"Why Aren't My Small Group Members Becoming Mature Disciples?"

As I consult churches and speak with small group pastors, more and more I’m seeing a movement taking root. There is a movement toward making mature disciples. This trend is thrilling as it is the only way to accomplish Jesus’ commandment (Matthew 28:19) and it is the only way that the church will once again be a movement and no longer be viewed as a self seeking institution. Through making mature disciples who make mature disciples the church will once again be “salty,” and “a light on a hill.” (Matt. 5:13 – 14)
 
I’ve been spending a lot of time lately learning what Jesus did when making disciples. Thus far, I believe there are four reasons many small group members are not becoming mature disciples.
 
1. They haven’t been told that the goal of the group is to make group members into mature disciples. When people don’t know what the target is, they certainly can’t hit it. If a small group is about making a mature disciple, those in the group need and deserve to know that this is the goal. This is the only way that they’ll consider hearing and agreeing to the next point, point #2.
 
2. They haven’t been asked to count the cost and commit to a disciple’s lifestyle. On multiple occasions Jesus spoke to someone who wanted to be one of His disciples and told them what was going to be expected of them. Some chose to follow Him, some chose to walk away. Those in the second category just weren’t willing to do what was necessary. If a group is going to make mature disciples they should tell those in the group what the expectations will be and give the group member the opportunity to join them in this or consider a different group.
 
3. They don’t view anyone as their discipler. Jesus was a discipler/Rabbi and those who followed a Rabbi knew from the very outset of the relationship that the Rabbi they were following was their teacher, model, and leader. Acknowledging this fact gave the discipler/Rabbi permission to speak into the disciple’s life, redirect the disciple when they did something incorrectly, committed a sin, or believed something that contradicted truth. Not only that, the disciple, because the disciple believed deeply in the discipler/Rabbi, watched the disciple/Rabbi as they went about doing life and made them a model for their own. Acknowledging these roles gives the discipler/Rabbi permission to disciple the disciple and the disciple a mentor to direct them as they grow to spiritual maturity.
 
4. The leader isn’t allowing Scripture to raise the bar. Over the last few weeks I’ve read the four gospels multiple times. I’ve been specifically looking at Jesus’ teachings and expectations of those who would call themselves His disciples. While Jesus said that, “… my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt 11:30) in comparison to the many rules that the Pharisees had created, when we study Jesus’ teachings and statements to those who would be His disciples, He often raises the bar. If we’re going to make mature disciples, we must let Jesus’ words speak for themselves without rationalizing an easier expectation that He Himself proclaimed. It is through committing to His expectations that a disciple will commit to a lifestyle through which they will become spiritually mature.  
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Rick Howerton
Rick has one passion… To see “a biblical small group within walking distance of every person on the planet making disciples that make disciples.” He is presently pursuing this passion as the Small Group and Discipleship Specialist at LifeWay Church Resources. Rick has authored or co-authored multiple books, studies, and leader training resources including A Different Kind of Tribe: Embracing the New Small Group Dynamic, Destination Community: Small Group Ministry Manual, The Gospel and the Truth: Living the Message of Jesus, Small Group Life Ministry Manual: A New Approach to Small Groups, Redeeming the Tears: a Journey Through Grief and Loss, Small Group Life: Kingdom, Small Group Kickoff Retreat: Experiential Training for Small Group Leaders, and Great Beginnings: Your First Small Group Study, Disciples Path: A Practical Guide to Disciple Making. Rick’s varied ministry experiences as an collegiate minister, small group pastor, teaching pastor, elder, full-time trainer and church consultant, as well as having been a successful church planter gives him a perspective of church life that is all-encompassing and multi-dimensional. Rick is a highly sought after communicator and trainer.