First, let me explain that I used to love doing one-on-one discipleship and I did it for years. I’ve taught on how to do it across the United States and in other countries. I even co-authored a great one-on-one discipleship book that has sold over 100,000 copies and been translated into a few other languages. (I’m not slamming this as an outsider!)
But then something unexpected happened. I invited a friend of mine named Mark into a one-on-one discipleship relationship. We met for coffee at Barnes and Noble’s and began working through the book Beginning the Journey which Ralph Neighbour and I wrote. It was going great and we were both enjoying it and he said, “Could I invite my friend Brian to join us? He could really use this.” I said, “Sure.” So the next week Brian joined us. Brian loved it and asked if he could invite someone else.
Before I knew it, my one-on-one relationship with Mark had morphed into a mini-group of four and I was startled by how much better everything went. Interaction improved, encouragement multiplied, and learning went to a new level. The group which had been great, got even better. I’m a slow learner and it took me a while to figure it out, but about ten years ago I ditched one-on-one discipleship to do small discipleship groups and have never looked back. Here are three reasons why you should do the same:
Over the past 35 years I have used lots of great books and curriculum in leading small groups and discipleship groups—some of them written by me. Thinking of all of the good material I have used, my favorite small group curriculum now is The Good & Beautiful God, by James Bryan Smith.
My friend small group author Greg Bowman commended the book to me several years ago. Based on Greg’s enthusiastic recommendation I picked up the book and started to read it. As I started into it for some reason I thought, “What’s so great about this?”, and I didn’t make it past the first chapter. Then last year our senior pastors, Hap & Di Leman, gave me and all of our senior leadership team a copy of the book and worked through it with us chapter by chapter over coffee on Wednesday mornings. The book thrilled me and was tremendously helpful in accelerating my spiritual journey.
More recently I went through the book with four other guys in a men’s discipleship group early on Wednesday mornings. The biblical principles in the book again were life changing for me and them. As one of the guys expressed, Read the rest of this entry
My favorite small group curriculum right now, the one I find myself recommending over and over to small group leaders, is Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton. I love it. It’s a six-session DVD curriculum on how to connect with God through simple spiritual disciplines.
There are two reasons I love it so much. First, the content is great. Barton makes spiritual practices so accessible and doable. She puts the cookies on a low shelf. In my opinion, the book is kind of a “Spiritual Disciplines for Dummies,” so to speak, which I really appreciate. The second reason I like the DVD curriculum so much is that it minimizes the length of the video segments and maximizes learning and practicing the disciplines. Each session has two short video segments—the first one is on the principles or disciplines themselves and is followed by discussion. The second segment explains how to do a discipline, and then you practice it.
The exercises work! People really encounter God, which is cool and moving.
There are actually three components to the curriculum. First, there is the DVD, which is great and costs just $31.99. Second, there is a “Participant’s Guide,” Read the rest of this entry
Last Sunday evening I visited our church’s School of Kingdom Ministry which is a weekly three-hour program that trains people in supernatural ministry like healing and prophecy. As usual, the first half of the class was teaching and the second half was practice. At the end of the teaching portion of the class I spoke briefly and then the group broke into two groups for practice: half of us were to do “power evangelism” praying for strangers around town and the other half were going to help pray for people in healing rooms.
I quietly slipped out, feeling slightly guilty, and did neither. Instead, I went home to get time with my wife Vicki. It’s not that I didn’t want to do one of the practical ministry exercises; it was simply that I had done too much ministry already in the previous week. Lately I’ve been feeling like God is telling me to slow down to allow more time for relationship with him and with others.
When I got home, Vicki and I decided to walk to the Dairy Queen and get cones. A Chinese friend who lives nearby saw us as she drove by and asked us if we wanted a ride. We told her “no thanks,” that we were enjoying the gorgeous weather, and we preceded walking. She drove off in the direction of her house. As we continued walking we texted her, inviting her to get her husband and join us at DQ. She then walked to DQ from her home and got there shortly after we did, but without her American husband. When we asked her why he hadn’t come with her, she said that several weeks ago he had contracted Bell’s Palsy and that the left half of his face was paralyzed and that he didn’t want to go out in public. She also told us that her parents whom we had recently invited to our church’s Chinese ALPHA course had just received Christ as their Lord and Savior at the ALPHA Holy Spirit Day and that they were being baptized this week on Easter Sunday at the Chinese church near our neighborhood. She excitedly shared how their lives were changing and how joyful they were about what God is doing in their lives. She invited us to their baptism.
A big part of this is mini-groups. I love small groups and I also love mini-groups. What is a mini-group? It’s two to four guys or two to four gals meeting together and holding each other accountable, praying for each other and encouraging each other.
Right now I meet with two other guys over lunch each Thursday. (One of them is in my small group, the other is someone else I want to invest in.) We all pack lunches and meet in one of the guys’ offices that is central to the three of us. It’s cheap, convenient, and private enough to let ministry flow. In the past I have met guys for breakfast at McDonald’s or even late at night after our little kids were in bed.
In small groups we get personal, but in mini-groups we can get even more intimate and say what is really going on in our lives. I like having three or four guys rather than just two. There is more strength and wisdom, and the group can meet even if one of us misses.
We always ask each other when we start, “What do you need for us to ask you every week?” Different guys need different questions. Are you taking time with God? Are you looking at internet pornography? Are you taking time with your wife and kids? Are you working on your doctoral dissertation?
We meet for a set amount of time. “Let’s try this for two months.” Then we adjust and recommit. Others can join us if they are really wanting to grow and willing for others to be honest with them and direct. If they don’t really want to be held accountable it ruins things. Don’t do mini-group with people who don’t genuinely want to grow.
If I am meeting with new Christians I use the booklet that Ralph Neighbour and I wrote called Beginning the Journey. If not it’s less structured.
I use our church’s recommended questions, though we don’t use all the questions every week. We each have these on a business-sized card in our wallets.
What has been the best part of your week? the hardest?
Did you read your Bible and pray daily?
Have you prayed for and served your unchurched friends?
Have you made progress on your personal goals?
What known sins have you committed?
Are you keeping any secrets (from us or from loved ones)?
What would you like prayer for?
Do you encourage mini-groups in your small group? What have you learned about these accountability groups? What questions do you have?