and confused by this and do at times wish I could pray more specifically with a brother in Christ, which seems to be discouraged in my congregation. Fellow Sinner, Alan

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