Cliché Eight and Nine: Let’s Talk About Small Groups

Clichés are half-truths that can work together to form a web of false security. They work by giving just enough truth to cover the cognitive dissonance between us and a topic. These Church clichés we have been covering center around the topic of discipleship and what Christian growth is.

Series Intro: https://revivalinjesusway.wordpress.com/2020/04/04/series-against-common-christian-cliches/

 

Cliché Eight Podcast:  Small Groups, the Pastors Formula for Disciplemaking?

https://castbox.fm/episode/Cliche-Eight%3A-Small-Groups%2C-the-Pastors-Formula-for-Disciplemaking–id2800003-id275708822?country=us

Clichés Nine Podcast: How can small groups become disciplemaking communities?

https://castbox.fm/episode/Clich%C3%A9-Nine%3A-Small-Groups-Part-Two%3A-How-can-small-groups-become-disciplemaking-communities–id2800003-id283812174?country=us

Modern Small Groups: Not All They are Cracked up to be

Clichés eight and nine are really just one big cliché: the belief that small groups or some modified form of modern small groups is an effective way of producing disciples of Jesus. Now days a lot of churches follow a strategy of 1. Preaching 2. Sunday School Lessons 3. Small Groups. The strategy aims to get people into community and community is going to be the place where you grow. Slogans of “you can’t go it alone” abound but while this may be true is the modern small group capable of producing disciples in the way Jesus intended for the church? Jesus had a small group sure, in the twelve disciples but what made that small group a growth group where the men could receive the Holy Spirit and shoot off into effective ministry. What made Paul and his band of men and women like Titus and Timothy real growers effective in the harvest?

 

The Jesus Small Group

Borrowing from works like Disciples are Made not Born and The Master Plan of Evangelism we have put together a few factors that Jesus’ small group had that modern small groups do not have, these elements are:

Selection, A Master Discipler, A Clear Goal, Missional, A Model, Truth Matters

 

Selection

Luke 6:12-13

In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles:

Jesus chose a few and took time to make those choices seeking God through prayer to determine who He should focus on. In the gospels we see one element of this selection is having eyes to see. Jesus chose individuals who had potential and desire to grow, although they were imperfect, to be discipled by Him.

In modern small groups you almost never see selection take place. Usually there is a kind of sign up day and the leaders are just happy to have someone sign up! One pastor we spoke to reflected this thinking exactly after hearing us talk about having people make a commitment to grow and to have a commitment of some kind of homework, he said ethusiastically “we can barely get people to come to small group!”.

Jesus’ selection of indiviuals allowed for an atmosphere of growth that isn’t possible when you simply let anyone join and even fight to get people to join. The DNA of a Jesus small group inculdes people who really desire to grow.

 

A Master Discipler

Mark 3:13-14  

And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach.

Matthew 4:19

and He said to them follow me and I will make you fishers of men.

Jesus chose a few and took time to make those choices seeking God through prayer to determine who He should focus on. In the gospels we see one element of this selection is having eyes to see. Jesus chose individuals who had potential and desire to grow, although they were imperfect, to be discipled by Him.

In modern small groups you almost never see selection take place. Usually there is a kind of sign up day and the leaders are simply happy to have someone sign up! One pastor we spoke to reflected this thinking exactly after hearing us talk about having people make a commitment to grow and to have a commitment of some kind of homework, he said enthusiastically “we can barely get people to come to small group!”.

Jesus’ selection of individuals allowed for an atmosphere of growth that isn’t possible when you simply let anyone join and even fight to get people to join. The DNA of a Jesus small group includes people who really desire to grow.

 

A Clear Goal

Luke 9: 57-62 

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

One thing Jesus was always noticeably clear about was what it meant to follow Him. Jesus set a standard when He spoke out the sermon on the mount that gave some very specific guidelines on what a disciple should be. When someone was going to follow Him, He made it clear it would not be an easy task. So, when people followed Jesus, they knew in large part what they were agreeing to and if they continued with Him, they couldn’t be surprised when they met hardship.

The modern small groups that we have seen are almost always jumping around. Inevitably across denominations while the content may change: studying the Bible directly, video studies, reading a book etc. There is almost never a consistent goal the group has that is aimed at growth. The goal is unclear so the group kind of wanders… Without a clear goal people will just hop around growth wise too.

The goal must be clear for it to be pursued and to save others time and effort. If the goal is clear people can honestly commit, if not then there will always be this degree of outsideness and unclearness.

 

Missional

Luke 10:1

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go.

Luke 11: 1-4

Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”  And he said to them, “When you pray, say:

“Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread,
and forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.”

 

Now, Jesus not only had a clear goal but He gave that goal legs by working towards it through getting peoples feet wet. He not only prayed and talked about praying He also taught the disciples to pray and later required them to pray. Same with preaching, healing and being deep in the Word (John 8:31-32). Jesus developed and then deployed the members of His small group so that they not only learned head knowledge but put the knowledge to work.

While I have seen modern small groups that may go into a soup kitchen together or maybe do a group project I have very rarely seen small groups that have a goal and then go out to move forward in that goal. Discipleship means turning knowledge into concepts into action into habit to produce obedience (Recall Matt 28:19-20 “teaching them to observe…“)

J. Warner Wallace a former Cold Case detective turned Christian Apologist writes about T.R.A.I.N. ing Christians rather than just teaching them. Now, while Wallace is taking specifically about teen ministry this concept is needed in all ministry:

T – Test
Challenge students to expose their weaknesses.

R – Require
Expect more from students than we sometimes think they can handle

A – Arm
Provide students with the truth and teach them how to articulate it

I – Involve
Deploy students to the battlefield of ideas

N – Nurture
Tend to students’ wounds and model the nature of Jesus

(Link: https://coldcasechristianity.com/writings/how-to-t-r-a-i-n-christian-students-rather-than-teach-them/)

Christian disicpleship must let the rubber meet the road to be real discipleship. A Jesus small group puts boots on the ground.

 

A Model

1 Thes 1:6

And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit

1 Cor 11:1

Be imitators of me as I am of Christ

John 13:15

For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.

Jesus not only gave a standard and expected a standard, but He WAS the standard. Now while Jesus in some way is the only standard, we see Paul and others take up this same principle in calling the Christians they lead to become imitators of them. Why? Because the way of Jesus is a whole person kind of way. Recall the greatest commandment “Love the Lord your God with ALL your mind and your heart and your soul.”. The call is a whole person call, so it takes all of a person to fulfill it. If you want to learn boxing, then you need a master boxer to watch and learn from, if you want to be an electrician then find some good electricians and learn from them. If you want to be a disciple of Jesus, then you must find disciples of Jesus.

Modern small groups really steer away from this thinking. I remember personally thinking through this with my mentor at Purdue. After going through a Bible study on Pace Setting, I was shocked to see Paul again and again calling others to try hard to be like him. My first thought was “that’s so prideful!” but then I realized that Paul knew something about the truth that we miss today with the way we preach the gospel. We NEED a real flesh and blood example if we are going to figure out in the Spirit how to live Christlike lives.

To have a model, leaders of small groups have to be discipled themselves prior to leading others. The goal to show what you teach and to be close enough to others that they can see you live out the gospel. This is what Jesus did then the disciples after Him. If we really want Jesus small groups, we need to think about how the work can be done to have trained disciples in leadership roles.

Truth Matters

Matt 7: 15-21

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

Truth mattered to Jesus some of Jesus’ harshest comments “get behind me Satan!” “don’t you yet understand?” when He faced His own disciples getting important things wrong. Jesus knew that ideas have impact on a web of concepts in our world view. He knew there are no casual comments separate from who we are but what we say reveals deep things we believe.

One of the most common and sad things we’ve seen at small groups has been the sort of comments that go uncorrected. Like comments about how being in the word is not really that important or how most people don’t share their faith anyway so its ok. I’ve heard these comments and more come in and the small group came together in agreeing with the cliché rather than calling it out.

If we want to really pursue the goal of maturity, we need to keep up with the vision that is casted from the goal and model. Having the other elements mentioned often will help with this. When everyone in the group desires to grow and are actively moving toward growth, then talk of not growing or how it’s not important will be gracefully argued against.

 

Two Major Tips on Making a Small Group into a Discipleship Small Group

 

Train the Leaders

Leaders need to be discipled. When we are willing to take time to see that the leaders get discipled properly then this will be a major step toward having an effective group. This gives the group a Master Discipler, a Model that has the vision set and can begin to train others toward it. One way to do this is to look up the Navigators in your area and asking one two mentor you another way is to have some more formal training from Navigator Church Ministries. My wife Anne and I feel they have the best methods out there for developing a Church to have a discipleship community. Navigators are not the only ones doing through discipleship but they are a great resource for helping someone move forward in their journey of growth.

Links to Check out:

Navigators Church Ministries

Life-to-Life® Discipleship

 

Cast a Vision keep up the Vision

Once there is a disciple in the leadership of the group that person should have time set apart to discuss the over vision of the group. When I was at Purdue I did this by writing down the main goals for what a group of Christians should be doing in meeting together then got the group of the most passionate members of our group together and ask them what they thought our main goal should be. We ended up agreeing to exactly the heart of the great commission. Then I continued to regularly promote that vision. This is another reason having a good mentor is vital. It is so easy to begin falling away from the initial vision but when you have someone near you who has done this before and shares that same vision it really helps. The right vision and pursuing it will often do the work of selection in an existing group. As those who are less passionate catch a whiff of the motion of the group they will often step away and those who really want to grow will step in through invites from those who do want to grow.

 

 

1 thought on “Cliché Eight and Nine: Let’s Talk About Small Groups

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