Small groups and accountability play pivotal role in church life: Bishop

Nov 2009    

Lay Leaders gather to discuss importance of Christian formation in the Wesleyan tradition

THE IMPORTANCE OF SMALL GROUPS, whose composition has a biblical basis, was underscored by Bishop Dr Robert Solomon when he met church leaders from the three Annual Conferences at Methodist Centre on Oct 3.

He reminded some 60 Lay Leaders and Local Church Executive Committee (LCEC) Chairmen and Vice-Chairmen at his biannual fellowship that the Trinity is a “small group” and that the Christian experience is essentially relational – “We are to love God and our neighbours.”

A good number of the leaders were elected recently into their churches’ LCEC and were attending the fellowship for the first time. ey were asked to stand to be recognised.

The Bishop said that small groups have been part of the Church from its beginning. Jesus started His ministry with a small group – we know them as the Twelve.

Human hearts, he said, yearn for spiritual growth and community, and this points to our deep need for relationship. Small groups, therefore, are not new in Christian history. Historically, small groups have played a crucial role in the nurture, support and growth of discipleship in the community.

“Learning and following the teachings of Jesus Christ is not easy. We need the help and support of fellow Christians, who are our brothers and sisters in faith and love.”

The Bishop also touched on the importance of accountability. “Christ calls us to build one another up through mutual support and accountability,” he said.

He related how John Wesley, after being influenced by the Moravians – a German pietist sect of his time – formed his small groups. Wesley’s early attempts to form “bands” based on the Moravian model was not as successful as he had hoped. He then started the Class Meeting, a more suitable small group model which became a hallmark of the Methodist movement.

Later, alongside the Class Meetings were the bands and societies that formed a distinctively Methodist and Wesleyan system of Christian formation. While every Methodist was expected to participate in a class, the bands and select societies were voluntary groups. The Methodists “watched over one another in love”, giving support and encouragement for growth in faith, hope and love.

Wesley’s system of classes, bands and select societies provided a means of progressive catechesis, support and accountability the people needed as their faith matured. Wesley believed and taught that salvation was progressive.

The form of accountability discussed here, said the Bishop, is “simply giving an account of what we have done in our relationship with Christ, with one another, and in the world”. The primary purpose is to support church members’ responsible participation in the transforming work of God’s grace.


“Human hearts yearn for spiritual growth and community, and this points to our deep need for relationship. Small groups, therefore, are not new in Christian history. Historically, small groups have played a crucial role in the nurture, support and growth of discipleship in the community.”

– Bishop Dr Solomon in his address to the church leaders.

This accountability is two-fold – it is corporate and personal. The Bishop said: “As members of a group, we are accountable for the mission and goals of the group and its contribution to building up the church.

“And as disciples, we share what we have done to care for our relationship with Christ. is personal accountability is equally as important as the corporate accountability.”

Following the Bishop’s address, the leaders broke up into small groups for discussions before regrouping for the plenary at which they shared their reflections.

Mrs Ng Swee Suan from Cairnhill Methodist Church who was one of the new leaders, emphasised the “great importance of accountability to each other”.

She said: “When we share and learn to care for one another in a group, we must do so without damaging each other’s character. I believe that as responsible leaders, we have to say things to uphold each other. There should be no gossip.”

Speaking on behalf of his group, Mr Mark Wee, Associate Lay Leader of Barker Road Methodist Church, noted that “we have different ways of doing Bible Study”. “Some groups have some direction, some may be ‘too loose’.”

While saying that diversity might not be necessarily bad, he cautioned that “if there is no control, we may go off tangent”, and he called for a “good balance”.

The Lay Leader of Ang Mo Kio Tamil Methodist Church, Mr M. Geevananthan, said the Bishop’s address and the discussions that followed were of great benefit to all those present.

“Because of what we have heard and learned, we can now bring those views and experiences to our various churches and try and implement some of the strategies and see whether they will work for us.”

Mr Yip Fook Yoon, Lay Leader of Trinity Methodist Church, said his group felt that it was important for church members to come together to be transformed and to give outward expression of Christ’s love in their outreach to the community.

“We meet as a group to develop spiritual maturity and also to see how best we can reach out for Christ,” he added.

Peter Teo is the Editor of Methodist Message.


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