Don’t spend your time trying to create groups. In 2004 and 2005, I spent a lot of time trying to coax five families into meeting together for a Bible study. I got three of them to finally do it. As soon as we started to make progress, as I defined it, Satan broke up the group. He caused confusion and mistrust to separate the families in a brutal way. I spent 3 years trying to corral families together for Bible studies and was unsuccessful engaging many willing families, because I could not form the groups I wanted.
Disciple groups that already exist. The families on the hill is one of the biggest success stories of this blog. A major reason for the success was that they are a family with already existing ties and relationships. There is a bond there that is not easily broken (though Satan did try again). Existing groups will generally either accept or reject the gospel as a group, rather than splinter and disband. When they do decide to follow Jesus, discipleship is natural and often faster than expected.
Give preference to oral communication. I had tried several times to start a Bible study with the families on the hill. At one point, I was going weekly for a long period of time, but making no headway in evangelism or discipleship. The day I suggested we put away our pens and notebooks, and began telling the scripture was the day they started “hearing” the message. This happened in a lot of places, even among the highly literate.
Don’t be a Bible scholar. When I first arrived in Brazil, I loved to talk theology and apologetics. This was expected in many pastoral circles in America. Inadvertently, I began to create a dependency on me as the expert and not the Bible. People would not trust themselves to understand the Bible or apply it correctly. (Incidentally, this is an extreme problem in Brazil, even in evangelical churches. It creates a passive and shallow form of Christianity.) I had to change from teaching to asking questions, and guiding discovery. Huge difference.
Be consistent and proactive. People who know me know that I have a tendency to get distracted and start a new project before finishing the one I am on. There are several sub-items under this.
- Go two by two. This Biblical command and example creates greater consistency by nature. This is why we have workout partners, study partners, accountability partners, golfing buddies, etc. When I have a partner for a particular ministry, evangelism project or home Bible study, it usually thrives. When I don’t it is 50-50.
- Don’t create obstacles. It doesn’t really matter how sincere you are, if you are discipling a family that lives 2 hours away and it costs you $20 and half of your day every time you meet with them, you aren’t going to do it for long and you aren’t going to do it consistently. ($20 is a lot of money in my context.) Either move closer to them, disciple closer to home, or plan on training a local leader very quickly.
- Create an accountability network. Even when we were not successful forming groups and planting churches, we were successful winning individuals and families for Jesus, because we asked people to pray for certain individuals and hold us accountable for sharing the gospel.
Don’t celebrate decisions and move on. Discipleship is a process. This, I learned the hard way. I’ve led people to Christ and let them die of alcohol addictions. I’ve led people to Christ and watched them divorce. I’ve led people to Christ and left them in their pornography addictions. I’ve led people to Christ and left them to figure out the Christian life all on their own. Yes, the Holy Spirit comes to indwell every new believer, but the great commission commands us to make disciples obedient to Jesus’ commands, not just win converts. Winning converts and leaving it at that is something that is done with Satan’s approval. He knows it will never spawn a real movement.