Cultivating Disciple-Making Environments for Everyone!
Groups make room for friendships that encourage spiritual growth. Healthy discipleship flows from healthy community with others walking with Jesus whose love for one another is a light that attracts those who are trying to find their way out of the darkness. In fact, the Lord commonly uses a community of believers to bring seekers to Himself (John 13:34-35, 17:20-23; Acts 1:8; Ephesians 2:13-20, 4:11-13; 1 Peter 2:9; 1 John 4:12, 17). Community is also the greatest influencer in how people follow Christ.
Every group member can become more like Christ when the group leader champions the elements that lead to healthy disciple-making environments. What is necessary to help people in all different places in their spiritual journey grow closer to Christ together?
- Authentic leadership – Nobody influences the atmosphere of a group – positively or negatively – more than the leader. What makes a group leader successful is their love for God and love for people that expresses itself with unguarded authenticity. Authenticity creates common ground where people of varying places of spiritual maturity can meet together, dialogue about God’s Word, and grow spiritually.
- Healthy relationships – Relationships are the engine of discipleship. When a person wants to connect in a group, do not consider the type of group, location, or even the curriculum to be the most important factors. Rather, it is the group dynamic, which is borne out of the relationships among the people in that group. Unhealthy relationships release toxins into the group’s ecosystem, which can be detrimental to strays, seekers, and believers alike. However, if relationships are healthy, the experience and effect of the group dynamic will be as well.
- 3-D group life – Depth perception enables us to see the world in three dimensions. Similarly, there will be ‘depth’ to everyone’s group experience if they are loving God, loving people, and loving the world around them. This happens through the flexible arrangement of elements like fellowship, prayer, Bible study, serving those inside and outside the group. Healthy environments are always in flux, changing and growing. The same is true of healthy groups as well.
- Missional-orientation to group purpose – Every group has a purpose. Group leaders can cultivate disciple-making environments for everyone if they bring a missional orientation to it. For example, there’s a big difference between discipleship and disciple-making in the mind of the ‘Average Joe’. The former typically arises from those within the group who also happen to be the beneficiaries of this purpose (internally-focused). The latter redirects the emphasis to those beyond the group creating a more externally-focused group culture. This in turn creates an environment that helps everyone take their next steps in growing closer to Christ so be sure to balance the group’s inward nurture with external focus and action.
- Engaging curriculum – This was deliberately put last on the list. A mistake made by many leaders is allowing group curriculum to define the ‘depth’ of the group. Plenty of groups use “deep” or “meaty” Bible study material and go nowhere inside or outside of their group. What is also true is there are plenty of groups that use material more mature believers consider to be “milk,” but because of the leadership and relationships among those in the group, people are strengthened in their faith. “Mixed” groups tend to find more help from group curriculum that helps them engage in God’s Word, apply it to life, build relationships among group members, and encourages them to share their spiritual discoveries with others beyond the group experience.
Avoid compartmentalizing people on the basis of what stage of spiritual maturity you think they are in. No such advice has been given in the Bible since the birth of the Church. If anything, we see the opposite. Time and again, seekers or new believers resurrect groups of ‘mature believers’ because of the healthy challenge and vibrancy they bring.[i] On the other hand, those who need more guidance and instruction as they take their initial steps in following Christ can find great help from those who have been walking closely with Jesus for many years.[ii]
It’s difficult to conceive of a better way to follow Jesus and pattern our lives after His than bonding with others in a group and traveling together in our journey of spiritual growth. We can help people in varying places of spiritual maturity come together in groups by communicating that “groups” are not a ministry program. Nor are they something to be added to a list of recommendations for healthy Christian living. Rather, groups are ‘the other half’ of how the Church can be the Church in all the fullness and vibrancy God intended (Acts 5:42). Thankfully, they provide a strategic way for every person to grow closer to Jesus regardless of how much progress each one has made thus far.
[i] Oftentimes, those who consider themselves more mature and want “more depth” or “more meat” are the very ones who need more action when it comes to putting feet to their faith (John 4:32). Groups that tend to fade out are those that are made-up exclusively of more mature believers not reaching out beyond their own circle of fellowship.
[ii] People who are looking at the Scriptures with new eyes and applying it to their lives in fresh ways oftentimes see things longer-term believers have forgotten or missed altogether. Just because somebody has not been walking with Jesus for several years does not mean they cannot grasp what is being said in the Bible. Seekers are not stupid. Thank goodness for us all that the ‘deep truths’ of God’s Word are simply put: Love God, love people.