Small Group Disciple Making

Posted in body of Christ, discipleship, small groups by Nathan Creitz on December 3, 2009

What is the most effective environment for making disciples?

Some answer that question by thinking in terms of location (home, church, coffee shop) or size (large groups, small groups, one-on-one).

However, if those were the only two qualities of an environment (location or size) I would have to say “it all depends”. Instead, I think it is important to consider the gifting and experiences of the one who is making disciples. If a person is called to preach then perhaps a large gathering is one in which the disciple maker excels. If the disciple maker is gifted in the area of hospitality, perhaps the home is the optimum environment. In other words, the most effective environment for making disciples is determined by the skills and temperament of the disciple maker.

Having said that, I think I can answer a similar question: “What is always an effective environment for making disciples? The short answer is “in a small group setting.” A smaller setting is ideal for the majority of Jesus’ followers to exercise their gifts and show love to one another. I would go so far as to say that every follower of Jesus should be involved in a small group.

“Are All Teachers?”
(see 1 Corinthians 12)

For one thing, not everyone in the church is called to preach. Not everyone is called to fulfill the apostolic vision of church planting. Not everyone is called to teach a Bible study. Not everyone is called to be involved in Christian counseling. These are all valid ministries in the church and can be useful in making disciples, but how will the majority of people become disciple makers? After all, Jesus didn’t say, “All who are in professional ministry, go and make disciples of every nation…” Instead, Jesus challenges all His followers to make disciples.

So what will be the context in which the majority of disciples will make disciples? Will it be in the pastor’s counseling office? in the pulpit? The majority of disciple makers will make disciples in their homes, around the table, in a coffee shop, or in the park. It will be informal, rather than formal. It will be organic rather than organized. Not all are called to teach, but all are called to love.

“The Proper Working of Each Individual Part…”
(see Ephesians 4)

The small group setting also allows for the deployment of the church members to love and serve one another. The hired ministers weren’t hired to do all the caring and loving and serving of the church, they were called by God to equip the members to do the caring and loving and serving of the church. Sure, they must model and train others and sometimes that is done in a formal way but the goal is to engage everyone to do the work of the kingdom.

In a small group there may be a facilitator or group leader, but through conversation and the sharing of life, each of the members becomes a disciple maker. One member is struggling with an important decision, the other group members help her think prayerfully and carefully about that decision. Another group member has suffered a tragic loss, the other group members know him well enough to know how to care for him in the way he needs to be cared for. One group member has a theological question, the other group members help her to think Biblically about that question and they provide insight into where she can turn to find answers.

No one person is the Bible Answer Man, or the Professional Counselor, or the Life Coach. Instead, everyone in the group is able to contribute in full recognition that the Holy Spirit is there with them and is guiding the times of discussion and listening and prayer.

“Jesus took the 12 disciples aside privately and said to them on the way…”
(see the Gospels)

Finally, as I have studied through the New Testament I have seen a compelling argument for all disciples to be involved in a small group: Jesus’ first and closest disciples were a part of a small group! Jesus spent much of His time investing in twelve men who shared life with Him. I wonder if the reason we don’t spend more time with a smaller group of people is because of an American Christianity that says a one hour service once a week is enough to show our commitment to God.

The point of Jesus’ small group was to equip a few people until they were ready to be deployed to take the Gospel to the rest of the world. He multiplied His ministry through His small group. He preached to the crowds and that laid some groundwork for the disciples to later become leaders of the church. He healed and comforted and cared for thousands of people, but if it hadn’t been for His small group, Jesus’ ministry would’ve died with Him on the cross. There would be nothing left behind to prepare the world for His Second Coming. When Jesus rose and appeared to His disciples He spent 40 more days training them. He even forgave Peter for his betrayal and re-instated him as a leader.

So, I may be called to preach, and I may have some counseling skills that I can use to make disciples, but I believe small group ministry is always an effective way that any disciple can be involved in making disciples.

Related Post:  The Call to Follow Jesus ::  Making Disciple-Making Disciples

4 Responses

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  1. Matt Harrell said, on December 3, 2009 at 11.10 pm

    Great post and *right* on topic with what we were discussing over at the MemberHub blog today.

  2. Will said, on December 4, 2009 at 2.57 pm

    Absolutely right, Nathan! As our church’s Director for Small Group Discipleship, I resonate well with what you’ve said. My goal is to have 110% of our church in a small group in 5 years.

    I don’t have that goal because I want people to think I’m a successful manager or promoter of small groups for their own sake. I have that goal because I think that small group settings are the absolute best place for life-on-life discipleship to happen.

  3. bjones said, on December 13, 2009 at 8.31 am

    Nathan, I really enjoy this post. However, I have a lot of things swirling in my head. If my response is too long, just delete it.

    1) I think that it is very possible that we (Christians) can all be using these same words, but meaning different things.
    2) I really don’t think that love was emphasized enough in your post. We really don’t have any idea what this means in context of small groups and church and life as a follower in general. (I am speaking generally as I know there are some who do)
    3) I think that it is possible that we have a different idea of preaching than Jesus did. I will break down my thoughts per section of your blog. This is why Google wave is going to be so helpful. We can reply right inside of the article!

    What is the most effective environment for making disciples?
    – an environment of love. this can’t be created. it has to be lived out by someone in the group exemplifying this in life and showing others areas in their lives where they are to be loving as well. We see ways Jesus discipled his people, and then at the last supper, he says that he will show them the FULL EXTENT OF HIS LOVE (more to come on this)

    “Are All Teachers? – we have to be careful here. though we are all not gifted in teaching, I think that we are all called to be teachers. Paul said “follow me as I follow Christ”. Jesus said to follow him. If we are to make disciples, we are calling people to follow us in our walk with Christ. Our goal is to teach them (through our lives) how to follow Christ in their’s. Thus, making us to some degree…teachers. This is a responsibility that we all share, but we don’t all feel the weight of this like we should.

    “The Proper Working of Each Individual Part
    – I agree that we are able to help each other best in community, using the gifts of all involved parties. There are several layers to discipleship here though. 1) we are able to see how the disciples are getting deeper truths by how they treat each other in community. The things that you describe are great if they are happening in community. The problem is that most of the time this doesn’t happen in our small groups. If people aren’t treating each other in love then we can be more aware of how to disciple the “individuals”. 2) this leads to the greater problem. We often treat small groups like a church service in that this may be the only time we are together. Love cannot truly happen without living life together. In our culture this is almost impossible. We must search the Scriptures to see what love costs. This CANNOT even be done in small groups alone. We (those calling people to disciple) have to learn the full extent of love in order to give the full extent of love.

    Without working in our small groups toward love…hard, sacrificial, bearing with one another, dying for others…complete sacrificial love, then our small groups won’t be able to grow more deeply either.

    Nathan, I have a boatload of friends in ministry (like you). Almost all of them have said (whether in mega churches or small house churches) that the problem is getting people to the depths of discipleship…LOVE. Small groups don’t do it, big church doesn’t do it. ONLY an example of LOVE does it. But we don’t like this because its long and its treacherous and it COST SO MUCH! No venue will work without working toward understanding and living love. Then, all the parts (our gifts) will make sense in family (community).

    “Jesus took the 12 disciples aside privately and said to them on the way…”
    – I wonder if we have a misunderstanding of preaching. I never see examples of Jesus preaching exegetically. I never see examples of a prepared sermon that he delivered. They are almost spontaneous, flowing out of his life and into the lives of whomever he was speaking to. And sometimes, people left because of what he was saying. It seems as if he found arenas where those who were not followers were congregated and used those moments to preach (the Gospel), and used more intimate times with followers for teaching through discipleship relationships. I am still working through this. But we spend the majority of our time and money on 1 hour a week.

    Most of this goes to our corporate view of leadership and how we apply that to Scriptures. This is almost another topic, but I do believe that how we view and live all of these things go into not only “how” we do church, but how we live the life as a follower of Jesus as well.

    Sorry, so long. Please let me know your thoughts.

  4. Allan Svensson said, on February 19, 2010 at 7.37 am

    I found your Web Site by Google
    And I wish you the best you can get,
    the peace of God through Jesus Christ.

    Welcome to visit my Site.
    Allan Svensson, Sweden

    Most Christians have not yet begun to prepare
    for Jesus’ coming. They can speak and write
    about Jesus’ coming, and about the signs of the
    time, yet they do not make any preparation to
    meet Jesus. How can we make a preparation?
    In the first hand God’s people must get the
    knowledge of the Assembly of God. The
    truth of the Assembly of God has never been
    peached in the churches.

    People have a sort of love and fellowship that
    does not endure the light of God’s word. When
    we mention something about churches and
    denominations, and compare with what the Bible
    teaches about the Assembly of God, then a
    remarkable phenomenon appears. Many Christians
    become afraid and nervous and point out that we
    shall love the assembly and not judge and criticize.
    But what is it that they apprehend as criticism?
    It is God’s word!

    Just these Christians who have prayed for revival
    during many years, they are the worst opponents
    against revival. They do not endure the light of
    God’s word. They do not want to hear the truth of
    the Assembly of God. They think that the
    Pentecostal churches and other free churches
    are Assemblies of God.

    They believe that the Assembly of God is constituted
    of church systems and many religious organizations.
    Can you anywhere in the Bible find any hint that the
    Assembly of God is an organized movement or any
    church system?

    In the time of the apostles any church did not exist, and
    therefore the word “church” does not occur in the Bible.
    Everywhere in your English Bible where you see the word
    “church” it is a grave translation error. Also Matt. 16:18.
    It ought to be “assembly”.

    In the reality, the word “church” occurs not at all in the Bible.
    I have five Bible translations in Swedish, (the oldest from
    1703). Nowhere in these Bibles does the word “church”
    (kyrka) occur. I have also a reference book where the New
    Testament is translated word by word from Greek to Swedish.
    Everywhere they translate the Greek word “ekklesia” to
    församling (assembly).

    Perhaps you want to raise the objection, there are many
    bible translations in English which all have the word “church”.
    This is a very stupid argument. A translation error does not
    become better of repeating. A lie is a lie no matter how many
    time it be repeated.

    In Col. 1:18 (KJV) we can read: “And he (Christ) is the head
    of the body, the church …” And in Eph. 5:23-24, “For the
    husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of
    the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the
    church is subject unto Christ…”

    This is a lie! The church is not subjected unto Christ. The
    head of the Church is the pope, the black pope, and the devil.
    The Bible translators do not make a difference between God’s
    true people and Satan’s Church. From the Church’s deeds we
    shall know the Church. Matt. 7:15-20. By their fruit we shall
    recognize the false priesthood. The Catholic Church has
    persecuted, tortured and murdered many millions of Christians.
    This is a well-known fact. How could a good tree bear such
    an evil fruit?

    Why did the Bible translators use the same word “church” also
    for God’s people, the Body of Christ? Why did not they see the
    difference between the murderer and the victims for the
    murderer? The first Christians were no church. Calling the
    first Christians “the first church” is a grave insult against these
    Christians. The Church is a mass murderer. The devil is the
    real church father.

    If we use the same name “church” on the murderer as on the
    victims for the murderer, how then can we know what that
    means when someone says “church”?

    Right since the great falling away took place a very long
    time ago and the first churches came into existence,
    2 Thess. 2:3, God’s people have lived in slavery under
    Satan’s churches and denominations. The churches have
    all the time served the devil, but pretend to be God’s
    servants and representatives. The churches have never
    been any God’s assemblies or God’s temples. They have
    already from their beginning been harlot beings. They
    are born through religious fornication. People have
    mixed God’s word with doctrines of evil spirits, and so
    new churches appear.

    Jesus cannot come today because God’s people are not ready

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    A catastrophic course

    The restoration of the Assembly of God
    after the great falling away

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