Why were primal groups Jesus’ strategy to make disciples who make more disciples?
First, we have been designed by the original Primal Group, Father, Son and Spirit.
Primal is something that is basic or fundamental. This Team-of-Three models all the essentials of any healthy primary relationship. God fashioned us in this image so we can reproduce and pass on this flourishing life to others. Ask ourselves:
“What factors do we see in the mutual relationship of the Father, Son and Spirit that we can adapt as a flexible, working model?”
After the six “it’s good” in Genesis one, God startles us as He states that it’s “not good” for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). Even though they walked with the Father, Son and Spirit as companions in the Garden, Adam alone was not good. We are incomplete without others like ourselves as companions and partners.
The original pattern, or archetype, for healthy human relationships in “primal groups” goes far beyond marriage, yet includes marriage. God solved the “not good” problem by fashioning the first human “primal group” of two, husband and wife. The dual focus was deep, meaningful relationship (the aim of all primal groups”) and physically reproducing others like them (necessary to procreate).
Second, God fashioned Eve to be Adam’s complement and helper within a mutually responsible “primal group.”
God hand-crafted Eve as a person fully suitable for him so they could deepen intimate relationship with each other and also mutually fulfill their God-given assignments…and with the additional features necessary in any marriage, to procreate so the race could multiply. Both/And/And. God designed us to cultivate open, vulnerable relationship (Genesis 2:25) with those who complement or complete us (Genesis 2:18), and are thus different from us. So every primal group strives for intimate relationship (in a non-sexual sense).
After the Fall, this husband/wife relationship became a primary means to unlock change to a restored relationship with God and with each other, used as a powerful picture of our relationship with God.
Three, Jesus also launched His ministry by drawing men to Himself.
He trained them using a primal group to multiply, actually three groups merged into one (see last post). Jesus is not only our perfect model for maturity, but also our perfect model for ministry. During His time on earth, Jesus accurately reflected His Father’s heart as He trained in primal groups leading to LifeChange. This seemed natural for Jesus as He tapped into God’s design prior to the Fall. Jesus, our Ministry Model, nurtured through three sets of four in primal groups, fused together into the Twelve.
With these solid examples, let’s open our minds and dialog together.
Both depth of relationship and ability to multiply are essential. For me, this Both/And creates a major tension. In-depth relationships require extended time together, energy and focus to develop those primary relationships. Multiplying LifeChange groups by launching new groups demands time focused outside our primary relationships. We draw others in through open, permeable groups, beginning with far less depth, even with the lighter touch of socialization.
Where do we find the resources for both in our busy schedules?
Do we really believe that God calls us both to deepen relationship with Him and also to reproduce, both deeper and wider?
Our Family-of-Three fashioned us with built-ins so we are hard-wired to be most healthy in primal groups of 3-5 persons aligned with God. Tap into this God-given, high-leverage opportunity, which over time develops primary relationships for healthy LifeChange springing from such open, vulnerable, supporting relationships.
In His initial design, God made us “persons-in-community.” Today the business world is even beginning to recognize this, utilizing more of the innate power in group dynamics. Nothing comes closer to fully demonstrating God’s original-intent for humanity than such primal oneness. No wonder the climax of creation was “man and woman” created together in God’s image, the first human primal group (see Genesis 1:27). Such unity attracts and draws others in close (John 17:20-23). Our high-leverage point for LifeChange and healthy spirituality is in primal groups.
However, if we focus all our attention on our current primal group and invest little time reaching out beyond ourselves, even something so good may develop into an unhealthy clique, isolated from others, impermeable, and ingrown.
Because of this amazing power for God to transform in primal groups, such groups that begin so well can degenerate over time into a clique…with the people blissfully unaware. Their primary relationships are so enjoyable and feel so good (and they are!). Yet they may not notice that their group now tends to resist change and to unknowingly build impenetrable walls to “outsiders,” even those in our same faith-community.[iii] Have you been around a group that has been together so long that they have inside jokes and stories, often leaving you feeling like an outsider?
“OK, Jim. What’s wrong with maintaining such good primary relationships?”
They are wonderful. After decades of ministering, I have a large number of primary relationships scattered around. Nurture these existing primary relationships, but not at the expense of multiplying primal groups in faith-communities. For me, the greatest personal cost is when I must stop meeting regularly with a primal group, just like we must launch our children into life or we stunt their growth. I deeply miss the regular time with them as friends I meet with regularly. But we must release them to God’s ministry call on their lives for them to thrive, which includes ministry and multiplication. And I still stay connected, perhaps meeting monthly or quarterly.
So, how can we live in the tension of enjoying deep, primary relationships and yet avoiding a clique and launching fresh primal groups? Read the Gospels. Jesus’ ministry model of Three Tiers lays out in broad strokes how He maintained the tension between both “wider” and “deeper.” Jesus released His original three primal groups of four after twenty months so they were free to launch fresh groups. Of course, we don’t need to be as radical as Jesus (He disbanded the groups when He died!) But please let’s embrace the essential underlying truth of what Jesus modeled.
Take Jesus seriously as our ministry model. I believe healthy primal groups must be time-limited (Jesus limited His to twenty months with the Twelve), although primary relationships may last forever, just not normally in the same primal group for spiritual health. If you don’t buy-in to my understanding, soak in Jesus’ model yourself. How do you understand Jesus’ ministry model? How are you personally practicing this in today’s context?
How do you simultaneously practice both “deeper” and “wider”?
Deeper calls for extended time together for an extended season with those few in our primal group. During this time, cultivate deepening vulnerability leading to LifeChange and vision.
Wider calls us to be welcoming, inviting others into our depth and multiplying other relational LifeChange groups. All God’s living creation in Genesis 1 “reproduce after their kind.” God hardwired this Reality into our design as image-bearers. Jesus commissions His disciples to reproduce at least three spiritual generations (Matthew 28:19-20), and Paul adds a fourth generation (2 Timothy 2:2). And experience also supports this.
Jesus first gathered men to Himself after His baptism and forty days in the wilderness in John 1:35-51.
“Come & See!”
The initial focus for the discipler in “Come & See” is to get a good feel for the person. These men set the initial pace, similar to how the “horse whisperer” related to a skittish horse. Jesus patiently waited until they were drawn to Him. He met them where they were until they felt safe and secure with Him. This tier was a welcoming, open-armed, permeable approach. After a few months together, Jesus sent them home to weigh a deeper relationship with Him.
Jesus next specifically approached four of these original six from John 1 a second time. He invited them in closer, also adding Levi/Matthew to the original six (Mark 2:13-14). “Come & Follow Me.” This transition tier lasted less about nine months. His disciples carefully observed how Jesus ministered in the wider group (the crowds). Jesus simultaneously took them aside, beginning to explain more to them in LifeChange primal training groups (deeper). The disciples caught His heart and His vision, although they did little.
In the final tier, “Come & Be with Me,” Jesus spent the night praying to His Father before calling the Twelve…and they came (Mark 3:13-19). In this same-gender, temporarily closed primal group, Jesus experienced full-orbed primary relationships together with His Twelve for twenty-months. All the way to the cross, Jesus roused LifeChange in His disciples. He trained them to reproduce like He did, ultimately releasing them to “Go and make disciples” like He did.
Also see my previous post, Fresh Look at Jesus & His Twelve.