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.”

–Sheri Stickley