Westlake like every church is facing some pressing challenges as a result of COVID. Some people have talked about going back to “normal” but we the truth is we don’t know with any degree of certainty what “normal” is. However, as a church we don’t want to be just passive, we want to grasp the opportunities that the future holds to try and be a church which makes disciples in a consistent and effective way. Part of what that means is thinking about our structure, how we meet as a church. I wanted to update this old blog post because it lays down the foundation for much of the thinking we will need to take into consideration as we try and create a structure that helps us disciple one another effectively.
Foundational to our thinking is that relationships and groups are indispensable in helping us grow as disciples. An important book called DISCIPLESHIP THAT FITS by Bobby Harrington and Alex Abaslom has helped me clarify my thinking in this area and I think the implications for us as individual disciples and as a church are so important that I wanted to share them with you.
Harrington and Absalom have three basic convictions about discipleship
- GOD DISCIPLES US
- GOD DISCIPLES US THROUGH RELATIONSHIPS
- GOD DISCIPLES US THROUGH RELATIONSHIPS DIFFERENTLY IN DIFFERENT RELATIONAL CONTEXTS
What they are saying is that in order to grow in discipleship we need to be connected in different sized groups with people as each sized group has a different function.
Maybe its easiest to explain this by looking at how Jesus discipled people relationally in different sized groups
There were times when Jesus discipled people through large groups. Crowds came to him and Jesus impacted them through his inspirational and challenging public teaching. At other times Jesus seemed to have discipled people through medium sized groups maybe 30-40 people. Much of his time was spent discipling a small group of 12 who would be the core leadership of His movement. Then again Jesus sometimes took, just a few people apart to disciple, Peter, James and John. Finally, in the Gospels we see occasions when Jesus had discipleship encounters with people on their own.
Here is a graphic representation of these different sized groups and what they achieve in discipling people .
NOW HERE IS WHERE WE GET TO WHAT I THINK ARE THE REALLY IMPORTANT IMPLICATIONS
Firstly, it’s a myth that you can grow as disciple if you are just involved in one social context, in one size of Christian fellowship. Probably the most common expression of this myth are people who think that just attending a Sunday worship service is all they need to live as Christian and grow spiritually. However, there are a growing number of people who are saying that Sunday worship services are optional for them and they can be discipled by just meeting with a few people or even by simply meeting with God on their own.
We all need to be connected in different sized groups to experience discipleship that brings transformation.
I have lost count of the number of times I have heard a Christian saying something like “I am leaving this church, I haven’t made any friends” What I have often discovered when I ask these people some questions is that they, by and large, only attend Sunday services. The problem is that they are confused about the purpose of Sunday worship and so have unrealistic expectations about what they should experience. You should expect to get good practical biblical teaching to help you understand how to live out your faith in a Sunday worship gathering. However, if you are expecting to develop deep and meaningful relationship through gathering with a large group of people in a building for about an hour and half one day a week you are going to be disappointed. People often also have the wrong expectations about small groups in the church. A group of 10 to 12 people isn’t the place to expect to be supported and held accountable over an addiction but it’s a great sized group to be supported if you are struggling with a chronic illness or need to get encouraged when you are feeling life is hard.
The big point of all of this is that we need to have the right expectations of the different sized groups we are part of.
The challenge for us as a church is to make sure that we can create the structures to allow people to be involved in all five of these social contexts. It’s a further challenge to do that in a way that doesn’t run people ragged and mean that we are so involved in going to meetings we don’t actually have much time to live out our faith in the front-lines of our life.
So how many of these different sized groups are you consistently connected with other people in? Please pray for us as a church as we grapple with these issues around discipleship and structure