Dick Woodward, the late pastor emeritus for the local church I worship with, was once a youth director in a church pastored by Ray Stedman, at Peninsula Bible Church in Palo Alto, California. This was back in the 1950s, when Ray Stedman, a popular Bible teacher and author at the time, mentored Dick Woodward, then a young man, fresh out of Bible college.
Stedman eventually would write a book, Body Life, that explained some of the great teachings that impacted Dick Woodward in those days. The thesis in Body Life is that the church needs to get back to practicing authentic Christianity, creating small fellowships of believers, who learn to care for one another, getting to know one another….really….as they study and seek to live out God’s Word together.
Fast forward to the 1980s, when Dick Woodward took these teachings with him to pastor the church I would eventually become a part of in Williamsburg, Virginia, the Williamsburg Community Chapel. Dick decided to distill the fundamentals of these teachings into a small booklet, A Covenant for Small Groups, now published by International Cooperating Ministries, that can be read in one evening. But this little booklet contains a lifetime of spiritual wisdom.
Since that time, the concept of small groups of believers, gathering together on a regular basis, to care for one another as they study God’s Word, has been the core foundation in our larger church fellowship, for over thirty years. An untold number of other churches and groups have adopted these same principles in their own fellowships. I would encourage every Christian to get and read the whole booklet, but please allow me to list out Dick’s eight fundamental commitments of a small group below, to whet your appetite.
By following these principles, a small group can create a safe place where the group members can get to know one another… really… as they study the Bible together. Living out these principles does not happen on “day one,” when you first meet together as a group. It takes time, and different people have different expectations as to what these specific commitments entail. But when you find such a group that is willing to embrace these eight commitments, it will help you and your group to discover authentic Christianity.
Eight Commitments for a Small Group Covenant
- Love: “I am making the deliberate commitment to love those in our group as Jesus loves me, and nothing they do or say will ever make me stop loving them.”
- Prayer: “I will pray regularly for each member of our group.”
- Availability: “I will be available, unless providentially hindered, each time our group meets. I will make myself available to any member of our group whenever they are in need and seek my help.”
- Sensitivity: “I will ask God to make me sensitive to the needs of each individual person in our group and I will consciously make the commitment to listen to them every time they speak, whether in words, actions, or attitudes.”
- Confidentiality: “I am making the commitment to keep in confidence all that is shared in our group or in private with a member of our group.”
- Openness: “Understanding that we cannot know each other, unless we tell each other who we are, I make the commitment to tell you who I am, both in my strengths, and in my weaknesses, and I will expect the same from you.”
- Honesty: “Understanding that speaking the truth in love contributes to the growth of our group and the individuals in our group, I will ask God to use me in our group’s growth process by telling you, in love when I agree and when I disagree with you, and I will expect the same from you.”
- Accountability: “I will prayerfully enter into a covenant of accountability with our group, or with one or two individuals in our group. When I ask the group, or an individual for counsel, I will report to them what I have done, or not done, with their individual or collective advice.”