In the past few weeks my wife and I have made the decision to start another church in the Boston area. We have been thinking through what form or expression this new church should take and we’ve come to the conclusion that it won’t be the house church model.
So what is wrong with a house church?
The house church model is one of many church plant models. I believe the creativity and variety that God gives us as we make disciples and start churches is a strength of God’s kingdom. House churches can be effective and can perform biblical functions of fellowship, worship, and disciple-making just like other sorts of new churches can.
I hold the house church movement in high esteem, not just because some people do them well but also because I have friends who are starting house churches and I believe God is using them in a powerful way. But, in addition to all of this love sauce that I’m pouring on the house church movement, I want to go one further: I am in total agreement with everything that the house church movement values. Values of community, authenticity, relevance, experiential faith, discipleship, etc. I even agree with the form that these values often take; that is, small gatherings and intimate settings where fellowship and discipleship can flourish. Let me go still further: I hope that our church plant will embody ALL of the positive values, forms, and expressions of the house church movement!
In short, I believe the house church movement is a valid model of church planting. I have tremendous respect for my friends in the house church movement. And, I hope our new church will embody all of the positive qualities that can be found in house churches. I should also say at this point that ANY model is subject to fail if the leadership doesn’t possess a high Christology and ecclessiology that is informed by God’s Word and God’s Spirit.
So what is missing?
I have a high regard for the house church movement, but I personally believe that something is missing. The piece that is missing is in how Jesus made disciples. I’ve accepted for years that Jesus made disciples by investing a considerable amount of time in a few men who would then go on to do the same. In that way, Jesus multiplied His own ministry. This is the discipleship model that I often hear from the house church movement. I always have a question mark floating around anytime I hear this discipleship model but I never knew how to ask the question.
Not too long ago, the question popped into my mind: “What about the seventy?” Jesus had been investing in His disciples and spending a lot of time teaching and healing the crowds and in Luke 10, Jesus appoints seventy people and sends them out in pairs “to every town and place where He Himself was about to go.” This passage immediately follows the discussion Jesus has with three would-be disciples that He turns away because He knows their hearts are not in it. In other words, it’s clear that these seventy people weren’t concerned about their own comfort or other worldly distractions. These were true disciples who would be sent out as lambs among wolves and who would rely on God’s provision for their daily needs. They were spiritual warriors to whom even the demons submitted.
Where did they come from? Jesus couldn’t have spent the same kind of time with each of these seventy people as He had with the Twelve! Instead, they must have come to Jesus and said, “I will follow You wherever You go!” just as the three would-be disciples did in Luke 9:57-62 and Jesus knew they were speaking the truth. We can conjecture that He did spend at least some time with each of them – maybe a conversation. We can also conjecture that they had heard Jesus teach and possibly been healed at His touch. In some way, their lives had come in contact with Jesus and now they would never be the same.
In other words, Jesus didn’t just make twelve disciples. There were hundreds of disciples. In fact, by the time Jesus dies and is resurrected and then ascends, the disciples get together in an upper room and there are 120 gathered together. That’s a HUGE house church!
Jesus made hundreds of disciples who were touched by Him and were taught by Him and He didn’t spend a considerable amount of time with each one personally. After the Spirit descended on Jesus’ followers, they began to speak the gospel with boldness and in one day the church grew to over 3,000 people! Again, that is a huge house church!
What does all this mean?
At one time in Jesus’ ministry, there were at least seventy committed disciples that Jesus knew He could trust to send out into the towns and advance the kingdom. These seventy came because Jesus was willing to engage the crowds and not just a few. That number grew exponentially, not incrementally. Jesus is the foundation of the church and the Spirit is the One that empowers the movement. If it were up to me and my few relationships, my town of 15,000 would never be reached. My conclusion, as I have been thinking about what it means to start a church is that I need to be relational (just like Jesus), but I also need to reach the masses and allow God to touch lives and draw them to Himself (just like Jesus).
I believe every new church leader has the desire to make disciples. I don’t question anyone’s motivation, but the purpose of this post is to think through our methods. Whatever method or model we use we must remember that every person deserves to hear the gospel! I will use whatever avenues at my disposal and that are contextually appropriate to advance God’s kingdom. I’m not saying that house church leaders don’t, I’m just explaining where I’m coming from.
Now it’s your turn. How has this prompted your thinking concerning church planting? Please be clear, this is not an attack on the house church movement. I am simply stating why we’ve made a personal decision not to plant house churches and some of the principles that led us to that decision. Thanks for your considerate response!
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.
I’ve created a poll on my linkedin profile that asks “what is the most effective environment for making disciples?”
Please go and vote, see what others are saying, and return here to share your thoughts.
I think a question church leaders need to be asking is, “What aspects of Jesus’ relationship with His twelve closest disciples were meant to be universal to all of Jesus’ disciples?”
We know that some things are probably going to be a bit different two thousand years later in our modern society. Most of us aren’t going to be asked to abandon our businesses, leave our families for months and even years on end to travel the dusty countryside and not know from one night to the next if we are going to be sleeping in a random person’s home or sleeping outside with a rock for a pillow.
On the other hand, in many of our churches today, the most that people are asked to commit to by church leaders is to attend a large gathering for one hour a week and tithe so that we can pay the light bill.
Radical discipleship for us today doesn’t really look like either of the above scenarios. We often consider the relationship that Peter, James and John had with Jesus, but we forget about Lazarus, Mary, Martha, Bartimaeus, Susanna and Joanna. These were men and women whose lives were transformed by their encounter with Jesus but it didn’t compel them to be with Jesus every minute of the day. More importantly, it didn’t compel Jesus to ask them to have the same relationship with Him that the Twelve had. In other words, they weren’t invited to spend the next 2 or 3 years wandering around with Jesus.
Of course, church leaders today aren’t promoting that sort of commitment anyway. Today, it is more common to bend to the lowest common denominator. A weekly service, a challenge to give to the church and to the needy, a 15 minute quiet time, and be a good father, mother, husband, wife, and don’t cheat on your taxes. We don’t do too good a job asking people to go deeper in their commitment because we don’t really know what that means.
So what was it about Jesus’ relationship with His twelve closest followers that we are meant to continue today? When Jesus prayed for His disciples in John 17, He asks the Father that He protect them (from stumbling?) “so that they may be one as We are one.” Then, for all disciples, He prays the same thing: “May they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You. May they also be one in Us, so the world may believe You sent Me.” (17:21) A relationship with God and with each other takes time. It takes sacrifice. It takes love. Certainly, in my marriage, I don’t leave it at one hour a week. Relationships take effort and we are asking way too little if all we are asking is a couple of hours a week.
But relationships aren’t scripted either. That’s why we can’t say that a disciple is more committed if she shows up at the church building 10 hours a week rather than 3 hours a week. We need to help people “practice the presence of God” and show a willingness to get together with other believers. Invite a couple over for dinner. Meet someone for coffee. Volunteer together at the homeless shelter. Gather for Bible study and prayer at someone’s home. Be consistent. Be available. Do it because you love your family and want to know how to pray for them.
The universal call to discipleship may not look exactly like the Twelve, but it is every bit as radical and transformational. It affects how we work, how we play, and how we live. For some, it may involve more time than we are currently giving, but for others it may simply be the quality of time spent that needs to change. The most important thing is that we are in relationship with God and with the Body and Jesus prayed that we would all be One. Oneness won’t happen with the back of someone’s head, it happens face to face.
Spiritual discipline doesn’t sound very exciting. Many Christians shy away from the disciplines because it sounds like work at best and legalism at worst. However, spiritual discipline is simply a name for the spiritual habits that a true follower of Jesus forms as he or she becomes more like Him. We want to follow Jesus and we know that He meditated on Scripture, spent time in prayer, and shared the Gospel with others, just to name a few. There are other disciplines that we can glean from the Bible that are important to consider as well.
But for the most part, these disciplines go neglected by the majority of church attenders. Does that make their Christianity suspect? No, it probably means that no one helped them to see the positive aspect of a disciplined life of faith. When we form regular habits, we need accountability. It’s the same thing when we form spiritual habits.
As a child I learned that I needed to brush my teeth, make my bed, not eat dirt, etc. No one would think my parents unfair or cruel for making me obey. Those were habits that my parents helped me form when I was a child. The disciplines are habits and we need help forming them in our lives. Not too many people have the inherent motivation to form a strong habit for themselves. As a child we had our parents help in showing us the habits that needed to be formed and the habits that needed to be broken. In our spiritual habits, we have the Body of Christ to help us but it takes initiative and responsibility on our part to come alongside immature believers and help them move toward spiritual maturity.
Pastors play a large role in equipping the saints and part of the equipping process should be the formation and spiritual growth of new believers. In order to be effective at fostering a Biblical understanding of the disciplines, the church leaders should first of all teach about them in a positive way. Secondly, leaders should model the disciplines and coach others in the process. Third, we should encourage accountability and fellowship in the Body so that there is a consistent venue for people to talk about their progress or lack thereof in a safe and open setting. Finally, we need to talk about the perils of not engaging in the disciplines. Dallas Willard talks about the cost of NONdiscipleship (rather than Bonhoeffer’s ‘Cost of Discipleship’). When we reject the foundational habits and activities of the Bible, we forsake the abundant life that Jesus has promised us.
So, we need to talk about spiritual disciplines, model them, hold people accountable to do them, and contrast the difference between a disciplined and an undisciplined spiritual life so that people can understand that these are not legalistic endeavors, but that they are helpful and fulfilling as we diligently follow our Master.
Today is September 9th, 2009 and leadnet.org is doing a great all day online conference for church leaders. They asked these globally recognized leaders the following question: “If you had 9 minutes to address thousands of church leaders what is the one issue you would want to impart to them.”
Well, I’m not a globally recognized church leader, and thousands of people won’t be watching my video, but I felt inspired to share my own thoughts. Some of it is based on my previous post about Making Disciple-Making Disciples, but it is from a passion to see us accomplish the mission Jesus set out for us to do.
The question I’m asking in my video is: “Are you as a church leader involved in making disciples?”
Please pass this video on to other church leaders if you find it helpful.
Making disciple-making disciples (or making DMD’s) seems rather redundant. Yet, in practice, very few are doing it. Making DMD’s is what Jesus told us to do in Matthew 28:18-20. Instead, many church leaders interpret the commission to “make disciples” in one of two ways. Some “make disciples” by making converts and then telling them to attend a church service. Others gather converts together and attempt to “go deeper” but place no emphasis on being a witness to their neighbor. This is the danger of separating evangelism and discipleship. The former is engaged in evangelism, the latter is engaged in what he or she believes to be discipleship.
Discipleship Training or Transforming Disciples?
Our “discipleship training” has become merely a class or a Bible study that helps us grow in our knowledge about God but it doesn’t always encourage us to live for God. Making DMD’s is a much more robust commitment to the spiritual transformation of another. When Jesus told His disciples to go and make disciples, He was literally telling them to make disciple-making disciples. Just as He invested in them, now they were to invest in others.
Matthew 28:20 says to teach the disciples to obey (or “observe”) all that Jesus commanded. Paul reminds us of this concept in 2 Timothy 2:2 which says, “And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” Of course, this is not the definition of what it means to make disciples because Paul is only talking about teaching “what you have heard”.
Making DMD’s isn’t just about teaching, it’s about a lifestyle that invites others into your life. In 1 Corinthians 11:1 Paul says, “Be imitators of me, as I also am of Christ.” This goes beyond the important teaching aspect to the equally important but much more vulnerable lifestyle of making disciples. Sermons, seminars, and classes need to be extra-curricular to the more risky and time consuming core curriculum of modeling a transformed life in front of others.
So what does it mean to “make disciple-making disciples”? The point of stating it redundantly is to emphasize the necessity of reproducibility. Disciples make more disciples but non-disciples don’t make disciples. But understanding what making DMDs is all about is like trying to explain swimming to someone who has never been in a pool of water. The best way to do it is to jump in and splash around. There are some principles and theories about how to do it but if you understand that the goal is to make disciples who will then make more disciples there is at least more motive for making DMDs in the first place.
Once you have the motivation for reproducible disciple making, the how-to becomes clearer. For example, in order for discipleship to be reproducible it can’t be specialized. The leadership training and scholarship of a seminary student is important and certainly plays a role in the body of Christ but it can’t really be referred to as disciple making. Making DMDs is much broader and less specialized. It should be universal to all followers of Jesus. There is no dichotomy between Christians and disciples. Instead, all who desire to follow Jesus will be compelled internally to share Jesus with others; mostly for their love for Him, but also because He commanded it. Anyone unwilling to make disciples as Jesus commanded cannot truthfully consider himself a disciple.
Being a seminary student or a pastor or any other church leader doesn’t automatically mean you are a DMD. Stated in another way, seminary students need to not only engage in their seminary studies, but also need to engage in those activities that are universal to all followers of Jesus. The same goes for pastors and other church leaders. This is just one example of what can be gleaned by understanding that the goal of disciple making is reproducibility. We haven’t defined what making DMD means, we’ve just narrowed it down by shaving off what it is not. Not everyone calling themselves Christian is truly making disciples.
It could be said at this point that making disciple-making disciples should be the goal of all disciple making activity. It should further be stated that it is the responsibility of all followers of Jesus to be involved in making DMDs. The seminary student might happen to be studying Greek and translating passages of Scripture (a worthy and important activity) but she must also be involved in making DMDs. An Administrative Pastor might be responsible for the finances and logistics of a church but he must also be involved in making DMDs. A musician might do her best to learn the guitar and play it well for God’s glory but she must also make DMDs.
These should all be true much like it is also true that a business person or a stay-at-home mom or a consultant must make DMDs if he or she desires to follow Jesus. For some reason, though, our church leaders aren’t even involved in this most fundamental activity in the Kingdom. Jesus told His disciples to make disciples, it follows then, that to follow Jesus we will also make disciples and equip them to make disciples. Those first disciples did what He commanded and that has been the method God has used to advance His Kingdom for nearly 2,000 years.
Making DMDs goes beyond calling people to the least common denominator of devotion. Jesus’ call was to radical commitment, so why do we call people to a fraction of that commitment? Worse: why do we as church leaders often model a fraction of the devotion and commitment that should be inherent in the life of any Jesus follower. It’s like we’re selling life insurance rather than showing someone how to live the transformed, vibrant, abundant life that Jesus offers. Jesus doesn’t offer life insurance, He offers a new life. Making disciple-making disciples is about calling people to live that radical new life and walk along the Way with Jesus while simultaneously inviting others to walk alongside.
Jeremy is a pastor in Jackson, Michigan and he blogs at jeremyhoover.com. He writes most often about progressive faith and the intersections between faith, culture, and politics. Jeremy and I got connected through conversations on Twitter. Through 140 character conversations or less we found that we sometimes disagree on minor points but often are fighting for the same thing: relevant and authentic followers of Jesus. It has been a productive and ongoing conversation so I’ve asked him to write a guest post here at ChurchETHOS for your benefit:
My thinking about the topic of following Jesus led to the first real conversation Nathan and I had on Twitter, so I’m thankful for it. I’m also thankful we grow spiritually by a variety of practices. But I’m always afraid of an overemphasis on what I call “Checklist Christianity.” “Checklist Christianity” is that form of religion that teaches, either directly or indirectly, that our spiritual growth, or even our worth as a Christian, is tied up in what we do. Specifically, the more bible studies you attend, the more extra-curricular “Christian” activities you are involved in, the more you read your bible and pray on your own, the more you are growing spiritually.
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the forms of Christianity that we teach in the church. Perhaps I’ve given something away even in my description because if the emphasis in “church” is on “teaching” then the primary intent of our form is information transmission. This doesn’t mean we don’t connect with people and other things aren’t done; just that we view the primary reason for gathering as transmitting information about the bible.
The idea is this: The more you know about the bible, the more you will be equipped to live a Christian life. But the result is often very different from this.
I know Christians who have sat through more than 4,000 bible studies and sermons in their lives but who are no different today than they were a decade ago. I know Christian men who have sat through this same number of bible studies but couldn’t teach one even if their life depended on it!
This gives the appearance of the activity itself adding value. Instead, value should come from the transformative change that should occur through the activity.
So there is a clear disconnect (for me, at least) between how much and how often biblical information is transmitted…and how it is received. Instead, the activity serves as a checklist that, once checked off, indicates to us that we have “done our duty.” But the result is far worse: we have fooled ourselves into thinking that spiritual growth is about accomplishing things rather than being changed.
Being a Christian is about following Jesus. It seems to me, then, that a good barometer of our success would be in how well we follow him. Checking things off a list will never bring us close to Jesus, but actually following him, his teaching, and his example, will.
Jesus said, “I did not come to be served, but to serve” (Matt. 20:28). We are called to be followers of Jesus. A follower, well, follows! So we should be doing the same things Jesus did.
But when we treat our Christianity as a checklist rather than as a relationship we view our relationship with God not as a true relationship but as a list of things we must do or a set of requirements we need to fulfill. We wait for others to take the initiative. We don’t connect with each other away from the church building because it’s not on our list.
If Jesus did not seek to be served by others, why do many of us? Why do we criticize the minister or someone else for not visiting us when we never bothered to pick up the phone or make an appointment to spend time with someone else?
Jesus served others. He added value to the lives of others. The best question we can ask ourselves is not how we can fill a building with people, or how we can get others to do what we want them to do, or how we can make sure the minister “does his job.”
The best question we can ask ourselves, to be a true follower of Jesus, is:
Who can I love right now? And how?
That’s what it means to follow Jesus.
Most Christians in America are overwhelmed.
The typical Christian in America works 50+ hours per week and sleeps about 50 hours per week. That leaves about 68 hours to spend on everything else: family, friends, hobbies, exercise, cooking, eating, housework, watching TV, playing video games, homework, lectures, and – oh yeah – God.
Our culture is on the move. A typical church attending Christian doesn’t want to spend more than an hour on Sunday spending time with other believers. In fact, many Christians have the perception that they go to church instead of recognizing that they are the church. As a result, church has become a place rather than a people, an hour rather than an identity, and an obligation rather than a privilege. The Christian begins to view their responsibility to church as the minimum set of requirements necessary to be considered a “regular”.
There are a lot of ways we can simplify our lives so that we can spend more time with other members of the church. I want to explore that in more detail in a forthcoming post entitled A Gathering Church. Meanwhile, how are we to perceive our role in the world?
#Should there be a secular vs. sacred dichotomy in our minds?
#Should we feel guilty if 95% of our time is spent in the world and only 5% is spent in “sacred” activities?
#How can we move from “regular attender” to become a faithful follower of Jesus (regardless of how much or how little time we spend in a church building)?
#How can we be the church when we aren’t with the church?
I’m Glad You Asked
Too many Christians are not asking those questions. If you are one of the few who is genuinely asking questions like these then you are on the path of a disciple. You are learning what it takes to truly follow Jesus. Keep asking those questions and others like them. Now let me see if I can provide some thoughts on the matter.
A church that merely packs out a church building for an hour each Sunday with regular attenders may look successful but is in fact disobedient to Christ. If the leadership of a church isn’t calling its members to costly discipleship then it is ignoring one of the most central teachings of Christ. We aren’t called make converts or church attenders, we are called to make disciples. But where do we look for new recruits (so to speak)?
A Church on the Move
In the Matthean Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), Jesus tells his followers, “As you are going, make disciples…” Every pastor has pointed out this nuance that “Go” is not the command because it is a participle and it means “as you are going”. In other words, this isn’t new stuff but it is a very important point: “Make disciples” is the command. Jesus commands his church to be on the move. It’s hard to escape from the busy pace of the American lifestyle, so let’s take advantage of the fact that much of our day is spent with unbelievers.
We are on the move because we are Americans and we are the church because we are Christians. So, as we go about our daily activities, let’s keep in mind that we are ambassadors for the kingdom of God. It’s kind of silly to think that we would try and be ambassadors only when we are in the walls of a church building during “holy hour”. America doesn’t send out ambassadors to America, they send ambassadors to places and people that need to hear the message we have to communicate. In the kingdom of God, our role in the world is to go to the people that need to hear God’s message of love and truth. We are going anyway (job, gym, restaurant, store, etc), so why not fulfill Christ’s commands “as you are going”?
Following Jesus 9 to 5
I once waded through every single verse in the gospel of Mark to determine where Jesus spent his time. Jesus spent most of his time on the seashore and in the marketplace with business people. Coming in as second to spending time with business people, Jesus spent his time with his disciples. Then, Jesus spent time in homes, and finally he spent time in the temple complex. So, in order of importance Jesus spent most of his time in the marketplace, then with his disciples, then in homes, and finally in the temple complex. Jesus made disciples as he was going.
We are called to be the church, not just when we are with other believers, but significantly we are called to be the church when we are not with other believers. It’s easy being the church with like-minded friends, but discipleship wasn’t the easiest thing in the world for Jesus’ original Twelve was it? We don’t just choose to be disciples when it’s easy for us. Peter and John said they considered it a privilege to suffer shame for the name of Jesus. (Acts 5:41) Suffering was one of the core values of the early church. We will never experience the kind of suffering of the first disciples, so can we not have enough boldness to share with a co-worker or a friend about our relationship with Jesus?
We freely talk about our spouse, our children, our pets, our hobbies, and our interests, but not about our God?!
The reason God never comes up in conversation is because we have misplaced priorities. Our job is something that is of absolute necessity so that we can pay the bills and eat meals. We forget that we are a child of the King. He is the source of our needs and He has placed us in our jobs and in our circles of friends to share God’s love with others. That is why we are employed: not to make money but to make disciples. Rather than view the workplace as a mission field for making disciples, too many Christians just try to get through the day so they can collect their paycheck and go home, never thinking about what “as you are going, make disciples…” might mean for their lives.
The church needs to develop the habit of calling its members to follow Jesus. Our leaders are often not willing to challenge the church to go beyond regular attendance at worship gatherings. Success for a church is not in filling a building on a weekly basis. Success is determined by how many lives are being transformed. It’s about quality not quantity, depth not width. Followers of Jesus recognize that church gatherings are pointless if the church is never going. But when the church is a going church, the church gatherings are that much better!
Related Post: My Top Concerns for the Local Church
I hate trying to figure out titles for church related ministries. It’s not always necessary. Titles tend to confine a person or organization into a narrowed definition. On the other hand, “small group ministry” as a title is merely descriptive and doesn’t tell you anything about the goals and purpose of the groups.
Description or Purpose?
In my previous church we used the term “community groups” to indicate that we were hoping to foster community by being intentional about meeting together with a small group of people. Not bad. There are “fellowship groups”, “life groups”, “home groups” and “Bible-study groups”. These titles tend to intentionally or unintentionally, for better or worse, confine your group to focus on fellowship or on life or on homes or on the Bible.
Some of those titles are descriptive, others have to do with the purpose of the group. A home group simply indicates that the group meets in a home. A life group indicates that the group wants to learn how to live life together as followers of Jesus. You get the idea. Each title gives a description or a purpose to the group. There is nothing wrong with any of these terms. The problem is choosing one.
Jesus’ Small Group Ministry
So, I’ve been asking myself a question: What do we call the “small group” of people that Jesus led? We usually call them the Disciples. Well, that small group has gotten to be pretty large as all of us who follow Christ are disciples. That’s good to remember when we encourage small group leaders to foster growth in their groups. “The Disciples” is a good term because it tells us who they are and the purpose for which they are together is presumably for discipleship.
The Disciples were also called The Twelve. Twelve is a descriptive term that merely reflects that this close-knit group was, in fact, small. It wouldn’t do to call our small groups “The Twelve”. Like, “I’m going to go hang out with the Twelve tonight.” Especially if your group actually consists of nine members. A descriptive term merely describes reality. That’s why “small group” is a basic term that is functional and helpful even though people will say, “But ‘small group’ isn’t in the Bible” or “That sounds so formal.” Fine, it’s got its pros and cons but it doesn’t hurt anything to refer to gatherings of a small group of people as small groups.
My Favorite Names for Groups
Anyway, all of this reflection has led me to rank these names for small groups in order of personal preference:
1. Discipleship Groups (81% satisfaction) – It’s descriptive, it indicates the purpose of the group but it also reminds us of who we are: disciples. I’m basing this group name on my reflection of the question “What do we call the small group that Jesus led?” I think this is my new favorite name for small groups.
2. Life Groups (74% satisfaction) – I think Life Groups is a pretty good name. A healthy small groups ministry will be encouraging people to not only believe but to live the Truth. It’s important for us to put our faith in action. If Christians were living the life they were supposed to our country and our world would be a different place. A small group is a warm and loving environment where faithful followers of Jesus are incubated to maturity.
3. Absolutely No Name (58% satisfaction) – There would be some benefit to going completely organic and going out of our way not to give these gatherings a name. The problem here is that if we are too loose and eschew any sense of order and structure then that’s exactly what we will get. No definitions, no values, no set times, no stated purpose, etc. = perish. The Laws of Entropy apply even to our church and our small groups. As many people have noted before me; structure is like the fireplace and the Spirit is the fire. No one is trying to suggest that the success of any group has to do exclusively with what it’s called or with it’s vision statement. Still, there is some value to intentionally going with no names…it just doesn’t go in the bulletin very well. I tend towards less structure but I value a sense of guidance and organization here and there.
What does your church use to describe or give purpose to your small groups? What are the limitations to giving groups of people some sort of name? What are the benefits?