by Gil Hanke*
What would transform each local church within our denomination? What activities have a proven track record that turn “pew sitters” into “disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world?” These are not new questions, and the core answer returns us to some basic premises of John Wesley as he understood the teachings and servant leadership of Jesus Christ. The delivery system of these basic tenants requires an update, but the answers are obvious.
Here are some assumptions:
1. Disciples are not made in worship services, but corporate worship is essential to being a disciple
2. Discipleship forms in small Christ centered groups that regularly meet, usually weekly
3. Discipleship focuses us on a growing relationship with Christ
4. Our Wesleyan roots require a balance in both personal and social holiness
5. Most discipleship groups are gender specific
6. Many discipleship groups are intergenerational
7. Some discipleship groups are formed for a particular study or from a particular event
8. Some discipleship groups form for a particular time frame
9. Many groups continue for years
10. Discipleship groups require some deliberate interaction with Scripture and with Prayer
What are the challenges with getting men into small groups?
2. If they grow out of a particular event, adding new persons to the group can be difficult
4. The group can get off track and become something that is not Christ centered or Wesleyan
There is no shortage of materials for small groups. Some use fairly expensive materials that combine video and small group discussion, while some have only a set series of questions that each participant answers during each meeting. Many do some combination of materials, but cost should not be a limiting factor. Wesley began many of his small groups with the single question, “How is it with your soul?”
Are we inviting men with the right question?
How do we deal with the time issue? This is really a combination of issues. There is the time of the meeting, the time to get to and from the meeting. In larger cities the transportation time is a bigger issue. Maybe we are asking the wrong question. When we set up a group are we asking, “We want you in this small group, and we are going to meet at X (particular time) on every Y (particular day), at Z (particular place)?” Would we get further if we asked, “when could you meet, night or day?” Take the “where” out of the deal; take the travel time out of the deal. Focus on a meeting time. Then use the technology that is available. It could be a conference call, but more likely it will be a “hangout” on Google or a Skype call.
Technology is the best way to manage the “time” issue. It is also the best way to have men under 40 in your group. Because you are doing this online, does not mean you open this group to strangers lurking on the internet. This is using technology to connect with people you already know. This same group could decide that there is a special event they want to attend, or a local mission project they want to help with, so they can all get some “3D” time as well. The technology can also be used with a face to face meeting, for people who can meet, but can’t be at the meeting. Persons who travel a lot, or who move to another community can still stay connected.
If a pastor is asked, “What would you want the men of this church to do on a daily basis?” their answer would probably be:
1. Read the Bible
3. Celebrate where you see God at work
4. Find a way to deal with issues that challenge you
Here is a very simple format for a small group. Ask each man to read the Upper Room Daily Devotions every day. They can subscribe to small booklet, or have it sent to their phone, tablet, or computer every day. Each devotional includes the scripture and the prayer. In the meeting, ask “Which reading made the most sense to you this week? Which reading didn’t make sense to you this week? Where have you seen God at work this week? What is your plan to deal what is challenging you?” Groups typically meet for only one hour, and begin and end with prayer.
So as we start the new year, let us do what we can to start small groups of men who agree to read the Upper Room Daily Devotions each day and meet for up to one hour face to face in person or electronically. Let’s agree to transform the men of our churches. Let’s stop talking about the need for disciples and make some.
*Gil Hanke is top staff executive of the General Commission on United Methodist Men