“The optimal environment for life change is a small group.” No doubt you’ve heard that line over the years and even used it yourself to explain the importance of a thriving small group ministry. But is life change automatic? And if it’s not automatic, what has to happen to produce it? What are the essential ingredients of life change? Can they be identified?
Let’s tackle those questions one at a time. First, clearly life change is anticipated, but not automatic. Right? A few years ago I met a man who told me he had been in a small group with the same four men for 32 years. 32 years! That is amazing. But while it’s amazing, don’t we all know of groups that become great friends but no one ever changes? I wanted to ask, “Where’s God working on your life right now? How’s your group helping with that?” But…that was a conversation that didn’t happen.
I love Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Paul’s words in Philippians 3:13-14: “I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.” I think the same thing every time I read those words. If Paul saw that he wasn’t there yet, then I’m not either, and that is my goal.
So how does it happen? If life change is not automatic, how can it be produced? And what are the essential ingredients? Let me at least lay down a few ideas.
- Intentionality. While growth can be spontaneous and happen without a plan, determining a destination and the steps that lead there is a key step. I’ve found that some kind of assessment that leads to a plan is an essential ingredient.
- Authentic life-on-life interaction. Some version of accountability, whether you’re implementing the idea of a spiritual partner or something less formal you’re unlikely to see real change without this ingredient.
- Learning that is guided. While some of your group members may be able to find their way without guidance, most will wander aimlessly. Providing study material that leads in the right direction is very important.
- Balancing the purposes. One of the best developments to come out of the Purpose Driven movement is the conviction that growth happens as a result of health and healthy is a result of balance. Spending all your time and energy on fellowship and discipleship at the expense of ministry and evangelism will not produce genuine life change. Using a tool such as the Purpose Driven Health Assessment will help you to see where you’re out of balance.
- Personal time for prayer and reflection. Time in God’s word, journaling, memorizing scripture, prayer…are all essential ingredients and must be part of any plan.
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