Dear Church Leader,
If discipleship is boring to you it will be boring to those following your leadership. While nobody would openly confess this to be the case in their own context, it is an all too common occurrence in our modern church era. This is an unfortunate outcome given Jesus’ charge in Matthew 28:19 to “go and make disciples.”
The church needs to re-imagine discipleship. We have done this in other dimensions and reaped a bumper crop of fruit as a result. Decades back, we re-imagined worship and created new music, new styles and new expressions that have ignited a global passion for seeking God across the body of Christ. As our culture has changed, we have always adapted our strategies when it comes to outreach and evangelism in order to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ to those who need it the most. We have even re-imagined weekend services in recent times with unconventional meeting times, multi-site paradigms, video-venues and online services as well.
We need to take the same type of bold thinking when it comes to building kingdom circles of spiritual formation. Not only do we need to be more flexible to experiment with new methods ourselves, we need to be inspiring and empowering God’s people to do the same.
Wikipedia shares the following description of an entrepreneur: A person who starts, organizes and manages any enterprise… usually with considerable initiative and risk. Too many times discipleship programs fall into management modes of maintenance with high levels of predictability that impact that same group of people over and over again. From a secular perspective, entrepreneurs are filled with enthusiasm about creating something new that unleashes fresh opportunities for profitability. I believe the church should be hungrier for the harvest than the world is for money.
Here are Four Attributes of a Discipleship Entrepreneur…
1. Hunger to launch new locations. A discipleship entrepreneur is always looking to the horizon for new opportunities to expand the kingdom into new territory. When Jesus sent out the twelve in Luke 9 and the seventy in Luke 10, one of the first things He commanded them to do was to find a home that would receive His kingdom message. He wasn’t just sending the apostles on a preaching circuit, He was launching new home-based discipleship communities that would sustain the spiritual renewal that was about to be released in the region.
Discipleship becomes stale in churches when there’s no hunger to launch new discipleship settings. As I mentioned already, we have tapped into this mindset with our weekend worship services and it’s time to do the same for disciple-making as well.
2. Resourcefulness and Creativity. Discipleship settings need to be fellowship-friendly to foster healthy relationships. While I believe they work best in a home, we need to keep thinking outside of the box. I have seen discipleship entrepreneurs start groups in grocery stores, break rooms, military bases, government offices, libraries and more.
I recently started an early morning men’s group at a Starbucks and have been able to access new relationships that I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.
I had a close friend ask his Jewish boss if he could lead a Bible study in the staff conference room during lunch. Not only did he get approval, that group grew and multiplied and he got approval to have a second one in the same room on a different day of the week. People were getting saved, healed and transformed at their place of work.
3. Innovating through Technology. Advances in web-based platforms and digital video have given more options than we’ve ever had before and yet the majority of the churches today are still approaching discipleship with old, traditional methods.
I can send video-content to group members’ phones before we meet for Bible study and prayer. I can meet with them via video in front of my laptop from anywhere in the world if I want to as well. I can resource my groups hosts and directors on multiple channels of communication in very affordable ways.
Remember, Jesus was the most unconventional spiritual leader the Jews had ever seen. Modern advancements present us with untapped alternatives as well. The opportunity before us is epic…
4. Infectious Kingdom Vision. Jesus was constantly speaking vision and pushing His disciples out of their comfort zone. He majored on the words “go”, “sent”, “arise”, “call”, “new”, and “increase.” Successful entrepreneurs are similar. People are inspired to enlist themselves and join the movement. We need discipleship entrepreneurs who are intentional about attracting new leaders with a kingdom-mindset for growth and advancement.
Tommy Barnett said, “The message is sacred, not the method.” The message hasn’t changed. Jesus continues to call us to be hungry to become more like Him and embark on an adventure of transformation and mission together. The methods on how we do that though, can be re-imagined into new wineskins for a new day.
Are you a discipleship entrepreneur?
Thoughts? Questions? Comments? Feel free to leave them below…
Having a specific strategy when it comes to networking can immediately add value to our kingdom assignment. Without a strategy, though, you could find yourself wandering around aimlessly.
First off, I want to say that I personally believe that I can learn something from anybody. Anyone can sharpen me and help me grow. I try to maintain a diversity of backgrounds in my networking to keep my perspective well-rounded and balance.
With that in mind, I also use some guidelines when I’m trying to network for ministry growth. Here are few attributes I keep in mind when I’m trying to see my small group ministry breakthrough to another level…
Church and Groups Ministry Size. I look for churches and small group ministries that are one step ahead of me in numerical size. As I said before, I believe I can learn from smaller ministries and larger ministries, but I find it really helpful to glean from a ministry that has broken through to next level that I’m currently reaching for.
Sometimes there can be a tendency to only look to the largest churches for answers to our ministry questions. However, if I’m a groups pastor of 100 groups in a church of 1000 people, I believe I can learn more from a church of 1500-2000 people with 150-200 groups than I can from a church of 10,000 people with a 1000 groups. Why do I believe that? The church of 1500-2000 people is at the next level of numerical growth that I am specifically reaching for. If I can compare their leadership infrastructure, their equipping tactics and their level of excellence to our own ministry at my church, hopefully I can find some practical ideas that will help us increase our own kingdom potential.
Small Group Ministry Model. There about 10 different small group ministry models that churches use. Understanding the certain groups model a church has chosen in comparison to the groups model my church is using is a very important piece of information. It doesn’t need to be an identical model to our own necessarily, but I need to understand the similarities and differences. In some cases, it can be helpful to learn from a similar model in order to refine our current approach. In other situations, I might need to consider different models that would allow me to consider making necessary changes to what we’re doing.
Cultural Context. I also look for church leaders to network with that are working in a similar cultural context as I am. I work in a large city and highly populated region where people are busy. A lot of my church members commute to work 1-2 hours every day. Keeping that in mind, there are some ministry strategies that might work in a different cultural context that might not work in my own.
Church and small group size, ministry models and cultural context are dynamics I keep in mind when I do strategic kingdom networking.
Your network could be the key to your next harvest. Do you have a barrier that your groups ministry keeps hitting? Is there a specific problem that you’re having trouble solving? Have you leveraged your network in response to the resistance you’re experiencing?
In Luke 5:1-6, Peter and his fellow fishermen had been working hard all day and hadn’t caught any fish. Their efforts were fruitless and they had given up. Jesus said to Peter, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” As soon as Peter threw out his nets the Bible says they caught such a great number of fish that they had to signal to their partners in the other boat to help them with the massive haul.
The first step Peter had to make could be the first step you need to take in order to see a greater harvest in your ministry: Throw out your nets.
Take your obstacle, difficulty or barrenness and throw your network at it. Have a list of small group pastors’ emails and phone numbers that you can unleash on your problem.
This will require some humility and vulnerability on your part. Don’t be afraid to share with others what ministry struggles you are facing. Don’t be too prideful to admit you can use some help.
You will also need to ask a handful of direct questions. Be specific and ask a lot of them. The right question or questions can unlock the value of your network that you wouldn’t discover otherwise.
Lastly, you will need to be a generous contributor to your network as well. Before Peter’s epic catch the Bible says the fishermen were washing their nets. They didn’t neglect their nets but maintained them with attention and care. If you want to be a benefactor of your network, you will need to have a willing heart to add value to it and help others when you can. Don’t withhold your best ideas from your network in competition or in fear of someone else getting credit for “your” idea. Have a kingdom heart and an abundance mindset. Every time I share one of my best ideas with someone I believe I am sowing a seed that God will return to me with 5 or 10 better ideas in the future.
Have you begun to build a kingdom network? What is the quality of your kingdom network? What are the are questions you need to ask your network? How can you care for your network and add value to it?
Remember, Peter’s business trial turned into a classic Fish Tale because he threw his nets at his problem.
The H.O.S.T. Ask can be a “game-changer call-to-action” for churches desiring to connect every person in their local body in biblical community. It’s a signature move reserved only for the Lead Pastor during a weekend service. If executed strategically, it can draw in willing vessels who are hidden in crowd. This one move can supercharge your upcoming church wide campaign and groups launch!
First off, it’s important to point out that The H.O.S.T. Ask is one important piece of The H.O.S.T. Model and a church wide campaign (if your church employs a different tactic, parts of this article may not be relevant for you) . The H.O.S.T. model lowers the entry-level requirements to facilitate a small group during a short sprint of small groups (anywhere from 5-8 weeks) that coincide with the weekend message series. My friend Steve Gladen (who has popularized this approach) explains the theology behind the paradigm in his book Small Groups with Purpose:
When Jesus recruited His disciples in Matthew 4, His first requirement was “follow Me.” Three years later it was “die for me.” There is a huge gap between “follow me” and “die for me.” Over the course of time Jesus raised the bar of requirements on the disciples. He didn’t scare them off in Matthew 4 by saying “come die for me”; he started with a crawl step – “follow me” – and then developed them to a place of leadership where they would die for him.
The acronym for H.O.S.T. stands for…
H – Have a Heart for People
O – Open Your Home
S – Serve a few snacks
T – Turn on a Video
What the H.O.S.T. Model and H.O.S.T. Ask can accomplish is the closing of the gap of not having enough group settings to plug-in every person in your church (see Is Your Discipleship Model For Everyone?). By lowering the bar for entry and leveraging the influence of the Lead Pastor, a church can overcome common assimilation and discipleship obstacles that can hold churches down for years.
Here are 12 Keys to an Effective H.O.S.T. Ask…
1. An Attractional Church Wide Campaign Theme. You need to select a theme and topic that people will be interested in engaging with. My church has done 40 Days of Freedom, The Influential Disciple and This is Real Life. These are much more interesting than “Exegeting Genealogies” or “Dispensational Indoctrination.”
2. Create a Simple Sign-up Form or Bulletin Insert. Include a graphic or logo for the campaign along with fields for their names, email and phone number. At this point, you don’t need detailed information beyond that. Make sure every person gets handed one as they walk into church. I’ll talk more about this below…
3. Have the Lead Pastor make The Ask in the middle of their message 6-8 weeks before the campaign. The Lead Pastor’s message is the most valuable communications real estate in the church. Connecting every person in the church can be one of the greatest blessings to a church or one of its greatest struggles. You need to give it your best swing and this is the spot where you can go-for-the-fence. Tie in The Ask to a point in their message that provides a similarity with the campaign strategy or theme. It could be connected to a point on serving or relationships or discipleship. One year we did 40 Days of Prayer and our pastor was preaching thru the Book of Daniel on the weeks we were doing the H.O.S.T. Ask. As our pastor taught on how Daniel was a man of prayer, he pivoted from that point into the H.O.S.T. Ask for our 40 Days of Prayer campaign.
4. The Ask should cast vision for the growth potential and big picture of the church wide campaign; not the small group strategy. For example:
“This Fall we want to see all of you experience more FREEDOM in your lives! This is why we’re doing 40 Days of Freedom where we will be immersed in freedom through a six week message series, a daily devotional, amazing video content and small groups!” Do you see the difference? Small groups is just one component of a larger movement with different moving parts. This is why it’s called a church wide campaign, NOT a small group campaign.
5. The Ask should invite everyone to hold up their sign-up form. The Lead Pastor should have a sign-up form in their hand and raise it up while they ask everyone else to do the same, “Everyone should’ve gotten one of these when they came in today. Please take it out and hold it up so I can see it.” Clear and simple directions will keep everyone’s focus where it needs to be.
6. The Ask should include a brief explanation of what a H.O.S.T. is. Have a slide with the H.O.S.T. acronym and after a short explanation of it, let your people know, ‘If you can have a heart for people, open your home, serve a few snacks and turn on a video… you can be a host!”
One of my groups pastor friends told me they got their greatest response when the pastor said, “If you know a few friends or family members that could go through this series with you, I want you to consider hosting a group for you and them… even if it’s only 2 or 3 people.”
7. The Ask should emphasize the low commitment level. For example, “If you sign up today, you’re only on the hook for six weeks, that’s it! If you’re able to open your home six times over the course of 40 days, that’s all we’re asking for from you. All we need you to do is attend a one hour host orientation and we’ll give you everything you need to host a group with your friends and family.”
8. Make the Ask. For example, “We need “x” amount of host sites so everyone in our church can have a chance to go through this series together. Can you help us do this together by signing up on this form to host a group?”
Rick Warren stands in front of his congregation and says it like this, “If our church has ministered to you, would you in turn minister to your community and be willing to host a small group?”
9. Keep the Ask focused and tight. Narrow your “ask” to only one option: hosting a group. Don’t even mention or refer to joining a group yet, that’s for a later time closer to the launch. If possible, don’t emphasize signing up for anything else in the entire service on the week(s) you make the ask.
I had a groups pastor friend share with me about how his church had the pastor ask for hosts to sign up as well as a list of other ministry opportunities to consider. The response for group hosts was very low.
While this may be difficult for other ministry departments to understand, it’s important for everyone to be aware of the benefit of people being connected in group life. Research has proven that people connected in small groups serve more, give more, share their faith more, read their Bible more and pray more than people who are not in small groups. If you get everyone in a small group it will raise the water level for every other ministry of the church.
10. Collect the forms immediately. This is important and this is all about removing barriers to receiving peoples’ commitment. Within a minute or two of the pastor making the ask, pass collection baskets or buckets around for people to turn their forms.
Notice we have done multiple things to erase any potential gaps: we hand a form to every person on the way in, we make sure everyone is holding it and looking at it and we immediately collect it. If you add a step to this process like “sign up in the lobby” or “go online” or “take this form to the table in the back”, you will diminish the response.
I had a friend who tried to implement this at his church and the staff pushed back with the point of view that a paper sign-up form was too traditional and old school. Instead, they decided to instruct people to go to iPad kiosks in the lobby after service and sign up there. He told me their response was uncommonly low. I’m all for relevance and using technology, but in some cases, simple is better.
11. Optional “bells” and “whistles.” If you wanted to you could add a live or video small group testimony. This could be done while you ask people to take out their forms or just before the pastor “makes the ask” towards the end.
12. If you can, make the H.O.S.T. ASK for two or three weeks in a row. After three years of doing this I have always gotten the biggest response on week 1. However, people do miss church and others need time to think about it before they will commit to even a short-term commitment. I have always gotten the least amount of signs up on the third week.
The entire H.O.S.T. ASK should only take 5 minutes. If you have a testimony, maybe 7 minutes all together. When it’s fully understood, planned out and delivered properly, it opens the flood gates for group engagement on new and exciting levels. We used everything shared in this post to help connect 80% of the people in our church in a small group within the first six months of me being on staff at a new church.
Thoughts? Questions? War stories? Feel free to share them below…
When my wife Camille was younger she had a mentor in a discipleship program that she was a part of. His name was Richard Moore. At the time I am writing this, He is the President and CEO of the non-profit organization, Shoulder-to-Shoulder. At the time my wife was in his discipleship program he went by the abbreviation “PR” for Pastor Richard. One of PR’s most memorable lines that she shared with me is, “Have a plan that doesn’t suck.”
He shared this blunt maxim with his students to teach them not to tolerate low expectations for themselves. Given enough time, complacency will ultimately lead to dead ends in life. To have a plan for your life that doesn’t suck, however, would guide you to live according to a vision that created the potential for growth and success.
When it comes to the Discipleship model in your church I would like to borrow PR’s wisdom and say the following to you Pastor, “Have a plan that doesn’t suck.” When I apply this filter to my thinking, it guides me to the following conclusion: I must have a Discipleship Model that is practical and creates the potential for everyone in my church to be Discipled.
Being “practical” is important to me because any strategy can work perfectly on paper. Even a complicated plan can build amazing results in theory, but it’s usually incredibly difficult to put into practice. Typically, it’s the simplified ideas that can be effectively implemented and mastered for optimum impact.
Potential is critical as well if we are going to have a chance at success. I have seen many churches with the goal of discipling every person in their church, but their ministry model doesn’t even given them a chance to take a swing at their goal.
Here are 10 Thoughts on Practical Discipleship Models with Potential for Everyone…
1. If you’re goal is to Disciple every single person in your church, you have to build a ministry model that creates enough room for everyone to be discipled. How many people attend your church on Sunday morning or your weekend services? Does your Discipleship model have enough room for all of them? If the answer to the second question is no, you might have a Discipleship plan that sucks.
You should have a Discipleship model that gives you a chance to Disciple every single person in your church in the next 3-6 months (not in 3-6 years). Now, I realize that a model that has room for everyone does not guarantee that everyone will be discipled, but the point is that you’ve created the conditions for that goal to be a legitimate possibility.
2.If you have more than one Sunday service, you do not have the ability to disciple everyone in a single mid-week gathering.
Think about it like this: If you’re sanctuary holds 400 people and 800 people attend your two weekend services, you will only have the potential to disciple half the church with a single mid-week gathering. If you use round tables in the sanctuary for the mid-week gathering, you just shrank your space down to a lower than half capacity.
3. If you do not have enough classroom space for every single person in your church, you do not have the ability to Disciple everyone in a Sunday school system. If your goal is to plug everyone into a Sunday school class “one day” but you don’t have enough facility space to accommodate that outcome, you might have a discipleship plan that sucks (note: having enough Sunday school space for everyone in your church would include the variable of multiple slots for people to attend classes at different times).
4. If you have enough classroom space for every person in your church, but do not have enough parking for both the Sunday service and Sunday school, you do not have the ability to Disciple everyone in a Sunday school system. If you have 400 people in a Sunday service and an additional 400 people in Sunday school classes at the same time, you must have a parking lot big enough for 800 people. If you’re parking lot isn’t big enough for everyone, it won’t matter how much classroom space you have.
5. If everyone in your church cannot give you two to three hours in a single slot, you do not have the ability to Disciple everyone in a Sunday school system. Different parts of the country have different social norms. In some cities, not everyone in the church may be able to offer 2-3 hours at a time. If that’s the case, attending a service and a class in one block of time won’t disciple every person in the church.
6. If you do not have enough ministries for everyone in your church, you cannot Disciple everyone through task-oriented ministries. Discipling people as you work together on a kingdom activity (worship, outreach, admin projects, etc) is a great vehicle for life transformation. If you don’t create enough ministry settings for every single person, you can’t make this your single magic bullet to cross the finish line.
7. If you’re discipleship model includes Off-site Groups AND On-site Groups, they should both take everyone to the same discipleship destination. A facility/space problem can be remedied with a both/and approach to having on-site discipleship settings and off-site discipleship settings.
With that in mind, there needs to be a unified aim with the strategies or it can create an unintentional competition (see Killing the Competition that’s Killing Your Small Groups by Dean Deguara). People might be confused as to which one they should join or they might think they need to join both.
It’s difficult to travel together with people who are going a different direction. Connection and momentum will be severely diminished unless everyone ends up at the same objective.
8. An on-site and off-site model must have shared values and similar practices to achieve synergy and avoid silos. The way of Jesus is just as important as the what (truth and life; see John 14:6). Parallel discipleship models may have subtle differences, but they should have a large amount of common ground that develops people in a similar (and biblical) way.
This makes a ministry environment easier for people to learn and grow in because they are surrounded by consistent examples that guide them along their journey. This type of positive reinforcement is what I call synergy.
When parallel discipleship models different, almost to the point of contradiction, it becomes difficult for everyone to work together as a body. Overt time, territorial silos, defensiveness and a survival mentality begin to creep in.
9. A church’s discipleship model must be digest-able. Most people have time to be involved in church programming 2 (in some cases 3) times a week. Of course, there are people who will be involved more than that, but that is typically the exception, not the rule. We must offer a discipleship strategy that is digest-able for everyone in the church. If the weekly expectation is attending a Sunday morning service, a small group, a mid-week, an outreach and a men’s or women’s ministry, you will not have the ability to empower each ministry to thrive and grow. People need their church to help them focus on their spiritual growth. Unfortunately, many times a church will offer a myriad of freely-associated options that simply provide another opportunity for A.D.D. to operate in peoples’ lives. Promotion, leadership gatherings, evaluating effectiveness and celebration will be spread too thin across too many fronts if the discipleship plan isn’t digest-able.
10. The fewer leadership structures a church has, the greater conditions for excellence will there be. Infrastructure and equipping paths are critical processes that must be effective. When there is a shared and practical discipleship plan, everyone can identify and solve the systemic issues together. Everyone’s best ideas and efforts get invested into one harvest field (not three). The outcome results in a greater number of healthier leaders being cultivated, raised up and released.
I believe taking the time to work on a discipleship strategy that is practical and has the potential for everyone to participate in is a discipleship plan that doesn’t suck.
God is so creative in how he made the human race to be so diverse! Different nationalities, unique languages, beautiful skin colors and various interests! Here are 3 tips when launching interest based groups…
#1. Recruit leaders with an Appeal to their Interests
It’s crazy how two complete and total strangers who have never met before can instantly become like brothers the moment they start talking about the same sports team that they love! How does this happen? A shared interest draws them together. Interest based small groups have the power to bi-pass people’s natural hesitations to gather and warp-speed them into community! Therefore, when it comes to recruiting leaders for interest based groups, start the conversation with these questions… “What do you like to do for fun?” “What are your passions?” “What are your hobbies?” In larger churches, I would recommend that the small group ministry leader & the team of coaches connect with prospective leaders at the groups/ sign up table in lobby during weekend gatherings and/ or have a strategy to connect individually with people. For leaders in smaller churches of 500 or less, I believe one of most effective ways to recruit leaders is simply over coffee, over lunch or even one-on-one in the church lobby. From there, help your leaders choose a weekly or bi-weekly time that works best with their schedule to lead their group. Lastly, help your leaders come up with a simple format for their group. We encouraged all group leaders to share a short encouraging scripture during their group time, but the one aspect that all group leaders had to do was lead their group in a short time of prayer.
As a small group coach, Jesus appealed to his prospective leader’s interests when he recruited some professional fisherman named Simon & Andrew to be part of his ‘People Fishing’ small group ministry when he said…
“Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” Matthew 4:19
#2. Cast a Contagious Vision of Wholistic Community
When casting the vision of interest based groups to your pastor, leaders and church body, the focus should not be so much on leading or joining a small group, but more about enjoying wholistic community wrapped around the foundations of faith and shared interests.
When we launched interest based groups last summer, we had a geo-caching group, a softball group, a new mommies group, a bicycling group, a baking group, a motorcycle group, a mountain biking group, a few fitness groups and a learning to play music group among others! Adventure, food, fun and caring for each other around common interests – this is the kind of community that I think most people would be very interested in, if not longing to be part of!
“People join a group for content, they stay for the relationships.” – Rick Warren
#3 Diversify How You “Train” Your Team
To many people, the words “train,” “teach,” “seminar,” and “meeting” have become synonymous with another word called “boring.” For example, to promote in your video announcements that “Small group leader’s training is this Sunday during the 2nd service,” may not only come off as drab to your leaders, but many of them might not have the time to attend the “meeting.” Therefore, diversify how you equip your team by…
Recently at Saddleback Church, Pastor Rick Warren trained all of his small group hosts at a Host Gathering how to anoint with oil and pray the prayer of faith. This was to prepare for an upcoming weekend message, “Learn How to Live an Anointed Life.” The group hosts were going to be assigned to prayer stations after each weekend service to anoint church attendees with oil and pray a prayer of faith.
The video displayed above is NOT the group host training. The video above is the weekend message Pastor Rick taught. To find the Group Host Anointing Training CLICK HERE (if this link doesn’t bring up the page in your web browser I recommend trying Google Chrome instead).
He also taught on how oil was a symbol of sacredness. Everything in the temple was anointed with oil. Builders who built the temple were anointed with oil. God’s chosen priests, prophets and kings were anointed with oil. There was nothing magical about the oil itself, it was just an outward sign of God’s approval and commissioning.
He then gave them direction on how to anoint person with oil and pray a prayer of faith for them based on their prayer request. People could receive prayer for healing in their physical body, their emotions, their relationships and their finances. This NT practice comes from James 5:14-16.
Now, this activity was performed at the end of their weekend services, not their small groups. I found it noteworthy that the group hosts were chosen as the instrument to minister this biblical practice. I do believe it opens the opportunity for this practice to happen in home group settings as well down the road and I believe the training that was given is transferrable for a group setting as well.
What if all of our group hosts were equipped and empowered to pray for healing for people in their small groups? Would this increase the opportunity for God to release more miracles in the lives of His people? I personally believe a mindset such as this can build a culture of Presence-driven group life.
What do you think? Share your comments, thoughts, questions or feedback below…
Group Hosts engaged in the process of disciple making, must see themselves as spiritual anthropologists. They must be observing the people in their group with a prayerful disposition in order to be a catalyst for others’ faith to flourish. Consider the wisdom offered to shepherds in Proverbs 27:23 (NIV), “Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds.” We can better know and care for the inward condition of our people if we can understand the varying degrees of abundant life in Christ. This sharpened discernment can empower us to minister to each individual in our group with greater accuracy and impact.
In 1 John 2:12-14 we discover a kingdom pathway for disciples…
12 I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven you for His name’s sake. 13 I am writing to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I have written to you, children, because you know the Father. 14 I have written to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the Word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one (NASB).
As you read this passage, are you able to assess where people in your group are at along this kingdom pathway? Do you know how to guide them in a direction that releases an increase of Christ-centered development in their life?
To answer these questions and expand your ability to cultivate spiritual maturity in others, let’s look at the Three Dimensions of Flourishing Faith:
1. Children – Verses 12 and 13 tell us that “children” have theirs sins forgiven and they “know the Father.” When new believers first confess Jesus Christ as their Savior they become children of God because their sins are forgiven under the shed blood of Jesus. They are no longer abandoned, spiritual orphans on their own. They are now adopted, through Christ, and have a new Heavenly Father.
Children cannot survive by themselves. They are vulnerable and immature. They need others who are stronger than them to provide assistance until they can demonstrate self-care.
If someone in your group hasn’t made a defining decision to follow Jesus as Lord and Messiah, they are not yet “children” of God. If someone in your group has recently become a Christian, they need to be well-connected to the family of God, experience the love of their Father through others and learn about the waters of baptism.
2. Young Men – Verses 13 and 14 describe “young men” as filled with the Living Word of God, strong and overcoming the evil one. The New Living Translation describes this dimension as those “who are young in the faith.”
People who are young in the faith are those who are walking in the freedom of Christ. They have hidden the Word of God in their heart and it is dwelling richly in and through their lives (Psalm 119:11, Col. 3:16). Their emotions are rooted and established in His love (Eph 3:17).
If a person in your group is not a brand, new Christian but they are still struggling with sin and strongholds and/or they are not knowledgeable in God’s Word, they are not yet “young in the faith.” They need to grow in knowing the truth because the truth will make them free (John 8:32). They need to encounter God’s Presence in a way that will release healing and liberty on the inside. They should be encouraged to develop the habits of daily prayer and scripture reading, group Bible study and accountability. If there is a Freedom Encounter event that will help them breakthrough their bondages, they should be next in line to attend.
3. Fathers – Verses 12 and 14 emphasize that fathers know Him who has been from the beginning. The NLT uses the phrase “you who are mature in the faith.” While children and those who are young in faith know God as well, there is a greater perspective that fathers are attributed with. Knowing Him who is from the beginning is knowing God in a deeper dimension than others. Fathers (or those who are mature in the faith) have a walk with God that is “deep” or has depth.
The Greek word for Father is the word “pater” (think paternal) for nearest ancestor or both parents. This is important because a spiritual father is one who has reproduced spiritual children. Thus, being strong in the Word, living in freedom from sin and having a deep walk with Jesus should result in a contagious life that attracts new followers of Christ who are seeking His kingdom.
Spiritual fathering happens through evangelism and discipleship. This requires more than just teaching a class with students. Consider the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 4:15, “For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers.”
Do you have people in your group that have a vision and mission to reproduce spiritual children? Is becoming a spiritual father or mother seen as being “deep” or walking in maturity? How can you encourage your people in your group to reach out to unbelievers and share the Gospel? Have you shared vision with healthy disciples in your group to host their own circle of community for others to grow in?
Using John’s three dimensions as a tool or reference can guide your group towards a flourishing faith. Flourishing faith in a disciple is a faith that continues to expand, excite and extend to new levels of potential and ministry to others.
Are people in your group experiencing a flourishing faith?
Please share your comments, questions or thoughts below…
I had the honor of meeting Dr. Bill Donahue at a leadership event at my church. This video clip about small groups is from that night…
Dr. Bill Donahue, Ph.D., is a speaker, author and leadership consultant. A graduate of Princeton University, Bill also holds a Ph.D. in Adult Learning from the University of North Texas. He is an Associate Professor at Trinity International University in Deerfield where he develops emerging leaders. He also serves as President of the LeaderSync Group, Inc. where he provides strategic consulting and leadership development for key leaders and their teams.
Bill has authored over a dozen books and resources including the best-selling Leading Life-changing Small Groups and co-authored Coaching Life-Changing Leaders with Greg Bowman, and Building a Life-changing Small Group Ministry with Russ Robinson.
A man with two sons told the older boy, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ The son answered, ‘No, I won’t go,’ but later he changed his mind and went anyway. Then the father told the other son, ‘You go,’ and he said, ‘Yes, sir, I will.’ But he didn’t go. “Which of the two obeyed his father?” Matthew 21: 28-31
You may have heard the statement, “We are educated beyond our obedience.” In other words, we know the right answers but do not follow through with the right actions. Jesus, in the parable above, makes it clear that having the right answer is not enough. Life is found in obedience.
I believe one shift in our disciple making efforts will turn this tide and lead more followers of Jesus “into the vineyard.” I believe it is the most important shift we can make in our lifetime. We must shift from content-focused disciple making to outcome-focused disciple making.
Focusing on Outcomes
The first question many ask concerning a small group or Sunday School is “what are you studying?” This question is a clue about the group’s focus. They are focused on the study, or the content. The term “Bible Study” is almost universal because most disciple-making environments focus on the content.
How would you answer a person who came to your group asking “How will my life be different when this is over?” They are asking a different question. They are not asking about content…they are asking about outcomes.
Financial Peace University is an outcome focused experience. Dave Ramsey starts the experience by telling you that FPU will lead you to pay off your debt, save for the future, and build a great decision-making team. Those are amazing outcomes! I believe Jesus has provided the most exceptional outcomes for disciple-making, and they are worthy of our focus.
The Danger of Outcome Ambiguity
According to Barna’s latest research, the goals of discipleship are very vague1. Barna’s research also suggests most Christians lack a desire for spiritual growth2. As in most situations, ambiguity in outcomes makes it difficult to inspire people toward them. I believe clarity in the outcomes is key to effective disciple-making. I have personally witnessed hundreds of Christians being ignited into spiritual vitality through one simple phrase: Character x Calling = IMPACT.
The Outcomes: Character & Calling
Jesus-like character is a primary outcome. Jesus encourages us to bear spiritual fruit, and Paul describes that fruit in Galatians 5. The fruit listed are all character traits of Jesus.
Our Jesus-given calling is a primary outcome. Spiritual gifts have been given to us by God to use for the building of His church. Ephesians 2:10 says we were created anew in Jesus for good works which God planned for us long ago. In Jesus’ parable of the talents, we see that we will be held accountable for using those gifts.
Here is my theology of transformation in a nutshell:
I have seen it over and over again. Prioritizing the development of character and calling inspires even long-time believers into spiritual growth…rendering them into interdependent influencers in our world for the sake of Jesus’ kingdom instead of dependent consumers on church leaders.
What About Content?
You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. John 8:32
Sanctify them by your truth. John 17:17
In these verses Jesus implies that content is critical but is not primary. In John 8, truth is necessary for freedom, but truth is not the goal… freedom is. In John 17, truth is the tool used to sanctify, but truth is not the goal… sanctification is. Said another way, content isn’t the end, but it is a primary means to the end.
Make The Shift
Traditional disciple making environments have been content focused and have at least prepared participants to provide the right answers. See Illustration A. As we have seen, however, right answers are not enough to Jesus. Obedience is the standard. I do not believe providing better content will change this. A bigger shift is necessary.
If you desire to see more and more of the people you lead passionate about being a disciple and making other disciples, then make the shift; shift away from content-focused models and shift toward a more intentional discipleship environment. See illustration B
Intentional Discipleship Environments focus on outcomes, are fueled by spiritual habits (read about habits), and flavored by content. IDEs propel disciples “into the vineyard.”