But I’m Not Good At Leading Small Groups

Churches do not make disciples of Jesus, disciples do. From the beginning kingdom multiplication came by disciples making disciples, not churches starting churches or small groups starting small groups.

(This is not to say that disciples cannot be made in churches or in small groups, but it is the disciples in those churches or small groups that are actually making the disciples.)

The books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John give us four extensive accounts of Jesus training his disciples. Nowhere in that training do we find “how to start a church” or “multiplication through growing small groups.” Jesus sends his eleven men into the world to make disciples following the pattern they had experienced with Jesus the previous three years.

Jesus had used farming to teach the disciples how kingdom multiplication works. The evidence of a plant’s maturity is its ability to produce fruit. The mark of spiritual maturity is a disciple’s ability to produce another disciple. One tomato seed will produce hundreds of tomatoes and one apple seed will produce generations of apples. It is unnatural for any life form not to reproduce itself and so it is spiritually unnatural for a disciple of Jesus to not reproduce himself.

There are very few that can lead a small group and even fewer that can start a church, but everyone can make disciples of Jesus. On the most primary level, parents and grandparents making disciples of their own children and grandchildren.





Disciple-Making and Making Space

Disciple-making is based in the relational nature of the Trinity. The love that the Father, Son, and Spirit have for one another enabled them to open up and make space so that others could belong to the family of God.

Jesus came on earth to show in practical ways how God’s love should function among us. Jesus made space and drew12 men into his life providing for them a place to belong. He created an experience for his disciples that reflected the belonging, love, and self-giving essence of the Godhead. This is why disciples should be made in community.

Later the apostle Paul not only proclaimed the good news of Jesus but he also formed these believers into communities that reflected the nature of God. At the core of these communities were a servant’s heart, hospitality, affection, and self-sacrifice that enabled them to make space for others.

To make space for another comes at great cost. For the Godhead it meant the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross, which was costly for all the members of the Trinity. For the apostle Paul it came at the price of years of extreme suffering. Though many things have changed since the first century, the way to make disciples is the same at it was 2000 years ago. Disciples are made only when men and women are willing to lay down their lives for another.


Encouraging Timothy

I want you to picture a young man or woman in your acquaintance that has a genuine faith.

Have you ever told him of the qualities that you have observed in his life?

Have you affirmed her gifts and relayed the encouragement that she has brought to you and to others?

This week I met three seminary students. I would gladly serve along side any one of them and yet none of them has had an older believer to encourage their faith or to help navigate future ministry. No one has sought them out as Paul sought out Timothy.

Paul came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was a Jewess and a believer, but whose father was a Greek. The brothers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. Paul wanted to take him along on the journey . . . “ Acts 16:1-3

Maybe our rugged American individualism keeps our mouths shut as we think, “Well I made it on my own in my faith journey and so they too will be able to pull through with the Lord’s help.” Or a more frightening thought is that the reason we do not encourage the Timothy in our lives is because it just does not cross our minds to do so.

In closing:

  • Ask around and discover the young people that have a genuine faith.


  • Determine meaningful ways to encourage those young people.

(I shared this concept with a fellow church leader this week and he said, “Wouldn’t that be awkward just to go up to a college student tell them how I have observed his faith and appreciate his walk with God.” My reply was, “What will be more awkward is someday when you try to explain to Jesus why you didn’t encourage more young people in their faith.”)

  • Talk to leaders about how your spiritual family could empower these Godly young men and women.

How Faith is Formed

“What curriculum do you use?” is the questioned I am asked most about disciple-making. I want to tie this to the question “where did we do wrong?” asked by brokenhearted parents who raised their children in church but who now as adults want nothing to do with Christianity. I believe both of these questions reveal a misconception on how faith is cultivated in the life of a person.

Since God created us like him and therefore he has a understanding of how we work, I believe we should look closely at what the Lord instructed Israel on the spiritual formation of their children and at how Jesus taught his disciples. Looking not only at what was to be learned but the means by which it was to be taught.

The book of Exodus is the account of God delivering Israel from bondage to freedom. The story begins with the birth of Moses and then flows seamlessly through nine plagues until a hard stop at the plague of “The Death of the Firstborn” where the Lord breaks from the narrative to establish the commemoration of the Passover. This parenthesis in the storyline signals the importance of what is taking place and invites the reader to no longer be a spectator but to join in the redemptive story through the Passover practices (Exodus 12-13).

The instructions for the Passover are given to the parents to be celebrated as a family in their home as a means of conveying the redemptive story of God from one generation to the next. Everett Fox points out that “ . . . memory is clearly important here, with two passages stressing the continuity of commemoration through the following generations (Exodus 13: 8-10 and 14-16).”[1]

A couple of observations:

  • The redemptive nature of God is foundational to disciple-making.
  • Children were a key consideration for the Passover.

Exodus 12:26-27“And it will be when your children say to you: What does this service (mean) to you? Then say: It is the slaughter-meal of Passover to YHWH, who passed over the houses of the Children of Israel in Egypt, when he dealt-the blow to Egypt and our houses he rescued.”

  • The family is the optimal place to teach the redemptive story of God.

Exodus 12:3 “On the tenth day after this new-Moon they are to take them, each-man, a lamb, according to their Fathers’ House, a lamb per household.”

  • Stories and symbols play an important role in remembering the redemptive nature of God.
  • The means and method of the Passover were to insure the retelling of the redemptive story of God for generations.

Exodus 12:42 “It is a night of keeping-watch for YGWH, to bring them out of the land of Egypt; that is this night for YHWH, a keeping-watch of all the Children of Israel, throughout their generations.”



[1] Everett Fox, “The Five Books of Moses”, (New York: Schocken Books, 1995), p. 322.

Companionship and Learning Builds the Church – Not the Other Way Around

My greatest desire currently is to see the Kingdom of God engage with Chicago – our hometown. This will only happen by way of the followers of Jesus loving one another.  Although loving one another may seem like an inward focus, it is in reality an outward connection point with society.

Jesus addresses this kingdom principle twice. First he tells his disciples that everyone will know that they are his disciples by their love for one another (John 13:34-35). Then, later in the same evening, Jesus prayed for his disciples, “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even you have loved me” John 17.23). In other words, our unity is a testimony to the culture that the Father sent Jesus into the world and that the Father loves his children.

Christianity has tried many approaches to engage society. We have retooled our church services to be more relevant, served the city through community projects; we have become involved in politics and launched media campaigns. Though I do not question the sincerity behind these efforts, I have wondered about their effectiveness.

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Why We Aren’t Reaching the Millennials

The numbers tell the story: although Christianity has tried several strategies to reach young people, none have been as effective as hoped. Recent studies reveal that not only is Christianity not bridging to millennials (those born 1981 or later), but it cannot even keep its established base.  The Pew Research Center found that:

The large proportion of young adults who are unaffiliated with a religion is a result, in part, of the decision by many young people to leave the religion of their upbringing without becoming involved with a new faith. In total, nearly one-in-five adults under age 30 (18%) say they were raised in a religion but are now unaffiliated with any particular faith.[1]

The Barna Group in their research identified:

Nearly three out of every five young Christians (59%) disconnect either permanently or for an extended period of time from church life after age 15.[2]

The problem is not that the millennials are a more difficult or complex generation than their predecessors. The problem is Christianity itself. We as organized Christianity willingly changed our music, our services, our dress, and our buildings because we were told that these adjustments would make us more attractive to the younger generation. Now we find ourselves not only disappointed in the unfulfilled promises of this extensive makeover, but alienated from the older generations who opposed or resisted the changes.

I’m often asked to coach people on their disciple-making efforts. Much of the time I come away with the same two feelings: (1) deep appreciation for their intent and (2) disappointment over their approach. Western Christianity seems to be enamored with programs, campaigns, and curricula while giving lesser attention to the heart-and-soul matters of relational connection. If we’re not effective, we assume our methodology is what’s broken.

At this point many will go back to the basics and reconsider what the Bible teaches about discipleship. Unfortunately, even then the tendency is to skip over the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) and dive into the book of Acts and Paul’s letter. I say this is unfortunate because in bypassing the Gospels we overlook four accounts of the time God came to earth and the great many lessons to be learned from Christ’s encounters with seekers, followers, doubters, and grievers. Joseph Hellerman describes it like this:

The earthly ministry of Jesus of Nazareth constitutes the one time in the history of humanity when heaven fully and finally came to earth. In Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, we have the opportunity to see the question “What is God Like?” answered in the flesh-and-blood world in which we live. During His incarnation Jesus not only procured our way to heaven. He also shows us how to live on earth.  Now we can pattern our lives after Jesus.[3]

What is God like? Asking and answering that question is the starting point of all ministry, discipleship included. In a word, God is love.

At the baptism of Jesus, the heavenly Father declared his love for his Son. “And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased’” (Matthew 3:17). This was a clear declaration of the love bond between the heavenly Father and Jesus. This familial love then became the basis for Jesus’ love for his disciples and the disciples love for one another. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love” (John 15:9), and “As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all me will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).

There is only one way and there will always be only one way to make disciples, and that is to love. Discipleship at is core is demonstrating how to love.

[1]Religion Among the Millennials. (2010). Retrieved August 2012, from www.pewforum.org

[2] Kinnaman, David (2011, Six Reasons Why Young Christians Leave Church. Retrieved August 2012, from http://www.barna.org/teens-next-gen-articles/528-six-reasons-young-christians-leave-church

[3] Joseph H. Hellerman, When the Church Was a Family (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2009), 62.

A Fear of People

Understanding your disciple’s fear is difficult enough but it is even more challenging when he has a fear of people. A fear of people is a powerful and deceptive lens, which transforms the truth to appear as a lie and a lie as the truth.

Jesus exposed the motives of the religious leaders of his day when he observed: “Everything they do is done for men to see.”  (Matthew 23:5). Religious systems are based on pleasing and impressing others, which places a fear of people in the heart of its followers. It was a fear of people that (1) blinded the Pharisees, Sadducees, Priests, and Elders from embracing the love of Jesus and accepting his deity,  (2) necessitated that they discredit the miracles that were before their eyes (Luke 6:6-11) and, (3) required them to nullify or modify the scriptures (Matthew 15: 21:23-27; Luke 11:37-53; Acts 7:51-53). A fear of people in a religious context is especially disorienting because it is taught that all we are doing is for God, but in reality many things are being done to please people.

A couple of observations:

  • A fear of people will cause your disciple to be apprehensive of your relationship with him since you are a “people”.
  • Getting to know the religious background in which your disciple was raised will help you understand how he relates to people and any misconceptions he may have of God.  (Lutheran, Methodist, Mormon, Muslim, Catholic, Non-denominational, Baptist, etc.) Just recently I visited the home church of one of my disciples which gave me new understanding into his perspective.
  • Teach your disciple to love God and the Bible in such a way that he lets it mean what it says and not what he wants it to say or what others have told him it says.

Forgiving God #1

Early on you may need to teach your disciple how to forgive God. I am not suggesting that God has ever done anything wrong to anyone. I understand the absurdity of a man forgiving God, but what I am suggesting is that your disciple may be bitter at the Lord, though unfairly, just as he would be at any person.

Man holds captive those who have wronged him in a debtor’s prison in his heart because he believes they “owe” him something.  He will even say, “They owe me an apology.”  He convinces himself that it would be “unjust” to forgive them for what they have done to him, or his family, or his friend.

As futile as it is for a human to try to hold God hostage in his tiny heart and tiny mind he still attempts it. He seeks revenge against the Lord so he withdraws relationally from him.  It maybe never going to church again, or to behave in a way that he believes is especially defiant in order to get the Lord’s attention, even though it is self-destructive. Not too different from what Harry Emerson Fosdick has said, “Hating people is like burning down your own house to get rid of a rat.”

Teaching Your Disciple How to Forgive #4

Recently a guy said to me, “Lewie, what is wrong with me? I am doing the very things I swore I would never do!” His dad later asked me, “What has happened to my son? I feel like I don’t know him anymore.” A dramatic change in your disciple’s behavior is probably not as sudden as it appears. Though hidden for years a root of bitterness buried in the secrecy of his heart will eventually manifest its fruit in his life.

While young your disciple can manage his bitterness and keep it at bay. But as he grows older he accumulates more hurt and disappointment that if not dealt with properly moves him towards a tipping point where the bitterness overwhelms him and takes over his life. Even his future is now controlled by his past hurt.

There is an agenda behind all bitterness.  Your disciple targets his bitterness with precision. A son or daughter knows exactly what will hurt and disappoint his mom and dad, as any student knows the values of his school, and a parishioner understands what will get the attention of her church.  The bitter person uses this knowledge as a means to either get the attention of another, to seek revenge, or to cause a person to pay for a wrong done.

Some closing insights on bitterness and forgiveness:

  • Not only will it frustrate your disciple but it will also be futile to try and get him to change his behavior before he understands how to forgive those who have hurt him.
  • You will need to partner with your disciple as he confronts his past because fear will hinder him from facing his hurt and disappointment.
  • All bitterness is ultimately directed towards God.  (More on that later.)

False Advertising

Making disciples of Jesus requires time.  We come dangerously close to false advertising when we declare that we are a church or ministry of “God’s love” and then the people in our ministry are too busy to spend time with one another or with outsiders.  It is hurtful to be told by someone “I love you” and then they do not have the time to spend with you-especially when you need them.  Who has not been stung by family or friends who were too busy to get together? Love cannot just be verbalized but it also must be demonstrated as seen in God’s love for us: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:6-8

It has been said that the gospel declared but not demonstrated is not heard.  Since the gospel is love, I would add that a love declared but not demonstrated is not heard.  The words “I love you” mean little without the action to accompany those words.  Action requires time.  If I have no time then I am not able to act and therefore not able to love.

This then begs the question: why am I so busy? I have wondered if my busyness is an attempt to avoid slowing down enough to realize that either (1) I am not loved, (2) that I do not know how to love, or (3) I understand the cost to love and I am unwilling to pay that price.  It is also less painful to blame the void of love in my life on busyness rather than having to admit that I am not loved or do not know how to love.