The presence of the term and concept of “one another(ing)” in the Hebrews passage clearly suggests the relational aspect of these small groups, not simply a stimulation of the cognitive side of our being. Most everyone who has ever participated in small groups can bear testimony to a particular small group that was their favorite.
Usually, they state there was a chemistry that made that one group special. While that chemistry can neither be captured and marketed nor reduced to a formula, it seems likely that those groups incorporated many, if not all, of the elements listed above. In addition, there was likely an element of healthy, meaningful relationships.
In his book Margins (NavPress), Dr. Richard Swenson explains “margin” essentially as the space between where we are operating and our limits. He makes a strong case that we need margin in four areas of our lives: time, finances, physical energy, and emotional energy. This latter area—emotional energy—is one of the most difficult to restore. In the practical tips he offers for each area, one of the most significant ways to restore emotional energy is through healthy relationships.
Where better to see this happen than in a Christian small group? Many OCF folks can testify to this truth. On Bible study night emotionally weary officers often come home from duty with the thought of skipping the group. But on those nights when the officers decide to go rather than stay home, something interesting usually happens.
Even though they add another activity to their day, they end it more refreshed. Healthy, small-group relationships—and small groups designed to foster healthy relationships—restore emotional energy.
Relationships are important for another reason. Larry Crabb, the Christian author and psychologist, in responding to a question asking what it was that produced change in people’s lives, stated: “Truth presented in the context of relationships changes lives.” If one goal of small-group Bible study is to change lives by bringing them into conformity with God’s Word, then Crabb’s comment should be instructive for us. It says that the simple imparting of knowledge usually doesn’t bring about change.
However, when the relational element is added—in the form of friendship, caring for one another, accountability, etc.—change is much more likely to occur. This means the leader of a small group must give attention to relational aspects during the time together. This can be accomplished through sharing times and even social times. This may be facilitated with an activity of five to ten minutes in the study. Occasionally, the entire evening may be set aside for cultivating these relationships. Prayerful, conscious attention to this aspect will produce significant dividends.