1. Frank has since moved on to become the Senior Pastor of Hope Summit Christian Church in Rochester, Minnesota. As I knew he would, he’s doing an outstanding job leading that congregation in growth and maturity.
2. I condensed my blog comments into an article that was later published by The Christian Standard Magazine. As an indication of how much people care about this subject, Editor Mark Taylor tells me it has become the most read and discussed article they’ve had in recent memory.
3. I hired Alyssa Dourte to become our small groups pastor after Frank’s departure. Alyssa is a gifted leader who came up from within CCV. While having had no paid ministry staff experience or theological training beforehand, she has emerged as a gifted pastor who has helped CCV’s groups flourish, more than doubling their number and expanding their influence.
Overall I would say two clear things have happened in the years after this discussion.
5 Discipleship Convictions Solidified
In the last five years some core convictions regarding the process of discipleship have been solidified.
1. It takes time to create a disciple.
Not in the commonly promoted annual “small group” life-cycle time-frame, but years. 5 years. 10 years sometimes. Just about every person that likes small groups talks about a group where they grew to become a disciple, years ago. And that’s a key issue – discipleship takes YEARS. Where we miss the mark is in thinking, “It took Jesus 3 years to make disciples, so that’s a good bench mark.” Really?
2. 99.99999999% of the time it takes separating men and women.
I don’t know what it is, but I can lead a group of men to serious levels of intimacy and sharing, but sprinkle a little estrogen in the room and its right back to talking about football and work. Women tell me it’s the same way. Discipleship can occur with mixed groups, but it’s rare. Actually, I take that back. I have never seen an instance where guys open up and talk about their deep personal struggles to obey Jesus’ teachings with women in the room.
3. It takes a very, very small group.
Small group practitioners make the mistake of “modeling” their small group leader-to-attendee ratios on a flawed model – Jesus. Jesus had 12 disciples, not because that’s the ideal ratio for disciple-making, but because, as most scholars believe, he was making a statement about the apostles, the twelve tribes, and a new Israel. If you’re looking for a more realistic model, the inner circle of Peter, James and John is as good as any.
4. It takes a genuine disciple.
According to Matthew 28:18-20, discipleship is not about teaching people Jesus’ teachings, but teaching people how to obey Jesus’ teachings. In fact, that’s probably the simplest definition of a disciple I can give:
A disciple is someone who knows and obeys Jesus and his teachings.
Who cares if someone can lead a small group discussion on worry? People become disciples in the presence of someone who can teach them how to stop worrying, from experience, by the power of Jesus. The argument most people make against small groups is flawed. The problem with small groups isn’t that they pool the group’s collective ignorance; it’s that they pool the group’s collective disobedience.
5. “Group time” must be balanced with “out there” missional time.
If we know anything about Jesus its that (1) he spent time with his disciples alone and (2) they followed him into situations where they watched him heal, teach, rebuke, serve and love. My experience confirms that an added dimension of growth occurs when those being discipled are encouraged to go “out into the wild” and “actually do what Jesus did.”
How CCV Connects Group Life To Discipleship
In the last five years here’s how we’ve connected our existing small group ministry to the purpose of discipleship.
1. First we acknowledge (as Frank’s excellent article pointed out) that groups serve a whole host of amazing functions outside of discipleship. For that reason alone they have been worth further expanding.
2. We have begun to view groups not so much the “end all” for creating discipleship, but the springboard for creating discipleship opportunities. Maybe it’s the East Coast, but because people are so transient and naturally cautious, I don’t know if discipleship would ever occur at CCV on a wide-scale basis if groups didn’t exist. To use an architectural analogy, groups are like the front porch where people can meet in a non-threatening way. Once connected, the Holy Spirit can lead people he has brought together to the family room for deeper conversation. And eventually to the back deck for quality one on one time “out there.”
3. We have made the conscious decision to cast the vision for each group at CCV to balance “group time” with “out there doing ministry” missional time. To facilitate that we’ve created bi-annual community-wide “Servefests” where we as a church bring hope and healing to our region by going out and showing God’s love in a practical way. Our goal is to get each group at CCV to not only serve as a group, but continue serving as a group well after “Servefest” has ended. This approach has been wildly successful.
4. Alyssa and our group leaders have done a great job synthesizing our convictions regarding discipleship and our existing small group structure by re-envisioning three progressive types of groups whereby someone is taken from being a casual attender to a fully devoted follower.
Connection Groups – focus on friendships, common interests and social activities. The whole point of these is to get people connected. These are your basketball group nights, etc.
Growth Groups – focus on spiritual growth, Bible study, friendship and service projects. These are what you would consider your typical small groups, but with an added, on-going missional service component.
Discipleship Groups – focus on accountability, overcoming sin and addiction, concentrated memorization of scripture, and replication. These can exist under the umbrella of a growth group, but that’s not a requirement by any stretch.
5. Up to this point all we’ve had time to really implement are Connection Groups and Growth Groups. That obviously doesn’t mean Discipleship Groups aren’t present. They’re everywhere. It just means its going to take some time to get to the point where we can launch and replicate them with excellence. That’s going to be a priority for us going forward. Everyone needs the chance to be discipled, and to disciple others.
So that’s it. Not too earth-shattering. But that’s where we are.
First, I believe in people, not models. People disciple people, not groups, classes, events, retreats, etc. Skin on skin. Life on life. Tears on tears. And from our group leaders to Alyssa, I am so privileged to work alongside such a remarkably humble and passionate group of people.
Second, if there are any shortcomings in what we’re doing, then look no further than yours truly. Because as any leader knows, if something’s not working, you’ll find the problem in the closest mirror.
Thanks for joining this ongoing discussion.
Anything else to add?