Pastoral Perspectives

Small Groups Don’t Automatically Make Disciples

As a church, we have been emphasising the importance of small groups and encouraging everyone to join one, especially the communicant members of the church. In our community, we call our small groups “Discipleship Groups” (DGs) because we want to drive home their purpose which is to make disciples. DGs can be a platform where the children of God spur one another on to grow in the 3 Cs – biblical convictions, Christ-like character and competency in doing Kingdom work. This is part and parcel of establishing the faith of the saints and equipping them to carry out the Great Commission until Christ comes back for us.

Is the concept of ‘small group’ man made? Is it in the Bible? Well, the 1st century churches were house churches. If they were meeting in the homes of the saints, I don’t envisage that the size of each church would be big. In terms of numbers, it would likely be the size of our DGs. In terms of profile, people came to faith by households so their young and old worshipped together, whereas for most of our DGs, the profile is pretty homogenous.  In the early church, elders had been tasked to shepherd the flock of God.

“So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you.” (1 Peter 5:1-2)

For meaningful and effective shepherding to take place, the elders must know their sheep and their sheep must know them. The elders are accountable before God for the sheep that are under their care. This would not be possible if the church was too large.

In the modern church where the size is much bigger, there is no way the elders of the church can do a good job in exercising the oversight of souls unless the church is divided into smaller units, e.g. discipleship groups. We already have DGs but from July, there is a revamp in terms of the DG organisation structure. Each DG now comes under the purview of a pastor or an elder whom we call cluster heads. There are presently 12 cluster heads. Each cluster head oversees 2-3 DGs including the ones he/she is leading. We think that this is more palatable in allowing the pastors/elders to get to know the sheep better. They can also spend more personal time with the DGLs under their charge – to journey with them, care for their souls, encourage them, and serve as a resource for them.

We therefore appeal to all communicant members who are not in any DG to join one so that we can care for you as God would want us to. As members, on the day you were baptised or transferred to this community, you made a commitment to be part of this flock and therefore we as leaders have the responsibility mandated by God to account for your spiritual growth. Can I appeal to you to “obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you”? (Hebrews 13:17)

Small groups don’t automatically make disciples. Just because we have a structure for DGs doesn’t necessarily mean that the DG members will naturally grow as disciples of Jesus. Some have joined a DG and found the experience unpleasant – they’ve met people whom they couldn’t clique with; some started well but conflicts arose halfway, hurts were felt and people were disillusioned; some were discouraged by the lack of commitment from other DG members. Yes, the DG is not perfect just as the church is not perfect. Of course we can do better but we also must recognise that different people are at different spiritual maturity levels and so we really need to bear with one another and be patient with one another as we allow room for growth.

Commitment is key for any community to thrive. There is a need to be committed to attend DG. I am really encouraged when I hear of DG members making effort to attend DG rather than relegating DG to one of the last items on their priority list so that at the slightest inconvenience, they will not show up. Then, there is a need to be committed to Bible study preparation. The more diligent our preparation, the more we can contribute, the more we will glean from the passage and from each other. This is one way to build each other up as we fellowship around the Word.

Last but not least, let’s be committed to sticking with each other however difficult the going may turn out to be. Don’t leave just because you have an issue with the group – work through the issue with the related parties. Be humble enough to listen to each other’s views; be honest enough to share how you feel; be courageous enough to say ‘sorry’ and to extend forgiveness. Try your utmost not to be overly sensitive towards what others do or say so that you don’t jump to conclusions too quickly. On many occasions, what you think others may be saying of you is far from reality. Why waste energy getting upset over something that is not an issue in the first place? You don’t need to agree with everything that your DG members have to say; you can agree to disagree. If you think that you are always right, then you have already been plagued by pride. Be yourselves, be transparent – what you see is what you get. If people tell you, “You are obnoxious,” don’t be angry. Understand that it takes a lot of courage for others to speak the truth to you. Believe that they are speaking the truth in love; they may be pointing out to you your blind spot; be assured that they are not tearing you down.  

Small groups don’t automatically make disciples but they provide a platform for disciple-making to take place. Whether it takes place or not hinges much on what takes place each time the DG meets formally and informally. Does everyone demonstrate commitment in the various forms which I have mentioned earlier? Are we building each other up with the Word of God? Are we supporting each other in prayer and through practical actions? Do we spur each other on toward love and good deeds? Do we look out for unfamiliar faces on Sundays and if they are not in any DG, invite them to our DGs? Does the DG organise activities where we can rub shoulders with the unbelievers? Are we encouraging each other to be contagious Christians wherever God has placed us? Otherwise, though we may be part of a DG for a long time, we won’t see ourselves growing as Christ’s disciples. We leave each meeting unchallenged and unchanged so that the DG merely becomes a social gathering that is no different from those of the world. 

I pray that the small groups we have in True Way will make disciples because they consist of disciples making disciples. I pray that the pastors and elders overseeing the small groups will provide another layer of love, care and discipline necessary for the sheep to grow into the likeness of Christ who is our Good Shepherd.

Rev Lee Kien Seng

July 14, 2019