As many years as “small groups” has been a buzz-phrase and been emphasized in countless books, seminars, conferences, etc., (perhaps even over-emphasized) I can’t help but be astonished when I learn of a church that doesn’t have any small groups or Bible studies up and running.
I know the Bible doesn’t say, “Go into all the world and create small groups,” and yet small groups are a powerful and effective way to help make disciples who will last for the long haul. Certainly John Wesley, in my own tradition, believed and practiced that. (Two great resources to check out on Wesley’s view of discipleship are Steve Manskar’s Accountable Discipleship and Kevin Watson’s Blueprint for Discipleship.)
Because my ministry-focus as Minister of Discipleship is… well… “discipleship,” I’ve been asked many times how to start a small group ministry, men’s ministry, or a Bible study, etc. There are many helpful suggestions that could be given (and, as I’ve mentioned, Manskar and Watson discuss many). However, my initial default answer to those questions is to always share what I think is most important: Stick to Scripture.
Groups that focus on fellowship and accountability absolutely have their place. There’s no such thing as Lone Ranger Christianity. We were created for community and we grow in community. Emphasizing prayer is, of course, vital. However, if we’re going to make disciples by teaching folks to obey everything Christ has commanded, then it is essential to teach who this “Commander” is, what he commanded, and how to carry out his commands.
An occasional topical study is fine, provided that Scripture is the primary source. (In my men’s ministry, for example, we have studied prayer, integrity, temptation, etc.) There are many useful topical Bible study-guides out there to be sure (I’ve used many). And yet, I have personally seen the most spiritual growth in those who are in the studies where we simply plow through
a particular book of the Bible – chapter by chapter, verse by verse. Nothing fancy. Nothing novel.
The Bible is, as the saying goes, timely and timeless. It already is more relevant than this morning’s news, so we don’t have to “make it relevant.” To be sure, we need to help folks see the truth and relevance of it, as well as how it applies to their lives. This takes faithful shepherding and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
God’s Word is the only thing God has said will accomplish what he has intended. It alone is God-breathed and useful for teaching, correcting, rebuking and training God’s people in righteousness so
they will be equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17). About God’s Word, the author of the letter to the Hebrews writes,
For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 12:4)
Jesus chastises the religious leaders of his day by telling them that, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.” (Matthew 22:29)
We could add to this list many other texts in both the Old and New Testaments. The point is that God’s Word must be our primary tool in making disciples (of course, always in complete reliance upon God’s Spirit working in and through such efforts).
Paraphrasing Jesus, C.S. Lewis said that if you pursue the world first and God second, you end up getting neither. But if you pursue God first, you not only get God, but God also meets our earthly needs as well. To apply that to small groups, I believe it’s important to pursue God and our relationship with him through the study of his Word with others. And when we do, I believe God meets our real needs, our felt needs, and many other things besides. But we have to trust him enough to pursue him in and through his Word.
Grace and Truth,
The following contains notes from a Father's Day sermon I preached several years ago on the power of men who study God's Word together. Again, these are just notes from my sermon, not an article, so it may be a bit choppy and aggravating in that respect. However, I hope there might be some words of encouragement for you.
Men + Bible = Strength
2 Timothy 3:14-17
June 15, 2013
When we first began our 52 Promises we had several sessions where we attempted to identify things we wanted to focus on.
The title of this sermon came out of one of those brainstorming sessions. And yet the title and focus of this sermon could just as easily be…
Women + Bible = Strength ·
Youth + Bible = Strength ·
Children + Bible = Strength
And they would all be just as true.
However, It’s Father’s Day and our PROMISE this week relates to our Men’s Discipleship ministry. So that’s the reason for the title and focus of the sermon this morning.
Here are a few facts about our men's ministry here at Southside...
12 ½ years ago ·
6 or 7 men… my house ·
Saw need for men to be in Scripture with other men… sharing things they wouldn’t share in co-ed studies or even with men in other settings.
(Even JOHN WESLEY had men-only and women-only studies and small groups, which he called BANDS)
Within just a few months… we had 18 men crammed into my living room. The men were inviting other men… on their own. A need was being met.
Finally, we had to move to the Family Life Center.
About a year later we added the Monday night men’s group.
There are different kinds of men’s groups. Some have only 3-4 men and provide a safe place for men to share with each other… confess struggles, hold each other accountable, etc.
Our men's ministry has plenty of prayer and concern for one another. (What John Wesley called “Watching over one another in love.”)
But the main emphasis in our ministry, from the beginning, has been STUDYING God’s Word TOGETHER. Men + Bible = Strength
Now, as I often say, we don’t study the Bible just so we can just learn a lot of Bible information and win Jeff Foxworthy’s Bible Trivia TV show. We learn the information for transformation.
The Apostle Paul says in Romans 12:2…
“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
A paraphrase of this verse is: “Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold.”
If men are going to prevent being squeezed into the world’s mold, to be conformed to the world around us, then we have to renew our minds. And Paul says this mind-renewal will help to transform our lives into the likeness of Christ.
The King James Version of the Bible quotes Proverbs 23:7 as saying, “As a man thinks, so is he.” In other words, our “DOING” usually follows our “THINKING.”
So we’re encouraged to renew our minds. But how? With what? Well, the “What”… is God’s Word. And an important part of the “HOW” is… with other men.
Proverbs 27:17 says,
“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”
I can’t tell you how much wisdom flows on Monday evenings and Wednesday mornings as men sharpen one another through study, encouragement, challenging one another, etc. I have learned so much from our men.
But we’re not just meeting together to share our own wisdom. We’re there to hear a Word from God. To get God’s perspective on whatever topic we’re talking about.
Our Scripture this morning tells us why that’s so important.
Let’s look at our text again (2 Timothy 3:14-17)
Scripture makes us wise for salvation through Christ Jesus (verse 15) ·
Scripture is God-breathed (verse 16) ·
Scripture is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training us in righteousness (verse 16) ·
Scripture equips the man of God thoroughly for every good work. (verse 17) Ephesians 2:10 says we’re created to do good works. Bible equips us.
That’s why we don’t just sit around and share our own opinions. We study God’s Word on our own… and then come together to hear from one another about what God taught us. And in the process, God takes that collective synergy and gives us even greater wisdom and understanding as his Spirit moves leads our discussion of his Word. To be sure, this takes humility and a teachable spirit, but we think it’s worth it.
What if there was a practical way a group of men could grow closer with God and become more and more the men God created, redeemed, and called them to be… in every sphere of their lives (Baxter)…
* In their private lives when no one else was looking
* At home with their families ·
* At work ·
* At church ·
* In the community
What could a man look like if his mind was renewed each week with a group of men who opened God’s Word together?
Men, we would love to have you come and join us… on MONDAY nights or WEDNESDAY mornings.
Our greatest desire is for you to know Christ and become all that God wants you to be, in every sphere of your lives.
We think our men's ministry here at Southside can be a great instrument in the hands of God to help make that happen.
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