The path to discipleship

My experience with small groups has been frustrating.

Personally, I’ve been a part of small groups for years. In our meetings, we pray with each other and learn scripture together. There’s back and forth dialogue. We share our joys of life and our struggles of faithfulness.

If we aren’t engaging with other Christians like that, our discipleship cannot deepen.

My frustration has been that I’ve not been able to get more people to join those kinds of groups. Most people in the congregations I’ve served stop at affinity groups. They’ll join a group that centers on some shared interests. There are plenty of crafting, singing, cooking and reading groups. Within these groups, there is the assumption of shared faith. We may even pray at these groups before we leave.

Of course, I have no problem with those activities and others like them. But when does discipleship become the center of our shared interest?

It’s ironic that so many United Methodist congregations have abandoned small group models of discipleship today while many other faith traditions have embraced it wholeheartedly. John Wesley used small groups to grow the Methodist movement. He hosted what he called societies. These were large groups of people who worshiped and learned scripture each week. From there, smaller class meetings met to answer the question, “How is it with your soul?”

These small group meetings were mandatory. You could not participate in society meetings if you weren’t willing to meet in a smaller class meeting.

There were also band meetings. These groups weren’t for everyone. In these groups, people met to confess sin and talk about what temptations they were facing. This wasn’t small talk or quilting.

Now, I’ve mentioned all that today so that I can offer you this encouragement. Find a small group that centers on discipleship. Do not let other activities replace what Christ called us to be together.

Jesus said, “each tree is known by its own fruit.” What might it say, then, about our churches that we’d rather meet to knit than to pray? And please, replace knit with any other peripheral activity your church might emphasize.

I’ll share a story to finish today’s devotional.

A few years ago, I introduced a Wesleyan small group model to a group that already met each Wednesday night at church. We talked about the format and what kind of questions we’d ask each other. Long story short, people tolerated it more than they received it.

Oh, I heard the comments.

Fast forward about eighteen months. Every week, we’d ask the same questions of faith and give everyone a chance to talk. One night a saint spoke up and said, “I have to admit, I did not agree with doing this in the beginning. I didn’t like it. But I have learned more about all of you in the past year than I have in decades of being in this church. I’ve grown closer to you.”

She went on to talk about how helpful it was to hear other people share so much. God used that time to deepen her faith.

Let me say it again, find a small group that centers on discipleship.

Stay blessed…john

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John Fletcher

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