John Wesley, the father of Methodism, was thought to be an organizational genius in his day, even by those who did not agree with his doctrines. As we look at his small group structure, it is evident that it is a scriptural and dynamic model for home group meetings in our day, as well.
Before examining the Wesleyan structure, the scriptural basis for such a structure should be mentioned. Acts 2:42 tells of the early church structure employed directly after Pentecost with the addition of thousands of new believers, and bears resemblance to the Wesleyan model: “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42 NASB).
As Acts 2:42 tells it, continuing steadfast in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship is holding fast to the teachings of the Bible and to those who faithfully teach them. Know those who labor among you. Do not get caught up in a bunch of fringe teachings that will draw you away from the central tenants of the faith or get involved in ministries that are promoting such things.
Fellowship, or koinonia, is a transliterated form of the Greek word κοινωνία, which refers to joint participation, the share which one has in anything, a gift jointly contributed, a collection, a contribution, etc. Their fellowship was centered on their individual and communal devotion to Jesus Christ. This was love in action; friendship that was possible, vital, and relevant because of the constant presence of the One who “lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
Acts continues with the breaking of bread. Communion has become so common in our day. The early disciples saw the bread and cup as not only a memorial to what Jesus had done, but a reminder of what Jesus expected them to do as well. Do we embrace the persecution and cross that produced the broken body and blood in our own life on behalf of others? Or do we feel we can bypass that part of the Christian message, which is the Christian message?
And the prayers. Prayer was the power the early church relied on. The church today has largely replaced prayer time with social events wrapped in religious terminology. An amen at the end of the evening does not make it a time of prayer.
Although not an exact facsimile of the Acts 2:42 model, Wesleyan group structure has the components we see in Acts. The structure, although divided up into three distinct meeting types, can be easily adapted to delineate different stages in a 90-120-minute contemporary home group setting. We will now look at Societies, Classes, and Bands, and their distinct purpose within the Wesleyan mindset.
Societies were educational in nature, via lectures, preaching, and exhortation. These were held in larger settings where an ordained or assigned leader would expound on the faith. This was not a group participation meeting but rather a time for group teaching. We can liken this to the sermon or lesson time in a small group setting, i.e. the apostles’ doctrine.
Classes were transparent groups of 8-10 people who shared their struggles, victories, and encouraged one another toward great intimacy with Christ and one another. The personal experience of Christian living and the pastoral care of believers was at the heart of these meetings. This was a time for group participation and ministry. We can liken this to the sharing and caring time in a small group setting, i.e. fellowship and the breaking of bread (literally and spiritually).
Bands were even smaller groups focusing on a common desire of improving attitudes, emotions, feelings, intentions, and affections through what Wesley termed “close conversations.” These were times to share more personal matters that might not be advantageous in the larger group. These smaller homogenous groups were broken down by gender, age, and marital status. We can liken this to a personal ministry time in a small group setting, i.e. the breaking of spiritual bread and prayer.
Small group ministry is the perfect place for people to learn how to relate to others in a “spiritual” atmosphere. Many people are unsure of themselves in such a setting, especially if they are new in the faith. Five-fold ministry leadership has the responsibility to draw out of others what they may see as insignificant or insufficient. A perfect illustration of the significance and sufficiency of a “little” gift in the hands of God is seen in John 6.
Therefore Jesus, lifting up His eyes and seeing that a large crowd was coming to Him, said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these may eat?” This He was saying to test him, for He Himself knew what He was intending to do. Philip answered Him, ” Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, for everyone to receive a little.” One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Him, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are these for so many people?” Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. Jesus then took the loaves, and having given thanks, He distributed to those who were seated; likewise also of the fish as much as they wanted. When they were filled, He said to His disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments so that nothing will be lost.” So they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves which were left over by those who had eaten. (John 6:5-13)
In biblical numerology, the number 2 can mean the verification of facts by witnesses, the number 5 can represent grace, and the number 12, faith and completion. We must assume that the lad with the five barley loaves and two fish offered them graciously to the disciples. It is not likely that Andrew coerced the boy’s lunch from him. This offering became a witness to the power of God and how God’s grace reciprocates grace. The twelve baskets of leftovers not only became a witness to the lack of faith in the disciples, but God’s gracious provision for them anyway, a completion of grace upon grace.
1 Corinthians 14:26 in the VOICE (Thomas Nelson Publishers and Ecclesia Bible Society 2012) paints a picture of what the Apostle Paul, as well as John Wesley, was after in connection to body ministry. “What should you do then, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each person has a vital role because each has gifts. One person might have a song, another a lesson to teach, still another a revelation from God. One person might speak in an unknown language, another will offer the interpretation, but all of this should be done to strengthen the life and faith of the community.” The application is certainly easier to appreciate and implement in the small group setting.
Although there are numerous ways to critique and validate apostolic leaders, there are common attributes that mark many leaders serving in this capacity. It is also important to note that not all apostles minister the same way with the same gifts and calling. In looking at apostolic leadership, we must apply the same scriptural principles found in Romans 12 balanced with their specific job description in Ephesians 4. This balance means taking, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (Rom. 12:4-7 NASB), while acknowledging “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-13). Apostolic (and all five-fold ministry) leaders are first members of the Body of Christ, and then leaders in a specific capacity for the building up, equipping, and health of the Body of Christ.
If we were to survey those men and women who consider themselves apostolic leaders in today’s church, it would surprise us the divergent personalities, ethnicities; political, religious, and social biases; and any number of cultural differences we might find. An apostolic leader is not a “cookie-cutter” mold, waiting to be filled by anyone willing to fit the correct outside form. Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 3:1-5, “But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these.” Many who might look the part, in spite of the diversities, are no more than playing church and deceiving others as they do so. They may have gifts, and they may have followers. But what is their character? Are they showing the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23), or are they “boastful, challenging one another, envying one another” (Gal. 5:26) in the flesh? A fruitful life on the inside will manifest sweet, healthy fruit on the outside.
Useful lists exist that display the ideal attributes of apostolic leaders. I want to narrow my list to those things I feel are essential basics. I see these attributes as necessary no matter what could or should follow them. Without these essentials acting as a foundation, whatever building done will lack stability and longevity. Here is my shortlist.
1. Humility. James 4:10 tells us, “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” We get a clearer picture of what humbling ourselves means in Romans 12:3-5. “For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” Sound judgment about ourselves is not self-humiliation but instead seeing both our strengths and weaknesses that we might fully utilize the one while improving on the other. Apostolic leaders are keenly aware of the work to be done in their lives and make time to do it.
2. Keeping first things first. Acts 2:42 says of the early growing church, “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Apostolic leaders model community centered on the word of God, fellowship around the word of God, recognizing Jesus as the living word of God, and making prayer to God a privilege and responsibility of the local assembly.
3. Equipping the body. The job description of every five-fold minister is one of fitting or making ready the body of Christ as a ship is made worthy of sailing the waters in which it will soar. Another word picture is that of a broken bone reset in its proper place, now able to heal and function with strength. Apostolic leaders take their mandate to bring maturity to the Body of Christ seriously. They have an anointing for seeing the big picture, making strategic adjustments, and calling out and placing individuals in ministry positions that will benefit the church in the process of building itself up in love.
Perhaps you have a list of apostolic attributes not mentioned in my shortlist. I’d love to hear what you see as essential apostolic attributes. Please comment and let me know. Blessings.