Gospel Identities in Practice
A healthy leader is one who believes the truth of the gospel, living as a disciple of Christ, as part of the family of God, and as a bold missionary. They live in light of their identity in Christ and the overarching mission of God in our city. As they lead their Missional Community, they foster an environment of deep discipleship, tangible care amongst the group members, and properly contextualized mission. But how do they get to this point? How do they foster this environment as a group? This document highlights four specific areas where MC Leaders can focus to see their group members live in light of Scriptural truths regarding discipleship, care, and evangelism. These areas include preparation, communication, meals, and discussion.
We will explore each of these areas in light of being disciples, part of a family, and heralds of the gospel. How a MC Leader lives in light of these aspects of their identity will empower their preparation, improve their communication, view meal time as an opportunity, and lead discussion winsomely. The group will then be marked by a rhythm that is more like jazz than staccato notes.
In his book, Community: Taking Your Small Group Off Life Support, Brad House compares the life of a group to musical notes. He argues for a rhythm that’s more like jazz with notes all over the place as opposed to staccato notes that are repetitive and ultimately detrimental to genuine community and proclamation of the gospel. A healthy group has consistent elements such as a shared meal, Bible study & discussion, and intentional mission which plays out in a variety of ways in the life-cycle of a group. As we contextualize the gospel in our city, it will necessitate a level of authenticity and love foreign to both the “churched” community we’ll interact with as well as the skeptical. Authenticity by definition is not forced, but that does not mean we do not lead in a way that is thoughtful while shepherding our group members in a certain direction.
A group rhythm that varies based on gospel identities will result in disciples being made and strengthened all to the glory of God. There will be a level of authenticity that is absolutely necessary, but unfortunately alien to many “churched” people in the FM area. Therefore, we do not force jazz-like rhythm upon our group, but by paying attention to detail with intentional preparation, thorough communication, fruitful meal times, and robust discussion it will happen on its own.
Each leader is strong in many of these areas, and each leader will need work on one or more. This document is designed to round out each of our leaders as necessary, resulting in continued health in our groups.
How we prepare is crucially important to how we lead. As we look at how we prepare, it begins with being a disciple ourselves, using the means of grace to grow in our faith and biblical literacy. We need to be transformed by the Spirit in the renewal of our minds, believing and standing in the truth of the gospel teaching others to do the same (Matt. 28:20, Rom. 12:1-2, 1 Cor. 15:1-4, 2 Cor. 3:18, Heb. 3:12-14 & 10:24). In other words, we need to know who we are in Christ and let that influence how we lead. As you preach the gospel to yourself, it will be more and more natural to preach to others.
From there, we intentionally prepare to fight for others’ identities in Christ. This requires that we know our sheep, we know the stories of those who attend regularly and know more and more specifically how to fight for them. What do those in our group struggle with? Where are they strong in their faith? Where are they tempted, what are their idols? Where are they doctrinally weak or even wrong? How can I encourage them by pointing to the person and work of Christ?
Obviously, thinking about these things will take prayer. From there it will take effort. It will entail taking the time to review discussion questions and customize them for your group. It will take effort in being intentional during dinner. It will take courage to ask people pointed, but loving, questions during discussion. It will take humility to be an example of repentance and faith before your group. All of this takes prayer and intentional preparation.
- To what are we looking to direct our discussion toward tonight?
- What idols tend to be prevalent amongst members of our group?
- How can I customize or rephrase the MC questions to go deeper as a group?
- What other passages can I look at to help guide our discussion?
- What materials and resources can I put in their hands on this topic?
- Doctrinally, where are members of our group in need of teaching/clarification?
- How can I specifically pray for our discussion?
- Who should I spend some time with at dinner?
- Who’s on for food tonight and next week?
- Who’s on for childcare tonight and next week?
- Are there any care needs we should announce tonight and ask for help?
- Are baptisms/dedications approaching? Who can I ask about that?
- What events/classes are approaching at RC I should make them aware of?
- What can we do as a group for fun and to deepen relationships?
- When do we serve next?
- What do we need to discuss tonight to prepare?
- How can I help prepare our group to be intentional in our mission?
- How can I phrase these questions if unbelievers are present?
- How do these questions help prepare us to boldly/winsomely engage unbelievers we serve?
As we look to build rhythms into our group that more accurately reflect genuine life together, being on the same page with everyone is necessary. This can be done in a variety of ways, and as the group leader you have the freedom to put into practice whatever works the best. The point is that something should be in place where you can manage the pragmatics well through consistent communication. Taking time at the beginning of the night or before discussion for announcements is an expectation. From there, utilizing a shared Facebook Group seems to be the most widely used form of digital communication.
Even regulars and members of our core teams can be inconsistent in attendance, therefore proactive and redundant communication is necessary. Members of the group need to know what’s going on to be involved and develop more ownership. Individuals or couples have been assigned within various groups to manage the organization and communication for aspects like serving, social gatherings, food, and childcare. Based on your strengths and weaknesses, this may be necessary for your group.
As new people show up unexpectedly, there’s the need to introduce yourself as the leader, welcoming and inviting them into the life of your group. This will entail at some point communicating why the group exists and encouraging them to play a role alongside everyone else.
As various aspects of group life are communicated, the need to clearly tell the “why” behind various activities will build ownership and increase participation. "We discuss the Bible because it is breathed out by God, sufficient for teaching/reproof/correction/training in righteousness so we can be equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16).” “We care for one another because it shows how the gospel changes us from being self-centered to others-centered, loving as we have been loved (Matt. 20:28, Gal. 5:13).” “We serve and share the gospel as a group because we are part of the body of Christ, a holy nation who proclaims his excellencies (1 Peter 2:9).” As members of your group understand why we do certain things certain ways, ownership and participation will increase.
- Should I post the discussion questions on the FB page prior to meeting?
- How can I continually describe the “why” of doing sermon-based, Scriptural discussion?
- What resources can I send out before discussion tonight?
- Is there a process for meal & childcare volunteers? Is it clear and consistent?
- Are visitors to the group acknowledged and welcomed?
- Are visitors to the group told the “why” of MC’s?
- Are visitors to the group told how their group functions week-to-week?
- Are members of the group aware of care needs they can help with and why we help each other?
- Are you looking a few weeks out and communicating early/often?
- Is the group on the same page regarding your shared mission and service?
- Are they aware of the “why” regarding our shared mission?
- Are there any aspects of our service that require preparation?
The question has been asked regarding whether or not there’s the expectation to meet with people outside of your normal weekly meeting as needed. There will be a need for this from time-to-time, but there is a large amount of time spent every week around a meal in our groups. This time is not to be wasted, but flowing from our preparation it’s a time of intentional discussion.
During dinner, we have a great opportunity to get to know people’s stories better and use that as a means of ministering to them more specifically. It’s a time to pray with people, to point them to the person and work of Christ. In your preparation, you can look to the needs of your group and take the time during dinner to encourage or exhort in a more private way. Jesus often used meals as a vehicle for ministry, and this is a great time to care for people in our group. By doing so, you can create a culture of caring for one another whenever there’s the opportunity, removing formality from how we approach our family identity.
- Are members and visitors aware of the “why” behind having a family meal?
- Am I actively looking for ways to encourage with the gospel during dinner conversation?
- Who’s new to the group tonight, who can I spend some time with?
- Who’s been struggling lately, how can I encourage/pray them one-on-one?
- Whose kids may need some help getting some food? Who can I practically help?
- Who’s new that may not be a follower of Christ? Am I getting to know them?
- Are others in the group encouraged to spend some time with people they don’t know during the meal?
Discussion time can be incredibly fruitful or somewhat awkward and many times both. The goal in our discussion time is confession and repentance, coming alongside each other to build them up in the faith through believing the truth of the gospel. However, many people won’t share. Many people won’t talk at all! This does not mean that they’re not thinking and applying truths in their own head/heart, but it can make for periods of silence which often seem much longer than they really are!
The discussion time is a great place to fight for individual and corporate identities in Christ. As you prepare, customizing the questions, looking to bring about confession of sin and unbelief, you have the chance to apply gospel truths in a corporate setting. This will benefit the whole group, even those who tend not to talk. What you’re doing is teaching repentance and faith, being an example of that yourself.
Discussion is the culmination of intentional preparation to exhort others to faith in the person and work of Christ (Heb. 3:12-13). This work is done by the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18), but MC Leaders have the wonderful responsibility of shepherding the flock, lovingly taking them to the foot of the cross on a weekly basis. As you prepare and have intentional discussion during meals, that may flow into the discussion time (with permission from the individual as needed). “We were talking about this during dinner, is it ok if we spend some time as a group discussing the situation? How does trusting the finished work of Christ help you here?" It is a time to find ways to tangibly care for members of your group. “It sounds like you just need to get out of the house, can we come watch your kids this weekend?” It is a time to communicate the “why,” tying points in the discussion to the mission of your group when opportunities arise. “So as we serve at the New Life Center, how does the Parable of the Sower frame out our reason for being there?”
- Do I understand the direction we’re looking to take the conversation?
- Am I prepared to shepherd people to the finished work of Christ?
- Am I asking thoughtful/intentional follow-up questions as people share?
- Am I clarifying people’s responses, listening carefully and looking to encourage?
- Am I encouraging cross-discipleship to take place, having many people speak into a situation?
- Are we stopping the conversation to pray for people as needed?
- Are we ending our night in prayer for one another?
- Are we creating an environment where people can share openly and honestly?
- Am I keeping our shared mission in view as we discuss Scripture?
- Am I aware of any unbelievers that may be present? Am I keeping the conversation accessible?
- Are we taking time to pray for our shared mission, for bold witness to Christ?
Without intentional preparation and taking advantage of the time you have together, you will not build the baseline group characteristics necessary for a jazz-like rhythm. If you put the cart (building genuine community) before the horse (doing the little things right, flowing from your identity in Christ), then there will be no true desire in the group to actually live life together. These aspects of MC leadership will most likely fly under the radar and not be visible to members of your group. However, as you faithfully serve in these ways, a culture will grow and these things will happen naturally. Being attentive to detail and intentional as a leader will be used by God in fostering healthy groups who in turn multiply healthy groups.
Flowing from the person and work of Christ, MC Leaders can effectively see genuine community take place by believing the truth of the gospel. By grace through faith, we can love our groups by being intentional in our preparation, our communication, taking advantage of meal times, and having robust discussion.