Small Groups That Have the DNA of a Disciple-Making Movement – Part 2
– By Paul Watson –
In part 1 we described four elements of the DNA needed for groups that multiply and become reproducing churches. Here are the remaining essential elements.
As I said before, obedience is a critical element of Disciple-Making Movements. Obedience has to be present even at the small group level, even with groups of lost people. To clarify, we don’t look at groups of lost people, shake our finger, and say, “You must obey this passage.” Instead, we ask, “If you believed this passage is from God, what would you have to change in your life?” Remember, they don’t believe in God yet, so “if” is totally acceptable.
When they choose to follow Christ, you adjust the question, very slightly, “Since you believe this is from God, what are you going to change in your life?” Because they’ve asked this question all along, new believers don’t struggle with the idea that they need to obey God’s Word; that God’s Word requires something of them; that God’s Word requires them to change.
Building accountability into the group DNA starts in the second meeting. Look at the group and ask, “You guys said that you were going to help (fill in the blank) this week. How did it go?” Also ask, “Several of you identified things that needed to change in your life. Did you make those changes? How did it go?” If they didn’t do anything, encourage them to give it a try this time and be ready to share what happened the next time you get together. Emphasize that it is important for the group to celebrate everyone’s accomplishments.
Initially, this will surprise everyone. They won’t expect it. The second meeting, however, several will be ready. After the third meeting, everyone will know what is coming and will be prepared. Obviously, this practice continues after everyone is baptized.
You can’t ask lost people to worship a God they don’t believe in. You shouldn’t force them to lie by singing songs they don’t believe. But, that being said, planting the seeds of worship into the group DNA is possible.
When they talk about things they are thankful for, it will become worship. When they talk about the changes they made in their lives as they respond to Scripture, it will become worship. When they celebrate the difference they made in their community, it will become worship.
Worship songs are not the heart of worship any more than a flower is the same as its seed. Worship is the product of a relationship with God. Singing praise songs is one expression of the joy our relationship with God brings. Yes, eventually they will sing praises. The DNA for worship, however, is embedded long before they start to sing.
Scripture is central to the meeting. The group reads Scripture, discusses Scripture, practices recalling Scripture with each other, and is encouraged to obey Scripture. Scripture does not take second chair to any teacher. Scripture is the teacher. We’ll discuss this more in the next Group DNA element.
When working with lost people, we have to avoid falling into the role of explaining Scripture. If we do, we become the authority rather than allowing Scripture to be the authority. If we are the authority, replication is limited by our leadership capacity and the time we have to teach every group. Consequently, shifting from Scripture being the authority to the teacher being the authority, will keep groups from replicating like they should.
This is a hard shift to make. We love teaching. It makes us feel good. We know the answers and want to share that knowledge with others. But if we want to disciple people who look to Scripture and the Holy Spirit for answers to their questions, we can’t be the answer-person. We have to help them discover what God says to them in His Word.
To reinforce this idea, we call the outsiders who start groups “facilitators.” They facilitate discovery rather than teach. Their job is to ask questions that get lost people to examine Scripture. After they read a passage, they ask, “What does this passage say about God?” and, “What does this passage tell us about humanity (or mankind)?” and, “If you believed this was from God, what would you have to change about the way you live?”
The discovery process is essential to replication. If groups do not learn to go to Scripture and rely on the Holy Spirit to answer their questions, they will not grow like they should and they will not replicate much, if at all.
A vast majority of our group leaders and church leaders have no institutional biblical training. When people hear this, they ask, “What about heresy? How do you keep your groups from going crazy?” This is a great question. As leaders, we should ask this question.
First of all, all groups have the tendency to be heretical in the beginning. They don’t know everything about God’s Word. They are in a process of discovering God which moves them from disobedience to obedience, but it is impossible for them to know everything from the beginning. As the group reads more together, as they discover more about how God wants them to relate to them, they become less heretical. That is part of discipleship.
If we see them going too far away from Scripture, we’ll immediately introduce a new passage and lead them through a Discovery Bible Study on that passage. (Notice that I didn’t say “teach” or “correct.” The Holy Spirit will use Scripture to correct their behavior. They just need to be directed to the right passage.) After they go through the additional study, they recognize what they need to do. More importantly, they actually do it.
Secondly, we need to realize that heresy usually begins with a highly charismatic (I’m referring to charisma, not the denomination!) leader, with some education, who teaches the group what the Bible says and what they must do to obey it. In this case, groups accept what the leader says and never examine it in the context of Scripture.
We teach groups to read the passage and examine how each group member responds to the passage. Groups are taught to ask a simple question, “Where do you see that in this passage?” When someone makes a weird obedience statement, the group asks this question. When someone adds in a detail when they retell the passage, the group asks this question. This question forces all group members to focus on the passage at hand and explain their insights and obedience.
The facilitator models group-correction. They also model focusing on the passage at hand.
Priesthood of the Believer
New Believers and Not-Yet Believers need to realize there are no intermediaries standing between them and Christ. We have to embed DNA that removes the barriers and perceived intermediaries. That is why Scripture must be central. That is why outsiders facilitate rather than teach. That is why the group is taught to self-correct based on what Scripture says.
Yes, leaders will emerge. They have to emerge. It is natural. But leadership is identified by functions that define a role. Leaders are not a different class of spiritual or a special status. If anything, leaders are held to a higher level of accountability, but their accountability doesn’t give them special status.
If the DNA for the Priesthood of Believers is not present, you will never have a church. The discipleship process must establish this DNA.
By using these essential practices in group meetings we have seen non-believers become obedient disciples of Jesus that go on to make more disciples and start new groups that become churches.
Paul founded Contagious Disciple Making (www.contagiousdisciplemaking.com) to build a community for Disciple-Makers and coach them as they apply Disciple Making Movement principles in the USA and Canada. He is a regular instructor for Perspectives on the World Christian Movement and co-authored Contagious Disciple Making: Leading Others on a Spiritual Journey of Discovery with his father, David Watson.
Adapted from an article in the November-December 2012 issue of Mission Frontiers, www.missionfrontiers.org, pages 24-25, and published on pages 65-73 of the book 24:14 – A Testimony to All Peoples, available from 24:14 or Amazon.