It might sound strange to describe group life as being full-bodied. For example, I like my coffee “full-bodied,” but what does it mean when applied to community? The big idea here is that within the soil of community our roots grow deeper in Christ than they ever would in our own individual experiences (Col 2:6-7). The composition of this soil is enriched when group members engage in a breadth of spiritual practices that allow them to live out their faith with one another. As a result, a group will fully taste and see biblical community in the way we see it expressed in Acts 2: Rich, robust, strong, well-matured, and even flavorful!
God used the depth and diversity of the Early Church’s life together to put skin on His love for the world (1 John 4:12). Its full-bodied community made the disciples’ spiritual life ever-deepening and their Kingdom impact ever-expanding (Acts 2:46-47). This two-part post will explore several key spiritual practices that can be exercised in community, result in life-transformation, and keep your groups and church on mission. Emphasis will be placed on why community is integral to the nature and outworking of spiritual practices. Also, “growth tips” will be offered on how to strengthen the development of each one in your group life.
Growth Tip: Allow fellowship to serve as bookends to your meeting format. Pre-planned fellowship on the front-end helps the group time feel less agenda-driven and more relational because it takes the edge off the start time and allows people to catch up. Fellowship on the tail-end provides a time cushion and allows people to connect more and process through their insights and experiences in the group.
Growth Tip: A couple of ways you can strengthen this spiritual practice with your group members is to introduce prayer during different parts of your meeting. For example, do not always have it follow your Bible study. Include brief prayers in your discussion time and express prayer in different ways (thanks, adoration, petition, and ministry). The more your group gets to know one another, the more freely you can ask different people to lead out in prayer.
Growth Tip: Before you introduce worship to your group, learn which expressions are the most meaningful for each of your group members. This will increase the likelihood of successfully weaving this spiritual practice into your group life and expanding each member’s understanding of worship. Begin by asking them to share their definition of worship and what the most meaningful forms of worship are for each of them personally. For some it will be singing while for others it might be quiet thanksgiving, writing, or some other unique expression. Validate each and share a biblical reference on how it reflects the creativity of the Spirit.
Growth Tip: Find a way to recognize each person’s input because this has a way of rolling out the mat for others to participate. Acknowledgement encourages involvement. The more free people feel to share, the more energy there will be to your discussions. Also, rotating leadership is empowering for the whole group and draws out the spiritual gifts of each participant.
Discipleship (learning and following Jesus Christ) is a plural activity. The disciples were always together in the Gospel accounts. In fact, in every instance a reference is made to the presence of a disciple…that person is with other disciples. There are 266 references of ‘disciples’ and 28 occurrences of ‘disciple’. Almost every reference of the word being in the singular notes how another disciple was with him or it is Jesus making a point in an illustration He is sharing. However, there is only one case when there is talk of a disciple being alone and that is when Peter was denying Christ. What do you think this says about the importance of community for believers?
In the next post, we will examine four more spiritual practices that will help enrich the soil of your group life so that more people will follow Jesus whole-heartedly and impact others with His love and message.
These self-evaluating questions were developed with the intention of giving group leaders a compass to make sure they were staying on track with helping a group to connect, learn, and serve together so it could impact the world with the love of Christ:
10. Has each person in my group completed the Spiritual Health Assessment[i] within the last four months? Have I helped them connect to their next step for spiritual growth?
The big idea is that if a group is connecting, learning, and serving together – it will impact world with Jesus’ love and message. The goal of the group leader is to equip and inspire each group member to take their next step in their walk with Jesus Christ. Develop questions that will help your group leaders to stay on track with encouraging practices that lead to your desired outcomes of healthy group life!
Leadership Pastor, Jim Egli, endeavored to discover what makes the difference between thriving and stagnant groups. His research involving over 4,000 group leaders came to the conclusion that praying leaders have faster growing groups. This inspired me to create a tool that group leaders can use repeatedly each month to help them build healthy group life and ultimately impact more people with Jesus’ love and message.
Now create your own Prayer Guide that you can give to your leaders so their groups can grow in strength and influence for the Kingdom of God!
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?
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.
Sometimes group leaders wonder if they should invite a person into their group who is not as spiritually mature as the other members or who could potentially disrupt the good dynamic they have going. If the group has already agreed to be open, I almost always say ‘yes’. Satan is not in the habit of luring spiritually lost people into the company of Christ-followers because that’s where they can encounter God’s life-changing Presence (Matthew 18:20).
Rather, group leaders ought to cover the invitation in prayer and trust God with the outcome. We can’t control how somebody responds to an invitation to come to a group, but we can control whether or not we take the risk. Plus, when fear is the driving factor in not doing something in cases like this, it’s probably the better to choose the action that requires faith. So I counsel groups leaders to pray, choose to do the most loving thing, and trust the guiding influence of the Sovereign power of God with the outcome.
In cultivating environments that make disciples of people at different stages in their spiritual journey, it is crucial to first respect God’s work. The truth is, God is already at work…
If we look to the account of the Early Church in the book of Acts as our model, we see people in all different stages of their spiritual journey helping one another take their next steps in following Christ (Acts 2:40-47, 4:4, 5:14, 6:7, 8:4-8, 25, 9:31). In the next post, we’ll look at how group leaders can cultivate disciple-making environments that help everyone in their walk with Jesus.