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Should Small Group Leaders Study More Theology?

When a small group point person mentions the word, “theology” to their small group leaders, some of those leaders sink deeply in the quagmire of their own ignorance. Even some small group pastors are hesitant to consider the importance of theology in group life. It is for this reason that I asked my own small group pastor, Mat Svoboda to allow me to interview him.

Few small group pastors are as passionate about theology and the importance of it as is Matt. He continually drives us to know more. What you’re about to read over the next three days is very, very important. So…

Rick: Matt, thanks a ton for doing this interview. I’m thrilled you said yes to this. Mostly because you’re the right person to enlighten us concerning the topic of theology and small groups. First off… Tell us a little bit about yourself. Describe your family and tell the people reading this post what you do to be sure you make time to be a good husband and parent.

Matt: Thanks Rick. I’m not sure I will “enlighten” anyone, but I am thrilled to get to talk about theology and small groups with you and your readers. I am a normal dude that loves sports, the outdoors, and being with people. I have been married for 5 years to my wife, Meredith. I have two sons, Caleb (4) and Calvin (1). Marriage and fatherhood have been a great journey that encourages and challenges me greatly.

There is no magic key to success on how pastors should make time be a good husband and parent. The best thing I do in this area is lead with my style. There is no cookie cutter way a pastor leads a church and the same can be said of the home. We dont pray before our meals, we sing the doxology (not in public, too much of a coward!). 

Here are some bullet points that work with the rhythms of my family:

1.Like most people, sometimes my schedule gets out of whack. When this happens I am quick to apologize to my wife. We look at my schedule and we make it right.

2.Normally I limit my schedule to 4 nights with people a week. (most of the time the family is there)

3.We canceled out television in order to maximize our time together. Not saying TV cant be good in the home, but for now it’s better for us if it isn’t!

4.We go to the park, a lot.

5.I read and consistently analyze how to grow in this area.

6.I study my family and try to figure out what rhythms work and what dont.

7.We observe the Sabbath, religiously! 🙂 

Rick: What churches have you served and where are you serving now?

Matt: I serve at The Bridge Church in Spring Hill, TN. It is a great, great church. This is the only church I have served on staff at a full time capacity. It would please me greatly if it was the last church I served on staff with. I serve as the Pastor of House Groups and Training.

Rick: Where did you study theology, Matt?

Matt: Formally, I studied theology at Boyce College, the undergrad of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  I am now pursuing my Mdiv through SBTS as well. It is a great institution. Learned a ton and met my wife there. Seminary does have its numerous short comings, but I definitely needed the good it offered.

Informally, I study at my home, Starbucks, and our church building. Pastors have to keep a consistent routine of study in their lives. I try to always read one academic book alongside a personal growth or ministry/practitioner book at a time. I usually have a couple more thrown on top of my supposed limit of two! I love to read, but it is also a needed discipline. 

Side Note: if I had it to do over again I wouldn’t go to an institution that cost 40K+. I would have found a healthy church that valued raising leaders and had a church based theological training. They are out there. 

Rick: Why did you choose to study theology?

Matt: I wanted to be a pastor and I didn’t know any theology. I got saved as a freshman in High School and felt led to pursue pastoral ministry as a sophomore. I’m grateful for that church, but at the same time learned very little my four years there. Its an encouraging reminder that God even saves sinners likes me in churches that are as wrecked as I am!

All in all, I knew very little of the Word, yet felt called to be a teacher of the Word. I knew for me to walk in faithful obedience in pursuing pastoral ministry I had to learn the Word. I also didnt want to waste my time getting an undergrad in something I wasnt interested in or thought I wouldn’t ever use. Its too much time and money.

Rick: Why do you believe small group pastors and leaders need to be involved in the study of theology?

Matt: Theology is not a game for Lead Pastors only, not even close. Healthy doctrine leads to healthy practice. Bad theology always leads to unhealthy practice and living. We are trying to help people grow in intimacy with God and submit their entire life under his Lordship. For this to happen people need to always be growing in their understanding of who God is, his character and nature. People need to always be growing in their understanding of his goodness and grace to us in the cross and resurrection. Small Group pastors have to teach our leaders how to apply the gospel to every area of their lives and their people’s lives. You simply cant do this well without good, deep theological understanding. Post it note quotes wont cut it.

A lot of times, good theology being the foundation to our practices becomes the difference between being real kingdom advancing difference makers versus settling into being busy bodies. The goal isnt simply to “plug people in.” We have to go deeper. We want people to “plug in” because Scripture shows us a pattern of following Jesus in community and living out the “one anothers”. They need “plugged in” for the purpose of their sanctification and those around them. We dont simply want people to “volunteer.” We want them to find their spiritual gifts and become ministers of the gospel through those gifts.

Another area that good theology is crucial is shepherding. We dont simply want people to “be held accountable for sin.” We want people to confess and repent of sin, have the gospel applied to their life by their Christian community, and then encouraged to walk in grace. Weak theology on the gospel and sanctification will surely lead to many disheartened, embittered Christians. It will also lead to a bunch of self-righteous legalists.

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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.