The best vehicle for discipleship is relationship. And a small group is a great environment where relationship can take place. But it can’t be just any small group. Your soccer team getting together may be a small group, but the group is not meeting for the purpose of encouraging discipleship. There are a few intentional components that need to be present in a small group to make it an effective tool for disciple making.Your soccer team getting together may be a small group, but the group is not meeting for the purpose of encouraging discipleship. There are a few intentional components that need to be present to make a group an effective tool for disciple making. Click To Tweet
A small group is a place where shepherding takes place. The leader of the small group would be considered its shepherd. He models shepherding for the group and seeks to create an environment in which people care for each other. His ultimate goal is to teach the group members to become shepherds themselves within their families, with the people they disciple, and with future groups they may lead.
Ezekiel 34:2-5 speaks to leaders who are not doing what they need to be doing in their role of caring for people:
“Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock?”
A “shepherd” or leader of a small group may have people in the group that are struggling. He might call and pray on the phone with that person during the week – or ask someone else in the group who has been through a similar struggle to talk with them. If someone is sick or injured the group may take turns bringing a meal to the family. If one of the members is a single mom with sons some of the men can take the sons out hunting or to a sports event. If someone in the group has missed several weeks, or has stopped going to weekend services, the group needs to pursue them and find out if there is an issue.
The small group leader should be creating a ‘shepherding culture’ of people caring for one another in the group. In order to create an effective relational environment, leaders intentionally guide their small group members into caring for one another.
A small group is a place where real teaching can take place, with Q&A, modeling, and the best curriculum in the world (the Bible) people can learn to understand and live out scripture. A group needs to be grounded in Biblical teaching. But when people think of the term ‘Bible Study’, they often think of a situation where one person is teaching and everyone else is passively listening. This type of scenario can be problematic in a small group however. One reason being that not everyone has the gift of teaching, and when a poor teacher is the one doing most of the talking it can make the time seem to drag on and people may lose interest in attending.
Another reason it is not a good idea to have a teacher/student format is that it can make it very difficult to recruit group leaders. Most will feel that they are unqualified, or that they don’t have the theological or biblical training to lead a group. If the gift of teaching is required for someone to lead in a small group setting, reproduction of disciples who disciple others will be a very slow process. In the Great Commission, Jesus implied that all who follow him, regardless of teaching ability, can be involved in making disciples.
Within a small group setting, there is a leader who shares from God’s Word, but it is much more than that. Biblical small groups are more about facilitating a biblical discussion than they are about a lecture. The leader must help the group members interact with the Word and with others. It is only when people share their thoughts and ask questions that the leader can see if they are understanding God’s Word.
Authenticity and Accountability:
A small group needs to be a place where authenticity and accountability are encouraged and modeled. Often, the devil will try and convince people that what they have done is worse than what others have done. He does this to separate and isolate us from God and others. Sharing breaks the cycle of secrecy in people’s lives. They are freed up from having to go the road alone, and others can encourage them in their journey. When people share difficult issues with the group, the other members need to encourage rather than judge, and praise them for bringing things out of the darkness and into the light. The group needs to be a place where accountability is expected and given as part of loving each other well. This higher level of transparency is what is needed to go from a typical Bible Study to a disciple-making small group. One key thing to keep in mind – Yes, radical transparency is needed in effective small groups, but it needs to happen within boundaries. Boundaries might include gender-appropriate matters, or sharing things in such a way that confidences aren’t broken.
Relational small groups form the backbone for discipleship. The groups purpose is defined as encouraging discipleship – not primarily fellowship or counseling or even outreach (although these may be components of the process). The people in a discipleship group should become like family. And like most families, they can have disagreements and struggles, but they learn to work through them and love each other whatever happens. It can sometimes be messy, but it helps us learn how to follow Jesus and really love each other. And that is what Jesus’ Church should look like.The people in a discipleship group should become like family. They may have disagreements and struggles, but they learn to work through them. It can be messy, but it teaches us to really love each other. And that is what Jesus’ Church should look like. Click To Tweet
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