Leading a Small Group & Making Disciples: Same thing or not?
“A square is a rectangle, but a rectangle isn’t always a square.”
Math was not my thing. I barely survived Algebra II! Somehow, this truth from geometry sticks with me. I believe it also can help us get a handle on whether or not leading a small group is the same as making disciples.
Every square meets all of the qualifications of being a rectangle because it is a quadrilateral with all four angles being right angles. But, a rectangle doesn’t necessarily meet the qualifications of being a square because a square also requires all four sides of the rectangle to have the same length.
I believe making disciples is much like the square. It has specific marks. If a small group doesn’t meet those marks, it isn’t making disciples. Similarly, I believe small groups are like the rectangle; they can make disciples if they have the marks, but they don’t necessarily accomplish those marks simply because they are a small group.
What are the marks small groups must have to make disciples?
First, it helps me to consider “small groups” as a descriptive term instead of a prescriptive one. Calling a group “small” describes its size, not its function. At the church I serve, we use small groups for a variety of discipleship purposes.
Some of our small groups are designed to help seekers become believers. These groups are short in duration and address particular faith issues to help them take that step. We have other small groups that catalyze mature followers of Jesus to optimize the impact their lives will have in this world. These are longer and more intensive experiences. I believe both of these small group experiences are making disciples.
So, what marks must small groups have to make disciples?
- the right outcomes,
- the right practices that render the right outcomes,
- and the right motivation to engage the right practices that render the right outcomes.
Mark #1 The Right Outcomes
What is the group designed to accomplish? If you or your group leader can’t answer that question, you may be “maintaining disciples,” but are probably not making them!
I believe John the Baptist summed up discipleship best when he said, “He (Jesus) must become greater. I must become less” (John 3:30 NIV). Jesus “becomes greater” in us through the influence of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit bears fruit in us (Galatians 5:20) and the Spirit deposits gifts into us (1 Corinthians 12).
Every small group at our church, regardless of the phase of spiritual formation it addresses, is designed to produce an increasing measure of character (fruit) and calling (gifts). Everyone has a next step!
Mark #2 The Right Practices
I have heard several people say that Christianity isn’t about “doing,” but it is about “being.” I believe that kind of thinking is limiting when it comes to making disciples. If God’s Spirit wants to develop our character (focus on being) and our calling (focus on doing), then making disciples is about both.
Developing character requires certain practices. Our church fathers called these spiritual disciplines. Regular bible reading, journaling, and accountability are essential practices to hear from and obey the Holy Spirit’s leading. There is no way around it. If you aren’t disciplined in these practices, it is impossible to become a more “made” disciple.
Developing calling requires certain practices as well. It is impossible to really know how God has gifted you without serving in a ministry. Serving is required to enter into our upper levels of spiritual formation. Jesus discipled his guys “in the going.” If we want to make disciples, we must do that as well.
Mark #3 The Right Motivation
Jesus gave us the motivation; “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10 NIV).
Everyone is broken. Everyone needs to be restored. Jesus wants us to experience that restoration. Making disciples is the process. We have allowed that motivation to spur us on to action. People are becoming disciples, other people are feeling those effects, and it is a beautiful transition to behold.
The fully-alive life is contagious and it is available to all small groups. I not only believe that small groups, if they have the right outcomes, the right practices, and the right motivation, can make disciples, I know they can.
Five years ago, Westside Family Church was known for reaching the lost but losing the found. We had small groups, but they weren’t making many disciples. Today, disciples are being made in our small groups. Men and women are growing in their character. Men and women are discovering a sense of calling and becoming missionaries in their community.
Don’t settle for simply leading a small group. Lead your small group to make disciples.
For more information on how this movement started, visit disciplesmade.com.