Tag: discipleship strategy

A truly “deep” study

I posted this question last week on my blog:

What does it take for a “regular” Bible study to turn into a “deep” Bible study?  What goes into making small group time a “deep” Bible study?

You can see all of the great comments I received HERE.

Instead of jumping straight into the methodological (how-to), it’s appropriate to look at the theological/philosophical (why?) definitions of what I believe is a “deep” discussion in a small group.  Starting with the theology behind the methodology helps to give a framework so that groups know why they are doing what they are doing…and why change is (or might be) necessary.  If we were to jump straight to the “here’s how to lead a deep discussion” topic, we’d be undercutting the foundation.

When we go about defining what a “deep” study is, we find it’s pretty simple.

A truly “deep” study is one that helps us to take steps of faith.  A “shallow” one does not.

And what does it look like to take a step of faith?

1. Start following Christ. As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. (Matthew 9:9)

2. Understand what it means to follow. Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:  “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:34-40)

3. Repeat daily. Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24)

4. Go. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

I’m not negating the sovereignty of God to draw and grow people, nor am I doing away with personal responsibility, but if a small group discussion doesn’t help the group members to love God and their neighbor more (which Jesus defined as that which the Law and Prophets hang), then it’s not deep.  Period.

It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about a “seeker” small group, a college group, a preschool group, or a boating affinity group.  Discussions that don’t put feet to the Word and propel us to go are ultimately fruitless.

There will be much debate on how to flesh that out, depending on whether you operate with Sunday School classes, cell groups, home groups, community groups, or knitting groups.  And that’s okay.  I know that the way that each small group system fleshes the disciple-making process out will be a bit different. But here’s my admonition to us all: let’s not make the Christian life (and becoming a disciple) too difficult.  Jesus didn’t.  Love God.  Love your neighbor.  That’s difficult enough.

Depth is less about the transfer of information and more about life transformation.

I’ll continue this series of posts tomorrow, and talk about various aspects of studies that lend to the disciple-making process as described above.

What do you think?  Have your thoughts on “deep” studies been challenged?

 

Sunday Morning

I’m blessed to serve at Grace Community Church.  Seriously, I’m blessed like crazy.  They took a chance on a young guy like me, even before I was done with seminary.  Hopefully, it’s not one they are regretting now!  I’m given freedom to try new things and experiment with different ideas in ministry, all with the hope that more of Clarksville might fall in love with Jesus.  I’m also given direction and shepherding as a young leader, which I desperately want and need.  Seminary was great, don’t get me wrong…but it didn’t prepare me for all that I would encounter in ministry.  The team that I serve with here is so supportive, and I love serving with them.

If you’re not a part of Grace, let me introduce you to Chad Rowland (aka @chadrowland, if you’re on twitter).  The guy’s a phenom.  I’m wowed every time he preaches.  He’s a masterful storyteller (before you brand me as a heretic for praising him as a storyteller and not as a “preacher” or “pastor,” don’t forget that Scripture is the story of God’s redeeming his people…that’s right, isn’t it?), having me on the edge of my seat one minute as he shares a story, laughing the next, and floored by the Truth the very next.  Yesterday was no exception.  He was able to cast the vision for who we are as a church, our three-fold strategy for making growing followers of Christ, and talk about money, the easiest, most comfortable topic to address ever…it was a ton to cover in a short amount of time, but as always, Chad did it with much precision and wisdom.  God’s using him in amazing ways at Grace.

[vodpod id=Groupvideo.3217610&w=425&h=350&fv=channelID%3D100000273]

more about “TruthCasting“, posted with vodpod
 

Gospel-focused small groups

Like I said in the last post, I fully believe in our system of creating followers of Christ. However, I would be ready to throw it out today if the system were the problem.  I never want to be so connected to community groups, and the way that we do them at Grace Community Church, that I am unwilling to abandon them in favor of true discipleship.  My goal in ministry, in a broad stroke, is to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20)  My goal is not to start 5,000 community groups and train 10,000 leaders to host a group in their home.  I want to make passionate disciples of Christ!  Right now, the way that I do that is to start new community groups, shepherd our current community group leaders, and recruit new leaders.  Though these activities may seem mundane, I believe that true growth in godliness happens best in the context of community.  So, I willfully and joyfully take on the administrative burden and the difficulties that go along with assimilating people into group life at Grace.

Why are we not making disciples more quickly at Grace?  There are a variety of reason.  Here are five:

1.  Not everybody who hears the Gospel becomes a disciple the first time they hear it.  I know that I sure didn’t!  Did you?  Then why should I expect vastly different results from those in our community groups?  God didn’t give up on me when I rejected His call.  Instead, He continue to pursue me.

2. The devil is real!  “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)  Satan loves to distort the Gospel, remind us that it’s not relevant to us today, and snatch it from our hearts before it has the chance to take root.  In short, he’s vying for the worship of our hearts, and this is true whether the Truth is coming from the pulpit or from a couch in somebody’s living room in a small group setting.

3.  I need to take it upon myself to apply the Gospel to my life every day.  CJ Mahaney, in The Cross Centered Life, says it well,”If there’s anything in life we should be passionate about, it’s the gospel. And I don’t mean passionate only about sharing it with others; I mean passionate in thinking about the gospel, reflecting upon it, rejoicing in it, allowing it to color the way we look at the world and all of life” (15).

4.  Our group leaders need to take it upon themselves to ask difficult questions that drive their group back to the Gospel.  “How are you living out the Gospel today?  How are you more like Christ today than you were 12 months ago?  What part does the Gospel play in your everyday life?  What is the Gospel?  Why did Jesus have to die?  How is the truth that you are a sinner saved by grace affecting the way you parent your children, or love your spouse, or work at your job, or serve in your church?”

5.  Group leaders need to be reminded that they are the shepherd leaders of their group, and as such, should concern themselves greatly with the eternal state of the souls in their group.

Based on that, here are 5 things I resolve to do:

1.  I will not give up on people.

2.  I will create an atmosphere of openness and vulnerability in our groups.  It is only when group leaders, and group members, are open and honest about their struggles, that the more reluctant folks will feel the freedom to open up their lives, and the struggles they are facing.

3.  I will apply the Gospel to my life every day.  I need to preach to myself, reminding myself that I am a sinner saved by grace, that Christ died to free me from my sin, and that Satan wants to destroy the Gospel in my life.

4.  I will develop Gospel questions to put into group leaders hands that help them have intentional, Gospel-focused  discussions that are laid back enough that everybody feels comfortable asking even the most “simple” questions (though these tend to turn out to be some of the most profound questions).

5.  I will pray for all of my group leaders, that they will shepherd their group in a way that honors God and holds high the banner of the Gospel.

Are your groups structured so that basic Gospel questions and concerns can be brought to the table?  Or are you so laid back that the Gospel is never discussed?  Or are you so “holy” that you jump to “deeper” questions (as if there is anything more life-changing and “deeper” than the Gospel!)   Are you group leaders ready and willing to ask these questions?

Do you or your group leaders make the mistake of assuming that, just because a person is attending your church and frequents your small groups, he or she is saved?  How are you giving your group members the freedom to explore faith?

How are you living out the Gospel today?

 

Is your system working?

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.

 

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