Tuesday, August 18 — Tuesday, September 22
In the midst of chaos and unrest, it’s important to remember that finding Jesus isn’t something we have to do alone. Through community and connection, we find that Jesus’ life reflected a life of connecting with others, and in turn, He lead them to connect with the Father. Join us in this 5-week series as we learn to seek Jesus in the midst of community, such as in our discipleship groups. Check back here for a new article each week!
There is a lot that can be said about discipleship groups; but I share three points that I believe to be most important about being a part of a discipleship group.
The first point is I get the opportunity to hear others’ perspectives on Scripture, life, current events that affect society, etc. The perspective of others is very important, especially when others have different upbringings, economic statuses and cultural backgrounds. This allows you to venture across cultural boundaries.
When I say culture, I mean the ability to lovingly understand each other’s differences and challenges for the purpose of growing together as a unified community of believers (Christ followers). Different perspectives help individuals to navigate the turbulent waters of understanding others struggles.
Psalm 133 states: “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes! It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore,” (ESV).
A second point about discipleship groups is they are good environments for accountability. Accountability is important to all believers’ walk with Christ because we all need to be held accountable for all of our actions. We all have things that we struggle with and accountability partners help us overcome our individual struggles that may hinder our spiritual growth.
Galatians 6:1-2 states: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ,” (ESV).
The last point that I will make note of is that discipleship groups allow individuals to sharpen one another’s character, build relationships and deepens everyone’s knowledge of Scripture.
Proverbs 27:17 states: “Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend,” (KJV). Ultimately, discipleship groups help to strengthen believers’ personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Matthew 5:16: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
The verse printed above; I have said since I was a child. My mind jumped straight to the thought: “I’ve got this basic stuff already. Let’s get to some deeper stuff.” I love it when Jesus stops me in my tracks and realigns my thinking. He does that through His word. After some further reading and digging, I came to a different conclusion. “This is the deep stuff.” It is fathomless because it’s not something to do, but something you are. I love the way the Message Bible says this passage.
The Message Bible, Matthew 5:14-16: “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I have put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand… shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.”
We are here to be light and as His light-bearers we need to realize that He can place us where we will do the most good. It’s His job to place us and our job to shine. There is a strong picture painted in this passage of a city where many lights together raised up by God will be a powerful thing.
Hebrews 10:24-25: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day draw near.”
So… “Why Groups?” is the question. My answer is easy because I have just been away from my group for a break this summer and I can say without a doubt I need them. We need each other!
We need each other for three reasons:
To Stand To Stir To Strengthen
To Stand as light in a dark world. Reminding each other of who we are and that we are here to be Light.
To Stir each other to love and to do good that will change people’s lives.
To Strengthen each other with our stories of God’s faithfulness and power in our everyday lives so we can continue to stand in a dark world.
In my D-Group, we always study a whole book of scripture in its entirety. We are in the book of Esther right now. I am amazed how the message of Esther is meeting us right in the middle of our modern lives. The beautiful thing about scripture is that it is for every generation. I am also confident that the portion of scripture your group is processing right now will speak to your life as well.
I wish I could tell you all of the powerful stories full of those “good works” that shine so brightly in a dark world and change lives. The stories I love best are the ones I have seen in the women that I walk through life with in this group. I see them give strength and hope with their light. I have to be truthful and let you know that they have also strengthened my life and my walk with Jesus.
In the book of Esther one of the most powerful points of the story is when Esther is asked a few hard questions. The last is very thought-provoking: “And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” I believe God has you and I just as strategically placed for just such a time as this. He knew right where we would be in this dark world during this time. Only He knows where He needs His light to shine. He promises that He will provide the light… so just shine and let Him be seen.
Jesus tells us in John 16:33 that: “in this world you will have trouble.” One of the biggest misconceptions of modern American Christians is that Jesus came to make us happy. That if something bad is happening to me, then that means something is wrong with my faith. Both of these notions are completely incompatible with the Jesus that we know from the gospels. Jesus didn’t come to make us happy, He came to make us holy.
As Christians it shouldn’t be a problem for us when bad times come. We know they are coming. We know that: “in this world you will have trouble.” We also know that the second part of that verse is true as well, “But take heart! I have overcome the world.” For Christians the question isn’t if we will have problems, the question is when. It doesn’t matter how good you are; we know that Matthew 5:45 tells us, “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” So, troubles are coming. No matter who you are, follower of Jesus or not.
If troubles are coming, and we know it then it would only make sense to be prepared. This is where the world and Christians should respond differently. The normal answer we hear in the world about dealing with troubles is self-sufficiency. That with enough time, money, focus, etc. you can make it on your own. That you don’t need others. This is even more true if the people you are around tell you something you disagree with; the world’s answer is that you are always right because you feel it.
The Christian response is the exact opposite. During troubles is when we must lean into community. This is Why Groups are so important. They are your people that will be there in these troubles.
Now the second issue around this is that there are two types of troubles. The first type of trouble you will experience in your life is the least welcoming to modern people. That is self-inflicted trouble. The Bible is clear; sin causes destruction. Many of our troubles are in our life because of sin choices we have made (and usually continue to make). We often deflect these as someone else’s fault.
Sin: “I had to look at pornography, she wasn’t sexually interested in me anymore.”
Which leads to eventual trouble: “My wife is leaving me; she says she doesn’t love me anymore.”
Sin: “Can you believe Karen? She is such a terrible mother.”
Which leads to eventual trouble: “I don’t know why I don’t have any friends.”
Sin: “I had such a hard day, one more drink won’t hurt before I head home.”
Which leads to eventual trouble: “How am I supposed to get to work to help my family without a license?”
These self-inflicted troubles are terrible things; and the answer isn’t to deflect them. The answer is to own them and like the book of James tells us: “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” (5:16) Groups are essential for moving past self-inflicted sins through confession and prayer. Your group needs to help you understand that just because you do something doesn’t make it right. As you grow with the people in your group and you get to know each other better it should eventually get to the point where, like Paul in the New Testament, they can call you out on things you don’t even notice in yourself.
The second kind of troubles are those inflicted upon us. There are bad things that happen. Like the scripture says above, it rains on everyone, and who of us can control the rain? You could lose a loved one to a drunk driver, you could find out tomorrow that you have cancer, you could lose your job to a rough patch in the economy. There are troubles in your life that will come no matter what you do, or who you are. One of my favorite community verses in the Bible is in the book of Acts, verse 4:34, it says: “there were no needy persons among them.”
When someone in your group is in trouble that is when the group springs into action. We need to make sure that there is no need that goes uncovered. This is Why Groups are essential for times of trouble.
How we go through troubles is the defining characteristic of how people will know we are followers of Jesus. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another,” (John 13:35). That Bible verse doesn’t say, they will know you are my disciples by the amount of Bible that you know, or even how holy you are. It says that people will know we are disciples of Jesus when we love each other well. So, the way we show love to our group during times of trouble is in fact the best measure of our discipleship to Christ.
My name is Michele Swails and I am the Ministry Assistant to the Discipleship Team. Group life for my husband and I have been a normal way of life for over 30 years. Our group journey started with groups that met on Sunday morning at the church building and moved to groups meeting in different members’ homes. Due to COVID-19, we now are meeting virtually. Jesus said in John 13:34: “love one another.” In each of our groups, no matter how we met, we have loved each other by sharing disappointments, rejoicing in victories, and growing in our faith.
Let’s look at what the Bible tells us about groups. Acts 2:42-47 talks about the fellowship of believers. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
The Bible tells us that the believers listened to and studied the Word. We are grateful that we can still do this even in this unprecedented time. Our worship service is streamed live and we can still listen to God’s Word taught every week. Then, we can study God’s Word virtually with our group, and even now, we are filled with awe as we experience and see the amazing things God is doing in our lives and among our community. Ministry is taking place every day because God is still moving and working.
They met together in person. We can’t do that right now, but we are still “gathering” for worship and in groups. We are staying connected and this allows us to share and grow in our faith. Why? Because we hear God’s Word, ask questions, study and challenge each other. Also, we share in our safe group environment how all that is happening in our lives is affecting us and what we need. Then, we respond in ministry. We talk or text each other. We pick up and deliver something that someone needs. We send a note (handwritten) or flowers to someone. We pray for and with each other.
Life is different and could be viewed as difficult now. Think about how being in a group would allow you to do life better. You always have someone you can contact. You have a backup plan to help fill a need. You are loved by folks you might not have known a year ago because you have new friends.
Group life allows you to “do life” with others. You share problems, concerns, joys, victories and life. Early in our group life our kids were young toddlers. We shared time together as families and our children were able to “grow up” together. We did sports, kept each other’s children and shared many meals together. In fact, one of the children that our daughter grew up with graduated from West Point Academy and we were able to attend the graduation and share in that experience with the family.
One constant about group life has been that we are able to take care of and be there for each other. This is even more important when you don’t have family available to assist. Through births, sickness, deaths, deployments, divorces and marriages, we encouraged and supported each other with compassion and confidentiality. This might include organizing meals for a family going through a crisis, providing transportation to doctor visits or to the hospital, delivering groceries, or even walking with a fellow group member for some exercise.
Another way we show love in our groups is to always be open for new people. Jesus said to go and make disciples. We believe it is very important to make space for people seeking to connect in group life. This philosophy helps us make new friends, develop new relationships, identify and train new leaders and help start new groups.
We also show love to our community by serving as a group. Examples are: helping feed homeless people downtown, delivering food and necessities to folks living in a motel, participating with P.A.C.K. ministry (meeting basic needs of children in our community), and volunteering at the Lighthouse (CCC food and clothing pantry). Serving together strengthens our faith and brings us closer to each other and Jesus.
Do you have a group of people that you relate well with? Do you have a group of people with similar life experiences? Do you have a group of people who can come over in the middle of the night and keep a child when a new baby is coming or sit with someone when there’s difficult news of health issues or when a loved one has passed? If you do, you know what it means to share life together. We have found this kind of love within discipleship groups. There you are taught, challenged, encouraged and loved as you “do life” together. It’s a place to experience true fellowship with friends who “have your back.”
What does joining a group look like? What do I need to know or do to start? If I want others to share life with me, what does that require from me? All you need to do is email: firstname.lastname@example.org. We will help you get connected into a group.
Have you ever wondered what it may have been like to be friends with Jesus? I mean that literally—having Jesus as your pal, your fishing buddy, the guy you’d call if your boat was in need of repair. “Hey Jesus, can you come over to my house and fix my boat? That storm the other night ripped the sails to shreds. I mean, Jesus… if you can speak to the storm and stop it, the boat repairs will be a ‘breeze!'”
Jesus had friends, a community! The Gospels tell us He had a group that traveled with Him as He moved about Israel preaching and teaching. Several of them were fishermen (four of them for sure), there was a tax collector, a Zealot (probably a politician involved in an attempt to overthrow the Roman government) and a few guys whose jobs were never mentioned. It is fascinating to think about WHY Jesus chose this unlikely crew as His first Discipleship Group. Truthfully, some of them probably didn’t even like one another.
For example: Matthew the Tax Collector worked for the Roman government while Simon the Zealot was working frantically to overthrow the government. Putting these two in a small group together was a bold and risky move. I picture Jesus reflecting on the situation and concluding—this will be a great test of my Kingdom principles. Let’s see if these two can “work it out,” and come to unity, in real spiritual community. If I’m going to commission them to take My Kingdom message to the entire world, they’ve gotta know by experience IT WORKS!
I like to think about Jesus and His disciples field testing the principles for living in the Kingdom of God. For them, it was much more than a theory! They were attempting to live it out, and know it by experience! They moved it from belief in a concept to faith-based practice. I believe that moving toward a D-Group is a basic discipleship practice.
We know that Jesus had 12 Disciples. Some people believe that out of that group, three guys had a deeper connection with Jesus—Peter, James, and John. We see in the story line that these three were with Him when He experienced God’s glory during the transfiguration, and the intensity of the Garden experience right before Jesus’ arrest. Notice the cascading relational patterns—The Three, The Twelve (disciples), and The Seventy-Two close associates Jesus commissioned for ministry. (Note: 72 in the ESV. Only 70 in some manuscripts, and then larger, and larger groups He connected with. See Luke 10: 1-18).
There are several things that inform our understanding of the role of groups and why relational circles matter in our discipleship to Jesus.
That first D-Group was diverse in their thinking, preferences, and idealized notions. They were, in that way, like the people who live around me and are part of my D-Group—liberals, conservatives, Baptists, Presbyterians, Catholics, faithful, faith-less, sinners, and saints representing all kinds of backgrounds, educational levels, and physical sizes, shapes and colors. And, they all belong in the Kingdom, just like the early disciples did! After all, He prayed for them and for us. We were on His heart—our unity and deep transformation, not our blind conformity.
As we consider the Way of Jesus, we remember He was clear about the values of relational connections and the importance of doing intimacy with our close circles. In a nut shell, His personal invitation to community looks a bit like this:
During this season of COVID-19, we have heard a ton of different perspectives—some people loving more time at home with family, enjoying daily meals and deeper connections; others feeling cut-off, isolated, and lonely. Some have not minded a worship experience relegated to their living room; others have felt extremely disconnected from the Body. One thing we’ve observed… those who have deep connections with a group of Jesus followers have been able to navigate this season with greater ease. WHY? Because we were made for connections; our souls were made to thrive in a relational circle.
Sociologists are saying it, scores of researchers are publishing studies about it, and current authors are getting rich from promoting the idea. Also, psychologists and therapists are prescribing it and healthy churches are facilitating it! So, my recommendation for everyone, especially those who are pursuing spiritual growth and maturity is this: get connected to a small group of disciples who pursue the Jesus Way by meeting together regularly to learn how to BE with Jesus, so that they can BECOME like Jesus, and then go DO what Jesus did!