Was Jesus Really in a Closed Group?

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We’ve been working through the ongoing open vs closed group debate.  And there’s been a lot of good interaction.  So much interaction that I came back a couple days later and added a kind of clarification in Open Groups, Closed Groups & Specialized Groups.  As you know, I’m a fan of open groups.

But since one of the most common observations concerned the idea that if Jesus was in a closed group, doesn’t that add validity to closed groups?  Here’s my take:

You know the story, right?  The one where Jesus goes up onto a mountain, spends the whole night in prayer, and “at daybreak he called together all of his disciples and chose twelve of them to be apostles (Luke 6:13).”

Is this Exhibit A in the “Jesus was in a closed group” argument?  Could be.

Then there’s Matthew 10 where Jesus sends this same group of twelve on a mission trip.  Some might call this Exhibit B.  I’m not so sure.  We’re told in Luke 6:13 that Jesus “chose twelve of them to be apostles” and the word apostle means “one sent out as a messenger.”  Not thinking that’s very strong evidence that this makes the twelve members of Jesus’ closed group.  Seems to have more to do with who He would send out.  By the way, a few chapters later (Luke 10) He sends out 72.

Well…what about the Last Supper?  Would that be Exhibit C?  The Gospel accounts do tell us who ate this last meal with  Jesus, but does it tell us anything about the nature of Jesus’ small group?

Is there evidence that might support a different, more fluid group?  Probably not.  Certainly not conclusive.  If I were arguing I’d want to cite Jesus’ friendship with Lazarus, Martha and Mary.  I’d also want to point out that while the twelve seem to be accompanying Jesus where He goes, there is often a larger group along as well (and that larger group included women as well, Luke 8).

Is there any evidence to support the notion that this is Jesus’ model?  That Jesus preferred closed groups to open groups?  I don’t believe you can make that case.  There are plenty of instances where Jesus gives explicit instructions.  This is not one of them.

What Can We Learn?

Here’s what I think you can learn.  First, you can definitely learn that Jesus chose the twelve (from amongst the larger group of disciples) to be apostles (that is, to be sent out).  Although there were no doubt members of the larger group that chose to follow Jesus, He chose the twelve.

Second, we can learn that Jesus spent a lot of time with these twelve men (perhaps a year and a half) and the group doesn’t change.  At the same time, it must be acknowledged that there was a larger group

Third, Jesus chose to eat His last meal with them.

Fourth, you have to admit that Jesus spent a lot of time with those who were not included in the twelve.  Far from being an exclusive group that received all of His attention, He clearly invested in a much broader group.

Was Jesus Really in a Closed Group?

By definition, a closed group is one that doesn’t accept new members.  The closed group philosophy often includes a covenant agreement that indicates how long the group will be closed.

My personal concerns about most closed group philosophies is that they fail to take advantage of the optimum window to include the friends of the newest additions to the congregation.  After all, if I’m prohibited from inviting my closest friends from the crowd and community to join my group, how will I share what I’ve found?

Are you an idealist?  Or a pragmatist?  What kind of grouplife leader are you?  Read my next post right here: GroupLife Idealists & Pragmatists.

What do you think? Have something to add? Want to argue? Got a question? You can click here to jump into the conversation.

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  1. Sam O'Neal on April 11, 2011 at 1:40 pm

    I’ve said before that I believe there is a place for closed groups in different situations, but I don’t think I could say that Jesus was part of one. I don’t think I could say that Jesus was part of a small group at all — not the way we think of small groups, anyway.

    Jesus set himself up as a 1st century Jewish Rabbi. That meant he had a geographical circuit where he travelled from village to village giving interpretations of the Torah and teaching those who were willing to listen — and sometimes those people travelled with him (he had up to 500 followers at one point).

    Being a Rabbi also meant that Jesus selected specific men to be his “disciples.” These were people who dedicated themselves to following Jesus (their Rabbi) wherever he went, learning at his feet and taking on his interpretation of the Torah (his “yoke”). The ultimate goal of a disciple was to spend so much time with his Rabbi that he became exactly like him and began to produce similar fruit.

    If small groups in our current culture ever reach that level of dedication and shared mission, they will make a huge impact for the Kingdom of God — whether open or closed.

  2. Anonymous on April 11, 2011 at 1:50 pm

    Well put, Sam! I like your thinking very much. To conclude that Jesus had regular meetings with the twelve (like our groups today) is assuming something not in evidence. He seems to have mostly talked with them along the way (or as an aside during teaching or even during a kind of afterglow discussion). Thanks for jumping in!


  3. Rick Howerton on April 11, 2011 at 6:05 pm

    Another question we might ask is, “What was Jesus’ purpose for doing group with the same people for three years.” Is it possible we sometimes overlook the need to consider what level of spiritual maturity we want our group members to move to before moving them out to be leaders? Let’s not forget… Jesus was creating future leaders, not just doing an evangelistic community group. If we begin to think in those terms, mentoring individuals who will then become leaders in the Kingdom (small group or otherwise), then we must be with them as long as it takes so that they are ready to lead. Jesus had a handful of Jews and they had no New Testament to take home and read each night. Not only that… they were hard headed.

  4. Anonymous on April 11, 2011 at 6:10 pm

    Thanks for jumping in here Rick! Purpose is an essential determining factor, isn’t it. When Jesus chose this particular group of 12 in Luke 6, it was for a specific purpose and to prepare them for a high-commitment assignment. Very true!