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Philosophy of Small Groups - Written Assignment 5

Submitted to Dr. Douglas White

in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the completion of

DSMN 500 D05

Discipleship Ministries


Josh Mawyer

A leader of disciples should have an idea of how small groups impact the success of the
church. A small group that is effective in building up people in the church, as well as taking the
gospel to the community can be a powerful part of the body of Christ. A successful small group
will not just happen by itself however, it takes a good understanding of groups to know how they
should be implemented, and what their purpose in the body of Christ should be. To gain this
understanding, both the role of how a small group fits within the body of the local church and
what is required to make a small group successful will be discussed. This will show how a small
group can spread the good news of Christ to those in the community. There will also be
discussion of where this author finds himself in relation to small groups and how he fits in with
the body of Christ.
Philosophy of Small Groups
The ideal philosophy of small groups is that small groups should be groups of believers
that learn about Gods Word together while at the same time ministering to each other and their
community. This type of group fits in best with the concept of an Is church. An is church is
an organic church model with a simple leadership structure that is composed of small groups that
equip and empower everyone in the body of Christ to be able to perform the Great Commission.1
This is a church that is composed of groups that make up a central body. In order for groups to be
most effective, they must be healthy and thriving gatherings of disciples. An is church has the
greatest potential for effective disciple making.2
1 Dave Earley and Rod Dempsey, Disciple Making Is--: How to Live the Great
Commission with Passion and Confidence (Nashville, Tennessee: B&H Academic,
2013), 281.
2 Ibid., 279.

Relational Group in Authentic Disciple-Making

Putman and Harrington say The relational small group forms the backbone for
discipleship.3 You cannot make authentic disciples without having a great relational small
group. A small group needs to be able to love one another and have great relationships with each
other before they are able to reach others for Christ. Putman and Harrington say The key is that
the small groups purpose is defined as encouraging discipleship --- not primarily fellowship or
counseling or even outreach (although these may be vital components of the process).4
Effective Small Groups
There are several parts to an effective small group. There must be shepherding, teaching,
and accountability present within the group. Effective small groups are not called to make
believers but disciples. Sanders says Jesus did not commission His disciples to go and make
believers of all nations, but disciples; The terms are not synonymous, although there can be no
salvation without believing.5 The leader of a small group acts as its shepherd. This does not
mean that the leader needs to lord over and take total control of the group, but rather the leader
should try to foster an environment where the leader is helping to create new leaders who can go
out and shepherd on their own. Luke 15:1-7 describes the parable of the lost sheep in which the
shepherd tracks down the one lost sheep from the whole flock and rejoices when the sheep
returns to the flock. Just as that shepherd watched over his flock and kept them safe, the same is
3 Jim Putman and Bobby Harrington, Discipleshift: Five Steps That Help Your Church
to Make Disciples Who Make Disciples, Exponential Series (Grand Rapids:
Zondervan, 2013), 186.
4 Ibid., 186.
5 J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Discipleship: Principles of Following Christ for Every Believer (Chicago,
IL: Moody Publishers, 2007), 44.

true for the leader of a small group. They can track down members of the group that have
stopped attending the meetings, or encourage other group members to pray for wayward
members. Putman and Harrington note, He will encourage those who know the person best to
track them down and encourage them to come back to their spiritual family.6 Teaching does
not, and probably should not occur in the traditional format of one person instructing and the rest
of the group listening. Not every believer is gifted in the skill of teaching, and it could hurt the
dynamic of a small group to just listen to one person teach. Instead, the leader should encourage
discussion amongst the group over a particular biblical lesson. This format allows all members of
the group to participate in the teaching and learning. It also can demonstrate how a particular
lesson or truth from the Bible has impacted a persons life, which adds to the relational nature of
the small group. At the same time however, the leader should ensure that the truth from the Bible
does not turn into each group members interpretation, but rather how each person may have
experienced a different facet of the same truth. The third thing that must be present in a small
group is accountability. Ecclesiastes describes the importance of having accountable partners. It
says, Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall,
one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift
him up! (Ecc 4:9-10, ESV). The devil has many strategies to attempt to separate disciples from
Christ. A group that demonstrates accountability between its members can defeat these strategies.
Individuals can realize that they are not struggling alone, and be supported and comforted by
fellow disciples who have also struggled. As Putman and Harrington note, As people share with
one another, they discover that they are not the only ones struggling with an issue, and the shame

6 Jim Putman and Bobby Harrington, Discipleshift: Five Steps That Help Your Church
to Make Disciples Who Make Disciples, Exponential Series (Grand Rapids:
Zondervan, 2013), 187-188.

that keeps them from seeking God or asking people to help is taken away.7 Accountability can
also provide for rebuke when necessary, in order to keep disciples who may be sinning to repent.
The Christian community of small groups will live life similarly to the world but constantly
bearing witness to God.8
Missional Groups
Effective small groups are purposely missional in their intent. These groups can help fulfill the
great commission by doing little things for the community. Small groups can make it a purpose
to go out into their neighborhoods and make friends. By making friends, these small groups will
be a bright shining light for Christ. These small groups can also do a lot of simple things in their
communities. The small groups can start with a lot of different actions. The first missional action
that a small group can take is to work at their local churchs food pantry. The second missional
action that a small group can take is to go in to their neighborhood homeless shelter and help to
feed the hungry. The third missional action that a small group can take is to volunteer in a
neighborhood clean-up. The fourth missional action that a small group can take is to host free
neighborhood events such as an Easter egg hunt or a Halloween party in which they can also
spread the good news of Jesus Christ. Those are just several examples of how small groups can
be missional. There are many other ways a small group can fulfill the great commission as God
calls them to do it. While all of the above are important, it is wise for the group to be praying for
opportunities for missional work. Not every person that hears the gospel will be open to the good
news. The timing of God is often strange to us, but the right person will be open for discipleship
from the group at the right time. Sanders provides the example found in Acts 8 where Phillip left
7 Ibid., 192.
8 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 250.

a thriving church at a call from an angel of the Lord to travel to Ethiopia to convert the Ethiopian
eunuch. This idea seems contrary to common sense. Sanders says however, And through this
convert, none other than Ethiopias chancellor of the exchequer, the Gospel penetrated into that
kingdom.9 A small group that is always looking to spread the gospel as well as being in prayer
and ready to act on requests from the Holy Spirit will find much success in making new disciples
for the body.
My Status in the Body
My status regarding small groups could be better. The church I belong to is between the
Of and Is models. There are a few small groups, but they are not emphasized to the church
body. I have found it hard to find a group that is convenient in terms of location and time. While
a small group should not necessarily be convenient, every group that meets through my church
meets in the evenings and as I work an evening shift job this time is not available to me. It would
be helpful if I could start my own small group here in my neighborhood. I do participate in a one
on one discipleship meeting with a more mature disciple on a weekly basis. I do serve on a
weekly basis with my churchs childrens ministry. I continue to pray for opportunities to start a
group that is more accessible to people who work a non-traditional schedule. I also need to
improve on being more mission minded. I still consider myself a young-adult stage disciple and I
know that the mission opportunities will arise as I continue to mature in my discipleship walk.
Small groups are imperative to a church that wants to be engaged with the community and make
authentic disciples who want to grow the body of Christ. Having a church model that resembles
9 J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Maturity: Principles of Spiritual Growth for Every Believer (Commitment
to Spiritual Growth), New ed. (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2007), 193.

the is church, which is composed of groups that support the body is an excellent way to have a
healthy church body. Understanding that a small group must be shepherded, taught, and have
accountability will help church leaders design small groups that have each of these items. Groups
that are mission minded will be more successful in reaching the local community, and increase
the multiplication efforts of disciple making. Finally, it is important for one to have an
understanding of their own place in the body. Every disciple has something to contribute to the
body through their spiritual gifts, as well as new things to learn about Christ. When an individual
knows their strengths and weaknesses in the body, they are better equipped to contribute to the
body of Christ. They can also learn how to better reach those people around them who may not
be believers and bring such people into the body.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Discipleship. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003.
Earley, Dave, and Rod Dempsey. Disciple Making Is--: How to Live the Great Commission with
Passion and Confidence. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2013.
Putman, Jim. Discipleshift: Five Steps That Help Your Church to Make Disciples Who Make
Disciples (Exponential Series). Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013.
Sanders, J. Oswald. Spiritual Discipleship: Principles of Following Christ for Every Believer.
Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2007.
Sanders, J. Oswald. Spiritual Maturity: Principles of Spiritual Growth for Every Believer
(Commitment to Spiritual Growth). New ed. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2007.