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…
Archive for DiscipleShift
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).
Mateen has challenged Session to lead with prayer by
1) praying during worship services (rm 2126) and
2) praying in the Renewal Service (3rd Sunday).
The authors of DiscipleShift argue that as we align our programs with our core focus (discipleship) we need to evaluate our programs and, at times, say ‘no’ to ideas for new ones. In chapter 9 (“Rethinking Our Practices”) they write:
…alignment is one of the hardest things churches grapple with. To say yes to your calling, you must necessarily say no to a lot of good things, and when you say no to a lot of good things, you say no to a lot of good people who don’t understand why you’re saying no. You’re saying no to something they are emotionally invested in.
The authors definitely exhort us to “avoid sweeping change in a church,” but they also say as church leaders regular evaluation of our programs in light of our core focus (discipleship) is mandatory. We need to explain why we are going to do something “…and then do one piece at a time.”
Where are we evaluating our church programs on a regular basis at FPCE? I know we have our annual reports to the congregation, but I don’t think these reflect the kind of program evaluation in terms of the core mission of discipleship that the book’s authors are talking about. This kind of evaluation can and should take place in our committee meetings, but we have a disconnect in many committees between the staff and the elected officers. I’m wondering why we don’t find monthly times for at least some of the elected officers of our church (deacons and elders) to meet with different staff members? I think it’s easy for us to remain in our traditional meeting/committee silos, and we need to find ways to encourage new conversations and communication about different programs and ministries in light of this “core focus” on discipleship.
It also occurs to me that we need to be finding ways to discuss these ideas on Sunday mornings, and at other times we gather for worship. Even a short two minute share time, when one of our elders gets up and talks a little about our study on DiscipleShift and what these ideas can mean for the specific committee that elder serves on would be welcome and beneficial. We ought to list this website in our bulletin as a place where church members can see the conversations and thoughts that our elders are having about DiscipleShift, and encourage them to participate as well. Have we invited our deacons to join in these conversations? We need to do this. We need to find more ways to engage each other in conversations about these ideas outside our “regular” committee meetings, Sunday services, and Wednesday night classes. We need to talk about these ideas within our existing small groups. We need to find ways to amplify the small group opportunities which are available in our church, and regularly talk to people about the importance of connecting within a small group.
Last of all, I’m wondering when we say “no” to a new idea or program of the church because it doesn’t involve the “five key components of discipleship” identified in chapter 9 of DiscipleShift? Can we point to a program or ministry proposal in the last six months that we’ve turned down and not followed because it didn’t align with this purpose? A lot of focus and attention has been given to the current change from one to two services. We need to encourage conversations about discipleship and small group, relational ministries. We also need to talk about and decide how we can intentionally build in “program evaluation” in light of our discipleship focus into our work on staff, on session, and in other church capacities. Otherwise, as the authors note in chapter 9:
…we will end up with a mismatched, disconnected community of people pursuing their own goals and programs that take on a life of their own.
I’d love to hear what others think about these ideas and how we can move forward to reflect the core focus on discipleship that the DiscipleShift authors exhort us to embrace. (The “Jesus model” of discipleship.)
Next up in the village stocks is the attractional model. Okay, we agree that grabbing eyeballs on the screen, getting eardrums throbbing to the beat and delivering more rumps in the pews is way short of an adequate mission for the church. But Putman would be off course to suggest that reaching numbers means nothing and has no biblical basis. I think he overlooks the fact that the active work of the Spirit in worship has attracted crowds of seekers since the church’s birthday. The early church expected to draw crowds. The question for them was what do we do to bring in the harvest. The early disciples’ numbers were insufficient to maintain the small group study ratios Putman decrees. They asked for the power of the Spirit and welcomed all seekers to follow and learn. We need to be as wise as serpents in using attractional means that appeal to the seekers’ needs as fallen humanity. But we also must be training good mentoring disciples and finding better ways to engage seekers and gain the promised harvest.
Next to attract the rotten tomatoes is the missional model. Putman’s term may be confusing to those of us who spent time learning “missional church” with John Gruel. If anything that latter term might come closest to Putman’s fourth model. So let’s call Putman’s third model “mission-focused”. After describing this model noted for producing committed and life-changed believers, Putman’s critique is that all of that useful service leaves no time for renewal, and refreshment. But I suggest an effective mission-focused church does celebrate its work and does raise up new leaders to sustain its mission. We could learn more from those who have mastered this challenging style. We could do worse than have a missions committee who sees success in how many of our disciples have made commitments to engage in mission that goes beyond sending their money for others to do the work.
The lone remaining strawman is now the home church approach. With little understanding of this style I am poorly equipped to defend it. I’m sure the best of these examples build such strong faith bonds that they are able to bravely venture out to attract the next cadre of disciples in a cycle of inward and outward focus that could in time grow an especially strong witness. Putman points out the danger that the intimate home church is never really open to newcomers, who for sure don’t fit in at first. In a phrase from the business world, this model doesn’t scale very well. But the same dangers of intimacy in the home church can also lead to contented discipleship groups which retard the growth that I believe the Spirit calls us to.
So before we discard the four “traditional” models we’d better learn their virtues and their weaknesses and make sure to incorporate what we have learned into our new strategy.