This post was originally found on Thom Rainer’s blog. Thom Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Prior to LifeWay, he served at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for twelve years where he was the founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism.
The Biggest Mistake Pastor’s Make
I love pastors.
I love affirming pastors. I love speaking positively for pastors. That’s why this article is a bit different for me.
Pastors, I want to talk frankly and, hopefully, with a spirit of love, about one of the biggest mistakes I see many of you make. Most pastors have little emphasis, or sometimes, even knowledge about the content that is taught in groups in their churches.
You Wouldn’t Do This in Preaching
I know you pastors would not think of coming to the pulpit unprepared. You know your text. You know your message. You have prayed about it. You have labored over it. You will not preach that sermon without much prayer and work.
It’s just too important. I completely agree. The centrality of preaching is paramount to the health of the church. I commend you for your prayers, your efforts, and your focus. You will not come to the pulpit unprepared.
But What Is Being Taught in Your Church’s Groups?
But many of you don’t give adequate attention to the content used in your church’s groups. Those groups may be home groups, community groups, small groups, Sunday school classes, or a myriad of other names.
I really understand your reticence. You don’t want to micromanage. You don’t want to be controlling. You want to empower people to lead and choose for themselves. But, in a LifeWay Research study, we found that 75 percent of group leaders and members desired direction for the material used in their groups.
Did you get that? Three of four small group leaders explicitly said they are seeking direction. They want your leadership in this vital area of discipleship.
While pastors are largely very careful about who preaches and what is preached, they do not usually give the same diligence to the content of small groups. Discipleship can take place in many places, but it should be taking place in those small groups. And the unintended consequences of not having a wise plan for discipleship is that you will fail to make disciples, or you may even have heretical teaching in some groups.
Leaders must be intentional in providing a clear plan of discipleship for small groups, and that plan must include clear guidance about content. Such a posture does not mean that leaders are autocratic or non-collaborative. Leaders, pastors particularly, must be involved.
An Example of a Wise Discipleship Plan for Groups
While using LifeWay’s Bible studies as an example for content for groups may seem self-serving, I am very pleased with the work that has gone into this discipleship plan. I am well aware that there are many other choices available.
Basically, we have four broad lines of content for small groups and Sunday school classes. They are each distinguished by the starting point for the small group:
- Starting Point: Theology. Gospel Project. The Gospel Project is a curriculum that studies the Bible from a theological perspective, particularly by looking at the grand narrative of Scripture.
- Starting Point: Biblical Text. Explore the Bible. This curriculum studies the Bible by individual books of the Bible, going chapter by chapter through a particular book.
- Starting Point: Life Issues. Bible Studies for Life. Another Bible study with a different starting point, Bible Studies for Life looks at key life issues (example: marriage, relationships, money, and others) from the perspective of biblical texts.
- Starting Point: Church Context. Discipleship in Context. This particular curriculum is basically a customized study for the church. Leaders in the church let LifeWay know the biblical texts and focus of the study, and team members at LifeWay design a study just for the church. Many churches are using this approach to design studies around the pastor’s sermons.
We are gratified to see many churches using at least two of the curriculum lines in different settings. For example, one church uses Explore the Bible for its Sunday morning Bible study groups, and Bible Studies for Life for its home groups.
The Urgent Need
Again, LifeWay’s Bible studies are an example of intentionality of a wise discipleship plan to use in groups. You know what is being used for content. And you know why the particular Bible study plan is used. Pastors and other church leaders: please don’t ignore the urgent need to have a plan, purpose, and content for your church’s small groups.
The need is too great to let discipleship become haphazard and unintentional. You wouldn’t approach preaching without a clear idea of what you are preaching and why you are preaching. Please do no less for your small groups.
So, how does your church determine its content for small groups or Sunday school classes? Do you have a clear and specific plan for discipleship through your church’s groups? I would love to hear from you.
By Thom Rainer