Philip Nation | June 28, 2013
Robert was a regular guy suddenly confronted with the needs of children in his city. What is someone supposed to do with that feeling? He decided to go the difficult way... change their lives.
Working as the editor of the local newspaper, Robert regularly helped families forced to live in "workhouses" and visited people in prisons. One day, he discovered that young boys were being forced into labor at local mills. The country's laws were no help. The best scenario was that the number of hours a child could legally work was limited to 12. They suffered through deplorable conditions and under tyrannical bosses. It is a hopeless scenario we expect to see in the worst of Third World conditions.
Robert saw the outcome of the equation:
Children + illiteracy + slums + unyielding labor = poverty, hopelessness, death
With no hope of escape and no chance of education for the children, he decided that something had to be done.
With only one day of the week that the boys were not allowed to work, Robert asked a friend to open her home to a group of them. He had access to only one book to use as a textbook – the Bible. So, once a week, the boys would gather in the morning to learn reading and writing. In the afternoon, they attended a worship service. Some of the boys even began learning the catechism from Robert's church. By some miracle, many of their parents began attending the group as well. Robert's vision to help boys from the slums began to make a difference.
He was changing the equation:
Children + love + small group + gospel = Hope
Changing the variables was changing their lives.
The small group Robert began for the poor, disenfranchised children began to grow. Not just in size but in vision. Others heard about the simple and focused idea. Help the poor in your city. Invite them into your home. Educate them for a better life. Introduce them to the hope of the gospel. According to one historian, within four years, over 250,000 people were attending these small groups.
There is a power to investing in the people around you. It is the key element of leadership to which we must all give time. Without relationships with those who have little, we're just Monday-morning quarterbacks screaming from the cheap seats. Leadership means getting your hands dirty. No... messy. Better yet... grimy with the people of your city.
Robert's story happened in Gloucester, England; a city 100 miles west of London. It was the late 1700s. Many refer to it as the birth of Sunday School. The man who started it all was Robert Raikes.
You'll not be surprised that some of the other leaders in church and culture did not like the idea. After all, these were the undesirables of the city. He was mocked and the movement was called "Raikes' Ragged School." Why would a respectable man with a nice job bother other nice people to care for the street rats of the city?
Because relationships matter. Especially, relationships with those who have no hope.
I think that our small group ministries could use a large dose of Robert Raikes' passion again. Why do I think this? Because I serve a local church part-time, and I work for a publishing house full-time. Every week, I see the effect that a church could have and that many do have when the decision is made to connect with the needy among us. Scripture tells us to care for the widow, the orphan, and the alien within the gates of our city. God's clear objective is that those who have hope should care for those who have none.
In my latest work, we are trying to hold up three ideas as to what a small group should do. They are summarized in nine words:
Connect the unconnected – Strengthen families – Disciple people with wisdom
Brilliant, right? Not really. A newspaper editor thought about it over 200 years ago. Before that, Timothy was sitting at his grandmother's feet learning about it a couple thousand years ago (2 Timothy 1:5). About 6,000 years ago, God told the Hebrews to make sure they cared for the youngest in their families by constantly recounting the works of God (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).
Our small groups are not a new idea but the best of the older ideas. It is the time where connections are made, lives are mended, and eternal hope is transferred. Leadership begins and ends with a relationship that meets needs; both immediate and eternal.