Little Groups   (by Jon Shuler​​)

Over the past weeks we have looked at what I call “the Cycle of Discipleship,” with the seven steps or stages that I have been led to understand. Welcomed, gospeled, converted, nurtured, equipped, deployed, multiplied. When the cycle is complete it begins again. The one discipled begins to disciple another, and the one who discipled begins again as well. If done well, with the guidance and blessing of the Holy Spirit, the pattern continues until the Lord returns. Paul explicitly suggests a four generation concern should be part of every leaders intention. (see II Tim 2:2)

As convinced as I am about this pattern’s usefulness as a template for making disciples who will  make disciples, I have found one more key factor. It is this: we must be in a community that understands this cycle, and wants to see it lived. Perhaps a better way to state it would be to say we need to be in a disciple-making culture. I have rarely seen that in an organized parish, but again and again I have seen it manifested in little groups. When one person who has begun to see and internalize the cycle, they can impart it if they have two or three others who want to learn.

I have chosen not to say “small group” because in church circles it leads almost everyone to think of the small groups they have been a part of that never became disciple-making environments. At least not in the way I am here describing them. In truth, just saying “little” instead of “small” will not help without careful attention. The longer someone has been a part of an organized church family, at least in the developed world, the less likely they are to understand what I am talking about. They will imagine a fellowship group, or a book study group, or a service group, but they will not be thinking of a disciple-making group. Saying “little groups” gives me a chance to reframe their understanding, and I do so by pointing them to Acts 2:42-47.

In this wonderful passage Luke paints a picture for us of the organized life of the first church after the day of Pentecost. It could not be more different than the contemporary church I have known. People are meeting daily in one another’s homes. They are going up to the Temple to pray together. They are breaking bread together, and rejoicing in God’s goodness. They are meeting one another’s truest needs. They are expecting God to answer prayers and touch lives. It is a picture, I believe, of the church as it ought to be whenever she is faithful. The details will always be contextualized in terms of time and place, but the ingredients will be the same.

When a few followers of the Lord Jesus are willing to let this picture be a guide for them, and to gather regularly, with the Word of God at the center, and to learn to allow the Spirit of God to come among them, with at least one of them understanding disciple-making discipleship, the ancient reality becomes true again. The Lord adds to their number those who are being saved, and new little discipling groups keep forming.

Next Week: Managing True Gospel Growth

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