Discipleship #008: Together in Small Groups

The idea of small groups is not necessarily a novel one. It has been around since creation, conceived from the trinity, which is a triune community in itself, and it can be spotted throughout the Bible. For instance, Daniel and his three friends—Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah—who were exiled to Babylon were a small group, just as Jesus and his 12 disciples were.

The perpetual presence of small groups throughout time proves its necessity in the process of discipleship. They provide (or should provide) disciples with theological knowledge, practical guidance, and meet the human need for companionship.

However, there are several elements that must be brought together in order to have a successful small group. Structure and size, leadership roles, and strategies in addressing new and mature believers must be considered carefully.

Structure and size

Small groups are generally, as its name implies, small. But what counts for “small”? Starting from the smallest number, a pair may be considered a small group. Its advantage lies in its one-on-one approach that allows intimacy and depth in knowing each other. In addition, when in a pair, it is easier to keep accountable of each other and be vulnerable. However, it can also easily become a hierarchical relationship as one can become a mentor to the other, exerting pressure on the discipler, who finds him/herself alone in the position of guidance.

Triads and quads are what we call groups of three and four. These small groups are, according to Greg Oden in his book Discipleship Essentials, the ideal number for a small group. It allows depth in the relationship and a variety of perspectives in discussion.

Anything bigger than a quad is considered a large group. Even though it is formed for the sake of inclusiveness, it often ends up excluding people, as it allows less time for each member to participate and share. The number also makes keeping an account of each other harder.

Leadership

In simple terms, the goal of the small group leader would be to “pass on” the faith to others. For this, the leader must be 5 things.

  • A Model: The model inspires behavior. People look up to and follow those who are faithful and genuine in their actions to what they teach. The leader becomes a bridge between the theological knowledge it is sharing and the practical guidance it is offering.Titus 1:7-14 admonishes, “For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach.”
  • A Mentor: The leader must fulfill a personal role. It must be ready to commit itself to a relationship where it must support, give counsel, and share its own experiences. According to Working Wisdom: Timeless Skills and Vanguard Strategies for Learning Organizations byBob Aubrey and Paul Cohen, five most commonly used techniques among mentors were: Accompanying (committing oneself), Sowing (being patient and offering guidance that may prove valuable in the mentee’s future), Catalyzing (urging change), showing (making something understandable), and Harvesting (creating awareness of what was learned).
  • A Facilitator: This is a group setting role. The leader provides direction and context by directing the small group like a watercourse. It helps the members to understand their goals and assists them in achieving them by spurring discussion. Some characteristics and skills required to be a good facilitator is the ability to make good usage of time, to plan beforehand and follow the plan, and yet know how to adapt and be flexible depending on the flow of conversation. It requires an awareness of individuals and group dynamics.
  • A Servant: the leader is selfless and humble. It knows that the small group does not exist for its own gain, to feed its pride, sense of accomplishment, or hunger for popularity. It knows the group exists for others and that God takes the high seat in it. The leader also does not control the group or puts the members down but persuades and values differences in opinions, without becoming itself lesser in value than those it serves.
  • Friend: This is the most important role a leader must know to take.Mahatma Gandhi once commented, “I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles; but today it means getting along with people.” A leader loves and because of that love is able to become honest, open, and caring.

Strategies

Generally speaking, there will be two kinds of disciples present in any small group. New believers and mature believers. Naturally, both are subject to the Bible study, the discussions, and the fellowship the small group offers, but because of their differences in the level of their beliefs, they must be attended in different ways.

For new believers, to start, we should really break the image of pushy, condescending Christians that some of them have of us. We must respect and trust them, hold conversations with them and not lectures. Instead of thinking of them as science projects, it is better to be simply a genuine friend to them and invite them for lunch or coffee. According to Swimming Lessons: One-on-one Discipleship by Pastor Grant Edwards, “When people connect in discipling relationships, each new believer has a friend at church—one who’s actively investing in that new believer’s life. Those relationships are like glue; they cause new believers to stick. A Gallup study demonstrated that when someone has a best friend at church, that person is very likely to report high levels of satisfaction with their church. In fact, 87% of church members with a best friend at church gave their church two thumbs up—way up (as reported in the Group/Gallup resource, Creating a Culture of Connectivity In Your Church, 2005).”

For mature believers the focus lies on consistency and challenge. Mature believers are like Olympic athletes who have won a medal once but are looking forward to win more the coming years and better themselves. For this they need from their small group people who can keep them accountable on living as faithful Christians and who can encourage them to question what they already know, go deeper and further the “Jesus” answer to reach a more wholesome one. Finally, mature believers are those who are one step behind from becoming leaders themselves. They must be prepped to answer their callings in the world and to make new disciples by sharing their faith, joy, and love to others.

We have talked about different aspects of a small group, but what unites all of them is the idea of fellowship found in the small group, the idea of sharing beliefs and propping each other up like iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17). For many reasons God made more than one of us. He delights in the act of love which requires at least two people and lets us know even in our loneliness, we have each other and Him. Acts 2:44-47 paints us a blessed picture of what a small group should be like: “44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

 

 

 

Discipleship #005: Challenges and Potholes

Even before Jesus chose his 12 disciples, he said to them “Enter through the narrow gate… For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” He wanted to let them know that the journey of discipleship was not an easy one. Salvation was for those who wished to find truth above all and was not for those who followed Jesus just for the sake of avoiding hell, and therefore, anyone who was not prepared to face and surpass the difficulties along the road would not be able to complete the journey.

Two authors, John Bunyan and C.S. Lewis were well aware of the fact that discipleship was a road full of all kinds and sizes of potholes, and produced 2 books revolving around them: Pilgrim’s Progress and TheScrewtape Letters respectively, which we will mainly use as references to study some of the challenges found in being a disciple of Christ.

A Series of Potholes

  • The Burden of Sin:  Christian, the protagonist of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, is described to be weighed down by a great burden: the knowledge of his sin. With this burden, he sets on a journey seeking for deliverance. However, right off the bat, Christian falls into the “Slough of Despond,” a miry swamp, and he sinks and sinks under the weight of his sins and his sense of guilt. This is not an uncommon story between disciples. Acute consciousness of our sin and imperfectness comes with a sense of guilt, and as guilt turns into shame, and shame into reluctance to face truth, we become separated from God—just like a shadow that cannot bear to be in the presence of light. But let us not forget the existence of grace. A loving God would not want his sons and daughters to fall into sloughs of desponds, He would rather take on the burden for Himself to free them, which is exactly what He did through Jesus. The least we can do is remember that important fact and pull ourselves up.
  • Fake Glory:  Glory is interpreted in the human way as fame and luminosity, but such things are transient. After all, the human fame is something given by fellow passionate humans; and human passions always die away. True glory is something much grander and humbler. According to Lewis in his essay The Weight of Glory, Glory is in reality “fame with God, approval, or (I might say) ‘appreciation’ by God.” The long and painful longing that could never be satisfied by human praise, can only cease the moment God smiles and says “you have done well.” As disciples, we must become children once again. We must recall those younger days when being praised by someone we loved and admired brought feelings of supreme bliss. Only a dependent child of God can enter paradise.
  • All Talk, No Action:  In his journey, Christian also meets Talkative, a fellow who is better looking from a distance than close up. Talkative is very enthusiastic in talking about his faith, but the more he talks, the more it is discovered that he possesses a shallow mentality. Talkative’s question, “Why, what difference is there between crying out against, and abhorring of, sin?” says much about him. Even though he denounces sin by mouth, he does not do so by spirit and action. He is like a carrot with large leaves and petite root. Like Talkative, sometimes we say and think we do not love sin, but we do not act like it. However, that is not faith. “…Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17).
  • All Action, No Faith:  On the other hand, acting all the time but not keeping proper faith can be a stumbling block as well. Thinking that good deeds can get one to heaven ignores the grace factor and instigates pride. Surprisingly, mature disciples who know this are more susceptible to this kind of mentality, though perhaps in a smaller scale. Many times we forget that it is for God why we do everything good and that it is thanks to Him that we have anything good, and instead we focus on our holy actions and think ourselves righteous when that is far from the truth. In Bunyan’s allegory, the name of such person is Ignorance. Ignorance thinks of Jesus Christ only as an example and not as a Savior. However, when he gets to the Celestial City, he finds he does not have the “certificate” needed to enter.
  • The Slippery Slope:  Temptations are not always extravagant. The little things, such as small distractions and a fake sense of peace found in routine, can get us just as well. In The Screwtape Letters, a series of letters from a senior Demon Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood, a Junior Tempter, Lewis writes, “the safest road to hell is the gradual one— the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” We have to be careful, be constantly concerned about the things we are doing and why we are doing them, and do them wholeheartedly. Letting our spiritual disciplines become a joyless, superficial, empty habits makes the heart numb and devoid of meaning, devoid of God. To avoid slipping further, we must not wait until we end up in the worst possible situation before turning away. The moment we catch ourselves nodding off, we must wake up.
  • Triple Fear:  Fear of the unknown, fear of pain, fear of death. We all experience those. But in perspective, fear can be good. It can reminds us of our mortality and keeps us careful and humble. However, the problem lies in succumbing to fear and taking no action at all and hiding. It is essential to believe that Jesus triumphed over pain and death through the cross and his resurrection. When Bunyan’s Christian tries to cross The River of Death, the dreadful river that separates mankind from Paradise, he soon realizes that it is deeper or shallower depending on the faith of the one traversing it. Because there is doubt and fear in his heart, Christian has a rough time crossing the river, but with the help of his friend Hopeful he succeeds in crossing over. It is human to fear, but courage can be found in our hope and trust in God.
  • Right to happiness:  When we feel grief, there are times when we feel resentful towards God, because we think that we have the right to happiness. But it is not about having the “right.” Happiness is not something we can demand because we have no real ownership of it (the owner is God). However, we are permitted to it because of God’s grace. Small pieces of temporary happiness are gifts to be enjoyed while our lives last. As it is written in Ecclesiastes 5:18, “This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them– for this is their lot.” The point is to, above all, love the giver and not just the gift.

We can fall into holes, but we can get out from them just as well. The journey is hard. It requires an immeasurable amount of effort to keep going. There will be times we will think we will feel too tired to continue.

But we are not alone.

Indeed, the road of discipleship is full of potholes. It is long and twisty, and many times treacherous. Yet there will be times of pleasure, rejoicing, peace, and strength. It’s important to remember that it’s not just about waiting for the end or some reward far off in the future.  Discipleship has it’s rewards in the here and now and God is with us already and in the not yet.

 

 

Michigan Area Discipleship Survey Results: 7 Things You Need To Know!

Thanks again to all who participated in Michigan Area UMC Discipleship Survey!  The results are in and we’re excited to share them with you.

So, here’s what we found …

1.  Keep it small and manageable.

The average size of small groups is 10 people and each church has an average of 7 small groups it conducts.

Chart_Q7_140414

2.  Innovation and Training aren’t just suggestions.

Only 13% of Bible Studies are viewed as being excellent.  Most of us are only moderately satisfied.  Resources used and group leader quality can make or break an experience.  It’s worth it to put in the time to find the best resources for your group and to train leaders to effectively develop discipleship.

Chart_Q10_140414

3.  Book studies are the way to go.

Studying a book of the Bible or a certain topic are great, but having a guide book and supplemental resources can heighten the learning and community experience.  Often the accompanying narrative allows readers to find themselves in the story and identify with the discipleship process.

preferred-study-methods

4.  Keep it regular.

Groups tend to meet weekly for about an hour or hour and a half.  This usually happens in the middle of the week in the evening.  This consistency provides accountability, a chance for in-depth learning and fellowship, and a respect for the hectic schedules we all tend to have.

Chart_Q12_140414

5.  Remember to be multi-modal!

The best learning engages multiple senses and is tailored to different learning styles.  The studies that are most preferred are those that come with DVDs and guidebooks.  There’s something here for everyone!

Chart_Q14_140414

6.  It’s good to know.

Collaboration with other churches, curriculum experts, and small group leaders allows you to stay up to date and to make educated decisions about which resources to use.

7.  We want you to be in the loop.

We compiled a list of the top resources being used by Michigan area UMC churches right now:

the-waylastwords

soulshift-measure-life-transformed-steve-deneff-hardcover-cover-artCrazylove_bookcover

the-life-youve-always-wanteddaniel plan

Beth-Moore-6NTWright 250w09Lucado_414006455

572_200Nooma

Thanks for helping us help you.  We’ll be conducting similar surveys for other states and denominations soon!
If you need anything along this journey of discipleship, we’re here for you.  Reach out to us with questions/comments/feedback at  contact@goodberry.net.

 

Discipleship #001: To Be & Make Disciples

Goodberry’s mission is to help brothers and sisters be disciples and make disciples.  We’re excited to introduce to you a brand new blog post series that will explore the concept of discipleship. To say we intend to make out of this a comprehensive guide to discipleship might be a stretch, but we present this project in the hope that it may be a starting spark or a handy lamp in your spiritual growth.

To kick-off, a good understanding about the concept of discipleship is due. What is discipleship? A state of being? A mentality? An identity? Let’s take a look at the definition.  “Discipleship” is “the position of a disciple” and a “disciple” is

1. a. One who embraces and assists in spreading the teachings of another.

b. An active adherent, as of a movement or philosophy.

2. often Disciple One of the original followers of Jesus.

3. Disciple A member of the Disciples of Christ.

In general terms then discipleship seems to consist of a dual role: being a disciple and discipling.

Being a disciple

Taking this idea into a Christian context, being a disciple means to be a follower of Christ. The twelve disciples of Jesus immediately come into mind, and not without good reason. But what was it that which made them be called disciples?

When Jesus was teaching at the lake of Gennesaret and asked Simon to let down his nets into deep water, there were other fishermen aside from Simon, James, and John. However, what distinguished these three from the others was that when they saw the miracle they responded to Jesus’ call. Luke 5:11 reads that “They pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.” They left everything.  Everything meaning their jobs, their houses, their families, and their identities as fishermen of fish, husbands, and fathers, for the new identity of “disciple.”

This denial of self and the taking up of the cross is a foundational characteristic in a disciple. Greg Ogden explains in his book Discipleship Essentials that the denial of self does not imply a denial of self-worth, individuality, or one’s right to happiness, but a denial of “self-lordship.” In other words, the disciple freely abandons his current way of life in obedience to Christ, all in the wish to be molded into the person God wants him to be. The giving up of oneself to find oneself and true life has always been a complicated theological paradox to explain, but in a sense, it is just like the miracle Peter, James, and John experienced; it is extraordinary but very real.

Being a disciple does not end here. Responding to the call is just the first step. After Jesus chose his twelve disciples, he entrusted them with numerous activities. He wanted them to learn, and he gave them authority so they would drive out demons and cure illnesses. Above all, he entrusted them with the task of proclaiming the kingdom of God. As with the disciples in the Bible, discipleship proves to be more than a static identity but a way of life, which takes us to the second and yet more active part of discipleship: discipling.

Discipling

Discipling, the act of making disciples, is born out of the desire to share one’s faith to others. Like a child with a treasure map who is driven to share it with his loved ones and friends, when one truly understands the joy enclosed in the good news of salvation, it is hard to contain. It must be shared or it will burst.

Experienced people will tell you that discipling is a tactful art. The good news must not be thrown onto people like stones but carefully seeded and cared for. An intimate, intentional, and constant relationship with one’s disciples is needed in order to encourage and challenge them to grow toward maturity in Christ.

In the children’s book The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, a boy realizes that what distinguishes his rose from the other roses in earth is the time and care he poured onto it. He also realizes that because of this bond, he was responsible for it. Jesus chose twelve disciples and poured himself into them; he did not mass produced them only to touch the surface of their hearts. The apostle Paul did not take in Timothy as his pupil nor did he plant churches to forget about them later; he constantly sent them letters, so many in fact that there are thirteen books of them in the New Testament.

Speaking of those who practiced discipling, the best example we have is indeed Jesus. Jesus was the expert. He was an impeccable model, who inspired his disciples to imitate him. He taught about God using his perfect knowledge of the Bible and parables, he trusted his disciples with many activities (which we mentioned before), and he prayed for them and listened when they reported their experiences. And finally, he sent them forth saying, “19 go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).

Discipleship is not easy. Jesus never promised his disciples a rosy journey full only of sunshine and smiles. Therefore, in order to keep growing spiritually and practice discipleship one must be disciplined and intentional about it. There are practices that will help you to grow. Practices that sometimes may seem small and insignificant, but which with time prove their importance and meaning in life. Let us then keep reading the Bible, persist on our devotionals, seek out for quiet times with God, pray ceaselessly, question constantly not for the sake of cynicism but discernment and wisdom, imitate Christ, and above all, love God, the selves God has given us, and our neighbors.

None of this must be done alone. Company is a blessing in the journey of discipleship. Churches can help you engage in different services and practices. They can connect you to Bible studies and small groups (triads/quads, one-on-ones, larger groups), conferences, retreats, opportunities to volunteer and evangelize, and a loving community.

We’re prepared to equip you.

We, Goodberry, want to support you as much as we can in this journey. We can provide you with array of tools and resources that could serve as a springboard or help create context in the process of discipleship.  Discipleship is a big subject— more intricate and complex than what we often imagine. We have but grazed upon its definition; there are still many more caverns left to explore. As we go on with this series of discipleship, however, we want to cover as many related topics we can. We want to further explore with you how churches view discipleship, strategies and models of how to be a good disciple and how to disciple, pitfalls to watch out for, and more.

There are many things to learn and to do in this adventure called “discipleship.” So, Let us set off!

Encouraging Vulnerability

 

A few years ago, Brené Brown, research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, delivered a compelling Ted Talk on the Power of Vulnerability.  This talk has stuck with me as the importance of vulnerability in developing relationships is a topic that keeps resurfacing, especially when it comes to forming effective small groups.  The potential benefits of small groups are endless, but they must have the key elements of comfort, communication, and trust.  And these are all things that must be cultivated.

Small group leaders occasionally miss the mark, thinking that these things will just grow as the group goes along, but it is important to pay attention and invest to create the best possible environment for growth.  So where do you start?  Brown’s findings suggested that the people who were living wholeheartedly simply had the courage to be imperfect.  “They had the compassion to be kind to themselves first and then to others, because, as it turns out, we can’t practice compassion with other people if we can’t treat ourselves kindly.”

For our purposes, perhaps the best place for your small group to start is in discovering who God says you are and how He feels about you.  In order to be vulnerably authentic in who we truly are, and to ever relate to others, we must first look to our Creator.  Start with this simple reminder in 1 John 3:1 which says, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!  And that is what we are!”  Generate a discussion on how these truths match up with how we feel about ourselves, or what sort of impression we feel we must give off in our Christian communities.  I would even suggest creating a covenant of vulnerability in your group – solidifying your commitment to growth together.

A small group community can be an excellent haven for our humanity to emerge and for our quest to become more Christ-like encouraged.  Remember to encourage vulnerability, for Ephesians 5:13 says, “everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.”

 

Consider checking out the following resources for your small group:

The Golden Circle for Ministry

Here at Goodberry, it is our mission to help churches make disciples, and we believe that creating a strong local community is a great step to doing so.  We’re excited to announce that we’ll be sponsoring our second Meetup Event here in Grand Rapids!  Please consider joining us for an evening that promises to deliver all you’re after:  philosophy, people, and of course, (free) Panera!  We hope to share best practices for ministry leadership and discuss relevant tools and resources at each Meetup Event.  The topic this round is Simon Sinek’s “Golden Circle” and it’s application for ministry settings.

You’re Invited: Thursday, December 5th, 2013 at the Goodberry office

Who else will be there?:  Small Group Attendees, Small Group Leaders & Facilitators/Coordinators, Bible Study Leaders/Teachers, Pastors & Church Leaders

Learn more and RSVP at our Facebook event page:  https://www.facebook.com/events/221939714649985/

 

Daily Deals: “Small Group, Leadership, and Church”

Today’s Deal- Publishers Baker Books & Baker Academics – “Small Group, Leadership, and Church” consist of eBooks that challenges us, encourages us, sharpens us in light of Church Planting, effective small group and leadership, and Pastoral Counseling. All of these deep discounted eBooks are $3.99 (unless noted otherwise) and in effect till August 1, 2013.

small-groups-with-purpose   how to start a new service   church_that_works
strategic pastoral counseling   reviewing-leadership

Get this and other deals every day at: Goodberry Deals.