Look at this group
These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter), James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder”), Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
- Mark 3:16-19
What can we learn from a list like this?
Start with the nicknames. Simon got nicknamed “Peter” which meant The Rock (or Blockhead, depending on who you ask). James and John got to be called the “sons of thunder” (that nickname didn’t seem to stick). Some commentators also think that Bartholomew and Thaddaeus were nicknames (“son of the furrows” and “courageous heart” respectively). For a lot of these guys Jesus and his small group poked and prodded at the way they saw themselves. That happens in healthy small groups.
Next look at the associations. Simon was a Zealot, a radical political party violently opposing the reign of Rome throughout Judea. The Iscariot in Judas’ name either meant that he was from the city of Kerioth or that he was connected with the sicarii (a group of assassins who killed Roman collaborators). And don’t forget Matthew, who worked for the Roman occupiers as a tax collector before joining Jesus’ small group. Only Jesus could have brought these guys together. That happens in healthy small groups.
Finally, look at the relationships. Peter and Andrew were brothers. So were James and John. Philip and Bartholomew were friends before becoming disciples. The other James in the group had a father, Al. And Judas Iscariot would go on to betray Jesus and endanger the lives of his friends. Relationships tangled all through Jesus’ small group, not just with the leader. That happens in healthy small groups.
Healthy small groups will connect us to people we wouldn’t ordinarily connect with thought means we wouldn’t ordinarily use in ways that radically challenge us to mature and grow. That’s what happened in Jesus’ small group. That’s what can happen for us.
If you’re in a small group, take a moment today to list out everyone in your group name by name. Thank God for each by name and say a brief prayer for them.
If you have yet to connect with a small group, ask the Lord today to help you overcome challenges and obstacles that have kept you from participating in a group. Invite him to open a door for you.