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.
Although everyone would agree worship is an essential part of our spiritual life, many leaders wrestle with how to incorporate it into their group time without it feeling forced or awkward. One of the ways you can “break the ice” is to help your group members expand their understanding of what worship can look like beyond the church service. For example, being still before God and listening for His voice, reflecting on Psalms, thanksgiving, giving something up for a fast/Lent and remembering Jesus’ sacrifice for us, etc.
“God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” – John 4:24
In other words, don’t try to replicate a weekend worship service in your group. Rather, discover ways the people you circle up with can worship together that fits your group’s unique dynamic and personality. Gradually introduce new forms of worship by offering a few suggestions from the list below and get a sense as to which one your group resonates with the most.
Worship is a vital aspect of biblical community and the Holy Spirit will help you lead your group to God’s throne of grace (Acts 2:47, Hebrews 4:14-16). As the group leader, be spontaneous and vulnerable in praising God because this will empower others to do the same when they’re ready.
The Lord will honor your effort in exploring new ways of incorporating worship into your group meetings. As you do, your times together as a group will feel increasingly worshipful and your members’ devotional lives will be enriched as they express their love for God and others in creative ways.
Praying in a group can be intimidating for those who haven’t done it before. You’d be surprised how many people are not used to praying out loud with other people around them listening in. This is vital spiritual practice for all believers to develop because agreement in prayer among two or more believers sparks the outworking of God’s will on earth as it is in heaven and builds the community of His Church (Matthew 18:18-20).
As the leader, you can ignite a passion for prayer in your group by using some of these approaches:
As a group leader, there are things that you can do in your preparation that can optimize the impact of God’s Word on people’s lives (Hebrews 4:12). These practices will actually help participants get the most out of your group Bible study and become more responsive to the transformational work the Holy Spirit is doing in their lives:
You know your Bible study has been effective when your group members love more: They love God more, love people more, love the lost more, and love Scripture more!