Is your system working?

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I’ve been in my current ministry position now for a little over a year. Our church is structured around a three-fold strategy of creating followers of Christ: Gather, Commit, and Serve:

As we GATHER to celebrate Jesus and encounter biblical principles, COMMIT to one another in community groups, and SERVE by using the gifts God has given us to invest in the lives of others, we will grow in our passion for God, our compassion for God’s people, and our effectiveness in God’s work of developing growing followers.

That’s our system, and my role in the system is to facilitate, oversee, and help to develop community groups. I completely believe in our system, the simplicity of it (and the simplicity of what it means to be a be a follower of Christ), and am committed to it wholeheartedly. However, I’m always evaluating it, and specifically, the role of community groups in creating authentic community that fosters growth in godliness.

About two months ago, I was counseling a young man who had lots of questions about his next step in life. Basically, his question was, “What do I do next?” He needed help in thinking through future career options, future spouse options, financial next-steps, etc. He thought that his problem was that he struggled with change, and was afraid to take big steps. Over the course of only a few weeks, we determined that his problem was much greater. The next big step that he needed to take, the one that would determine the course of his life forever, was to become a follower of Christ. I told him that this decision would not necessarily make his life ‘easier.’ It would also not lay out in detail his exact next step. However, he would be resting his future in the hands of the One who created the universe (Genesis 1), who holds all things together (Colossians 1:17), and whose hand cannot be stayed (Daniel 4:35). So, this young man decided to place his faith in Christ!

That’s great news, right? I should be rejoicing, right?

I am, but I’m also saddened.

This man has been in one of our community groups for over a year. He has sat in a group every week, and still was troubled by the question, “What is the gospel?” This man is very intelligent, and can easily comprehend difficult, abstract concepts, but still had the question, “Why did Jesus have to die?” and “What does it mean to repent?” He didn’t know why we needed a sacrifice for our sins, and that Christ had offered himself as our perfect lamb.

If he was just a semi-regular Sunday morning attender, I could feel okay about this. But he’s there every single week, and is one of the most faithful members of his small group.

This bothers me. How could someone be plugged into what I thought was a disciple-producing ministry here at GCC and still have these questions? Let me reiterate that it was not for a lack of intellectual comprehension that this man did not know. He had simply not been asked the fundamental questions of the gospel and had the chance to interact with the Truth.

Is this an isolated issue, or pervasive? Is it a problem with the curriculum that we’re using? Is it a problem with the way that I communicate with my leaders? Is it our system? Is it a leadership training issue? Is it something that needs to be communicated more from the stage?

I realize that this post leaves me quite vulnerable as the leader of the small groups here at our church. But I want to be honest and say that this bothers me. I want to make sure that each of our group leaders is having gospel-centered discussions, both within the weekly group meeting and outside of it. So right now, I’m working through some ideas to ensure, as much as is humanly possible, that difficult questions are being asked, fundamental gospel concepts are being discussed and applied to life, and that those who attend our community groups have the chance to chew on and digest the great, life-changing truths of the gospel.

Is the goal of your ‘system’ discipleship? If not, what is the goal of your ‘system’? Is that goal being met? If it’s not being met, how willing are you to scrap the ‘system’ in favor of the goal?

Next post, I’ll fill you in on what I think the problem is. I actually think I may have nailed the issue. We’ll see.

 

Christ follower, husband, father, writer, small groups pastor at Saddleback Community Church. Communications director for the Small Group Network.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • http://eddiemosley.wordpress.com/ eddiemosley

    I would blog over a few weeks about how to raise this question in a group. what are some steps to help someone in this situation. I don’t think your groups (our groups) are against this or not want to. I believe they are not sure how, never seen it in action, and may (in older congregations) think it is the pastor’s job or the pastor is much better to deal with this. Hey, take some leaders to lunch, share your heart and the hows of such issues. It is a chance to multiply and disciple “evangelists.”

  • http://matthewlkelley.blogspot.com Matthew L. Kelley

    This is only a problem if we define “the gospel” as a set of ideas that one learns and is able to give the “right” answers. If, on the other hand, we are asking these kinds of questions to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to walk in the way of Jesus, then it’s a very good thing that he’s asking these questions. It means you’re doing your job right by making him think!

  • http://matthewlkelley.blogspot.com Matthew L. Kelley

    OK, fair enough, but do you know for sure that his small group isn’t dealing with those questions? The fact that he’s asking them now doesn’t mean he’s just started asking them. Questions like why Jesus died are so significant that one should always be sitting with them. Don’t assume that because he hasn’t come to an answer (as if we could ever fully understand such things) he hasn’t been dealing with the question for a while now.

  • http://www.crossroadsenterprise.org Leslie Oden

    Dear Ben,
    We begin Community Groups this Sunday at Crossroads, so your post about what really matters in the context of small groups was perfectly timed. If we succeed at creating warm social environments, teaching life skills, and building friendships, but fail to help attenders connect with Christ, we fall far short of God’s desire for small groups. Thanks so much for this timely word, and for being transparent about your concerns.

    Leslie Oden
    Community Groups Pastor
    Crossroads Community Church

  • http://www.michaelbayne.net Michael

    GREAT POST…Yes we are on staff together ad I have thought through this…I know he has heard the gospel in numerous ways. I think he just started asking the right questions. Religion goes a long way to block the work of the Holy Spirit. With this said we have to make sure that we are helping people hear the gospel in different ways in very environment. You never know when the Holy Spirit is going to bust though the layers of resistance and speak to a person’s heart!

    Thanks Ben…

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  • http://seedsinmyheart.blogspot.com Randi

    really enjoyed this post, thank you! :)

  • http://www.covenanteyes.com/blog/ Luke

    Thanks for blogging about this issue. I would love to talk to you more about how you are encouraging small group community in your church. We at Covenant Eyes are very interested in helping churches do this!

    I noticed that your church is offering Covenant Eyes to those who need it as a part of your sermon series. Would you be interested in writing up a guest post for our blog about that?

    Luke Gilkerson
    Internet Community Manager
    CovenantEyes.com

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  • http://www.randykinnick.wordpress.com Randy Kinnick

    Ben,

    Thanks for asking yourself the hard questions and being willing to continuously evaluate what you're doing and how it is working. This post actually triggered some ideas for me as I lead our Lifegroup ministry into its second year. God's blessings to your continued ministry. I'll look forward to reading your next post.

    Randy

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Benlreed Ben Reed

    Randy,
    Thanks for the comment. Glad it triggered some ideas for you. This was a post I did back in February, but that I revisited recently, and so I put out a Tweet about it. Here's the follow-up post I did, also back in February:
    http://www.benreed.net/index.php/2009/02/23/gospe

  • benlreed

    I agree with you, Matthew, that the “gospel” is not merely a set of ideas that can be reeled of as a “right answer.” No argument there. I never want to boil the gospel down to being able to say the right answer to the right question. To be a follower of Christ involves action, not just words.

    However, the problem that I’m trying to highlight is that it took too long for these questions to be asked. I would like for fundamental, gospel questions (beyond just helping people to parrot a response) to be covered much sooner in the life of a group. I don’t think that he was challenged in a tangible way to walk/talk/think/live like Christ. I rejoice that now he’s wrestling through it, but I wish that he had been asked difficult questions that made him think about the gospel much sooner.

    Thanks for the feeback. Keep it coming!