I recently shared that group leaders want direction for their groups. They realize that a wise discipleship plan would be helpful for developing the people in their groups over time. Sadly, many church leaders fail to offer one. So their churches are filled with a lot of guys like Jason.
Imagine Jason in a church without a discipleship plan for their groups. His first year he attends a group and they decide they want to study relationships for awhile, followed by the latest book by the pastor on the radio, then a cursory look at the end times, and then a quick run through some Proverbs. After 18 months, the guy leading the group gets transferred to another city, so Jason joins another group. This group launches and follows a similar pattern. After three years, Jason has essentially studied the same content in a rather random and haphazard fashion. Does the Lord use this? By all means, yes! His Word never returns void, but the discipleship could be so much more effective, so much more strategic, so much richer.
The apostle Paul said, “We proclaim Him, warning and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ” (Colossians 1:28). Paul wanted to see maturity and development occur in the people he led, and according to this passage, this involved teaching with wisdom. The antithesis of teaching with wisdom is a haphazard plan or no plan for developing people in our groups or classes. In another passage, Paul said that he engaged in ministry as a skilled master builder in response to and empowered by God’s grace, and he challenged us to be careful how we build (1 Corinthians 3:10). Building skillfully surely means more than a random and disconnected array of programs, studies, and events.
So let me offer two wise approaches to your group/ministry content: a discipleship plan or aligned content. Throughout my ministry in local churches, I have practiced both of these approaches at different times, in light of the context, and as the Lord led. I believe in both of them because I see wisdom and intentionality in both practices.
Approach One: A Discipleship Plan
A discipleship plan is not the same thing as discipleship, but is a key facilitator. Discipleship itself is much broader and deeper than information. Ultimately, discipleship is about transformation. A wise discipleship plan for groups or classes is a plan to engage the people in the Word over time, thus transforming them to become more like Christ. Educators would likely call this a “scope and sequence” of what is studied or a “taxonomy of learning.” It exposes those in groups to the whole counsel of God’s Word. A wise discipleship plan is much more than throwing a whole bunch of studies on the wall and hoping some of them stick. It is a skillful approach that drives people intentionally and systematically through the Word and, as a result, transforms their lives.
Approach Two: Aligned Content
A second approach that has merit and wisdom is aligned content. A church that practices aligned content works hard to connect their small group studies to their sermons so that people in groups are diving deeper together and applying the text studied in the worship gatherings to one another’s lives. Some churches that practice aligned content also connect the studies in the kids ministries and the student ministries to the sermons and the small group studies. By doing so, families more easily engage in conversations about their Bible studies because everyone is studying the same biblical truth each week.
The advantage of a discipleship plan is the thorough and well-designed structure that systematically walks people through a wise plan of study over time. The advantage of aligned content is the synergy created as sermons and studies focus the church in one direction.
Discipleship Plan Resources
To help churches have a wise discipleship plan, each of our Bible study series (Bible Studies for Life, Explore the Bible, and The Gospel Project) is developed in community with church leaders, educators, and scholars we respect so that we sleep at night believing that we have a plan to develop and mature people over time. Find more information at Ongoing Bible Study.
To help churches with aligned content, we have a customized curriculum team that custom writes Bible studies for churches based on their teaching calendar and plan. We know that it is extremely challenging for a church to do this alone, and we want to help so that the church leaders can focus more energy on leadership development and other essential group leadership functions. Find more information at Discipleship in Context.
Eric Geiger serves as one of the vice presidents at Lifeway Christian Resources, leading the Church Resources Division. He is also a teaching pastor and a frequent speaker and consultant on church mission and strategy. Eric has authored or co-authored several books including the best selling church leadership book, Simple Church.