One of the most common observations in the open vs. closed group debate concerns the idea that if Jesus was in a closed group, it adds validity to closed groups. Right? Here’s my take:
You know the story: 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 12 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 that Jesus “chose 12 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 12 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 12 seem to be accompanying Jesus where He goes, there is often a larger group along as well (and that larger group included women, Luke 8).
Is there any evidence to support the notion 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 Jesus chose the 12 (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 12.
Second, we can learn Jesus spent a lot of time with these 12 men (perhaps a year and a half), and the group doesn’t change. At the same time, it must be acknowledged there was a larger group.
Third, Jesus chose to eat His last meal with them.
Fourth, you have to admit Jesus spent a lot of time with those who were not included in the 12. 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 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 group life leader are you?