New wine requires a new skin, right?
A noted religious author and the elected state leader of a large denomination told me recently, “I have observed with interest…over the last 25 years…congregations as they attempted to expand small group involvement to secure the future of their congregations. Creating countless, new small groups by assigning members without common interests or without providing sufficient guidance often resulted in “rudderless groups” of frustrated members struggling to know what went wrong. Many active church members got burned out trying to keep alive their groups. Without the overarching attention to making disciples through small groups, however, most churches I watched closely were not terribly successful.”
In light of the foregoing, Chapter10 of DiscipleShift makes sense because relational small groups geared toward equipping disciples and making disciples represent an opportunity to catapult the church’s focus from activity to relationships. The authors state, “Everything in a corporate body needs to funnel people toward relational small groups where discipleship can best happen”. I don’t know if I fully subscribe to that, but I do agree that relationships which are led by the Spirit of God are at the heart of disciple-making.
According to the authors, these are essential elements of relational small groups:
1. A small group needs to know its spiritual reason for being
2. “… the small group’s purpose should be defined as encouraging discipleship….not primarily fellowship or even outreach”
3. A small group must be spirit led if it is to survive
What will be the consequences to First Presbyterian if we become serious about using relational small groups as our primary basis for emphasizing disciple-making?
1. A significant reprioritization of our ministries and priorities toward relational small groups, together with a well-planned explanation and program for “buy-in” from the membership.
2. A shift in how the Church’s resources (both human and financial) are allocated.
3. A continuing evaluation of each existing and proposed ministry in light of its disciple-making impact (from choral groups, bible studies, fellowship activities, etc.)
4. Modification of ministries so that we do not sap energy away from what God values.
5. Structuring small groups such that each has the following: 1/ Clear goal of discipleship; 2/ Leadership; 3/ a Biblically relevant environment; 4/ A reproducible process and
5/ Supporting organization.
I’d be interested to see how far you believe we have moved toward this model…
I am a member of 2 small groups that encourage and mentor each other, but they are both outside of the church. For 26 years I have hosted a support group made up of women who have been affected by addiction of one type or another. I started it as a means to incorporate the values of Al-Anon (a support group for families of alcoholics) with the power of the Bible and our faith in Jesus. My other group is made up of women who have each lost a child. It was started 24 years ago when our son Blake was killed in a car accident. After reading Chapter 10 of this book, I feel inspired to make improvements within both groups.
1. To use the Bible more exclusively, instead of relying so much on Christian books.
2. To be more of a shepherd and to create an environment where women shepherd one another. To make calls during the week to those who are overwhelmed with life and especially call on those who have fallen away.
3. To use more of a Q & A model to promote discussion that is honest and authentic.
4. To promote holding each other accountable to grow as disciples of Christ. To not step back from confrontation in the face of sin, but to do it in love.
I am also a member of a new ministry, “Missing Peace”. We formed this group to be a source of care for church members and those outside the church who are touched by addiction. Our hope is to educate the church about preventive measures, to break down the stigma that addiction creates, and to hopefully become a church known for its acceptance and celebration for members who are in recovery. What a wonderful place to adopt these methods of making disciples who make disciples.
AA and Al-Anon have been successful at this for many years. Their meetings are their small group. Part of their program is to choose a sponsor who can guide them through the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. These steps were taken from the Bible. If sponsoring is done correctly, this one-on-one relationship guides them to:
Steps 1-3 Admit their powerlessness and need for God, and to turn their will and their lives over to Him.
Steps 4-7 Make a written inventory of their shortcomings and good qualities and speak them to another, asking God to remove their sins.
Steps 8-9 Make amends to others.
Step 10 Continue to take their own inventory and when they are wrong promptly admit it.
Step 11 Pray daily and at all times, turning everything over to God.
Step 12 Carry the message to others.
A good sponsor is to model how to get along in their families, the workplace and with God. This method is successful enough to free millions of men and women from the devastation and power of addiction, but their program does not lead to salvation. How much more powerful could the method work within the church using the power of God’s Word and offering the hope of the abundant eternal life which starts on this side of heaven!
If goal of all gatherings is discipling…
and all ministries are moving us towards this or towards other discipling ministries…
what about session?
are we doing this? are we discipling and equipping other disciples?
Yes… could do better…
Need to shift communication:
there’s not good communication bw session and congregation… all doing own things, not all on same path in same direction or we’re not aware of being on same path and in same direction
we used to put condensation of session minutes in presbyteer… we could put it on website. people want to know but we don’t have a way to let them know.
Most of us are in small groups, let’s look at that in session:
how about we break into small groups for the first 30min and do our discussion there?
If our mission is to equip disciples who are making disciples, how are we doing?
Need to train leaders/shepherds who disciple
Need to have common language/culture shift
Reframe existing programs to discipling programs
We are doing well w teaching and relationshipping, but are not intentional enough at discipling.
Need to state this as a goal, figure out how to do it, and get to work on it.
Need to develop new leaders and a new mindset of “we all need to be in small groups being discipled and discipling.”
Need to develop biblical worldview, big picture (teachers) and application to life (coaches).
Chapter 7 talks about how the leaders of a church “need to create systems in which biblical relationships are available to everyone in the church”. It then goes on to say “we don’t advocate small groups simply for the sake of hanging out and getting to know people; we present small group time as an intentional gathering led by a spiritually mature person who understands that his or her job is to help people grow as disciples of Jesus.” I get that, and I agree with it. The author then goes on to talk about other types of relational gatherings that can also happen with members of the biblical relational groups. I think we need to remember that some within our congregation (as well as visitors) may need to be approached first from a more social approach, getting to know people to the point where they then feel compelled to share about themselves – which will lead to them sharing about where they are in their spiritual lives, thus letting us know where they are with regards to what level of discipleship.
I think we as a Session need to look at our overall makeup (committee structure, what we are trying to accomplish within each of our committees, can we roll some committees together in order to be more streamlined (as long as doing that doesn’t negatively impact our objectives), etc., for the overall purpose of making disciples to make disciples. Once we do this, and get a very focused approach achieved, we can then embark on using small groups as the driver of disciple making. Simple? Absolutely not. Challenging? Certainly, but also something I feel can be very exciting and rewarding (at least from the standpoint of accomplishing something extremely worthwhile).
I once was the “Vice President of How.” At the time, I worked for a non-profit that researched certain public policy issues and promoted best practice programs that addressed those issues. As one of two vice-presidents of the organization, I told my counterpart he was the “vice-president of what” and I was the “vice-president of how.” He was good at framing the problem; I jumped immediately to, “Okay, how do we fix it?”
That’s usually my tendency with books like DiscipleShift: “Okay, I get the premise: now, how are we going to implement this? “ I recognize now is the time for us all to digest the “what,” and we’ll deal with the “how” in due time. Reading Chapter 7 nonetheless generated questions for me. Some were answered in the text. Some may be worth our further consideration at the proper time. I’ve listed a few below.
QUESTION: Why did Jesus sometimes minister by speaking to large groups?
Putman admits Jesus sometimes ministered by speaking to large numbers of people, and he was very engaged in serving people, showing people the reality of God’s kingdom. But, Putman says, this wasn’t his primary method of making disciples, which was, rather, through relationships with small groups (e.g., the 12 disciples).
So why did Jesus ever address large crowds and heal large numbers of people? It had to be because it suited his purpose at the time. What was the purpose? As we consider the role of small groups, should we first answer that question? Should we guard against seeing small groups as the cookie-cutter answer to ALL aspects of disciple-making, and if so, how?
QUESTION: If the role of the church is to make disciples who make disciples, should the motive for every act of ministry always be primarily to make a disciple?
Making disciples (who make disciples) is a critical goal and worthy purpose. Is there potential, though, for becoming so focused on evaluating every activity by whether it’s making disciples, and how many, that we neglect situations that call for ministering through pure and simple acts of mercy and kindness? How do we prevent this?
QUESTION: How do the small groups that already exist in our church differ, if at all, from what the author has in mind; how would we need to “tweak” them to fit his model?
The author says small groups must display these characteristics:
1. Bible centered
2. Intentionally directing people to the goal of spiritual maturity
3. A place where people can honestly talk about their lives and work out what it means to follow Jesus
From discussions with others, it seems perhaps our current small groups lack number 2.
Putman cautions that small groups are “about more than a seven to nine commitment each Wednesday night.” He says while there needs to be a specific meeting time, the intent is to spawn additional get togethers during the week by some or all of the members – more spiritual time and more social time as well.
QUESTION: What is a realistic expectation about how much time people will spend with their small group, or subsets of their small group, each week? Based on experience in our church to date, what percentage of small groups meet more than once a week; how often do they form real social bonds in addition to spiritual bonds?
QUESTION: How will small groups be formed? If people aren’t compatible, or don’t share things in common besides the fact they’re members of the same church, they may resist this kind of intimacy or find it awkward. Then they may find themselves with just one more thing to feel guilty about (i.e., not attending regularly, not sharing, etc.)
The book supplies a partial—but difficult—answer. Dr. Coleman says, “You have to love people until you can like them.” Putman goes on to say that “Learning to love others is a huge component of the disciple-making process. If we aren’t intentionally striving to get along with other people, we are not growing in this area; we are not becoming spiritually mature, despite the amount of biblical information we may have acquired.”
QUESTION: Putman says “A small group, in and of itself, can become just another program of the church.” How do we guard against that?
Regarding leaders of small groups, Putman says, “A leader will help those who are more mature invest in those who are just beginning or struggling in their walk with God. The leader knows where each person needs to get to and seeks to guide the entire group to maturity.” This is a person with very special abilities. The author rightly compares his vision of a small group leader to a coach. Another analogy might be a shepherd.
QUESTION: How will we identify and place the right kind of leaders in small groups? If small groups are to be Bible-centered, do they need knowledgeable teachers?
I know I’m a good teacher, but I’m not a very good coach. So although there are probably folks out there who are good at both, might some small groups benefit from having two people in leadership roles (e.g., one person who is the coach, and one person who leads the Bible study portion of the small group time)?
These are just a few of the questions that can wait till we agree on the “what,” and are ready to tackle the “how.”
The Friday Morning Men’s Group spent several weeks reviewing the “Discipleshift” book. During one of the sessions, the leader pointed our attention to this statement on page 134; “Jesus’ methodology was more involved than just standing in front of people and teaching them biblical truth. Jesus walked alongside people, having conversations with them through the normal course of each day, holding people accountable , and demonstrating spiritual truth to them directly.
This was Jesus’ method of ministry. Most of his conversations in the Gospels were with His small group of handpicked disciples. Even when He did mass meetings, He used them to instruct the people He was mentoring. He invested in His closest followers in a deeply personal way—not as an instructor but as a friend.
In doing some Internet research on another item, I ran across an article by J.Lee Grady on Relational Discipleship which is summarized in the following:
Jesus did not mass-produce legions of followers. He hand-carved a few—and they became the pillars of the early church.
We are called to do ministry this way —- Jesus’ way — by making disciples. But think about it. In our culture today, everything seems to be performance-based (maybe even church?). Over the years, we have come to accept that bigger is better. We put all our money and time into programs and events while ignoring relationships. We want the sensational , not the simple. We crave big meetings, bigger platforms, more programs —– and —– instant results.
For the Church, this approach is not working. Christianity in so many ways is a mile wide and an inch deep because we have come to accept that is best transmitted to people by preachers standing behind pulpits. Preaching is certainly important, but without personal discipleship leaders aren’t formed and Christians don’t develop true character. If this relational aspect is overlooked, our faith becomes programmed, superficial and, whether we want to admit it or not, horribly fake.
We need to be making indelible marks on people who can then disciple others. We all need to be more intentional about making discipleship as part of our daily life and we can do this by following the Five “I’s” of Discipleship:
1. Identify. Jesus prayed carefully before selecting those who would travel with Him. Paul selected people like Timothy, Silas, Aquilla and Priscilla to be his ministry companions. Who am I called to disciple? God connects people in discipleship relationships.
2. Invest. Discipleship is not a program. It has to flow out of love and genuine friendship. It is an investment of time into others. Paul told the Thessalonians: “We were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thess. 2:8, NASB).
3. Include. One to disciple others is to get them involved in ministering to others. We need to invite others to go with you as you minister to others. Let them see ministry in action and its results
4. Instruct. Jesus didn’t lecture his disciples; He wove His teaching into the events of daily life—a storm, the death of a friend or an encounter with a needy beggar. His teaching flowed out of His relationship with His companions. Discipleship does not have to happen in a classroom setting. It can happen at a doughnut shop, during a bike ride or in a car. Teaching moments can flow naturally when you are spending time with those you are mentoring.
5. Intercede. Paul told Timothy that he constantly remembered him in his prayers “night and day” (2 Tim. 1:3). The most effective discipleship occurs when the discipler invests time in prayer for those he or she is mentoring.
I realize that the emphasis of the book is relational discipleship through small groups, but I believe that the above principles can apply to small groups as well as individual mentoring/discipleship.
As I read Chapter 11 “A New Scorecard for Success”, I couldn’t help but think of a football analogy. It is OU/Texas weekend after all!
When a football coach decides to change his offensive strategy from a running team to a passing team, he makes that decision because he believes the change will ultimately improve their results. But that decision is never made lightly or without lots of preparation. The coach has to make sure he has the right players who can execute the new strategy, he has to clearly outline the reasons for the change and the desired results. And then, there is intense training and preparation for months. That’s why teams make these types of strategic shifts in the Spring so they have time to train and prepare. No one would expect a football team to be successful if they decided to shift from running to passing the week before the season started.
I think this analogy makes sense as we anticipate a “DiscipleShift” and move to create a new scorecard for success. It won’t be enough to create the new scorecard and to just say we want more small groups as an example. We have to have the discipline to clearly define the objectives and train the small groups and leaders on the new outcomes we will be measuring.
Before we “tackle” a new scorecard, let’s make sure we have a great playbook and some Spring training.
P 142 Dr. Coleman is asked in part, “…how do you love someone you might not like?”
After some examples, he gets around to answering on p 144: “You have to love people until you can like them. The key is looking at people with the eyes of Jesus, because Jesus loves them.”
The example of the great wrestler who was not a great coach (p113) reminds me of tutors. When I was in school, tutors were usually recommended based on how well they had done in that class. And usually they did well by being either a Super Smart Kid or a Hard Working Kid.
The Super Smart Kid could tell me the right answer, but couldn’t show me why, or how to get it, or tricks to remember it. They just knew it.
The Hard Working Kid at one point didn’t understand the subject either, struggled through it, succeeded, and could show me how to find the answer myself.
I found the perhaps technically less smart kids to be waaaaay more helpful as tutors.
Which I think goes back to the authenticity discussions in chapter 5. If we have struggled (like the hard working kids) (and we all have), let’s not pretend we are super smart kids who “just get it,” and look down on those who “just don’t get it.” Let’s let God use the messes we’ve lived through–and some that we’ve made–to help others follow Christ, be changed by Christ, and commit to the mission of Christ (p51).