Many of you have heard me talk about the need to maintain a healthy balance when it comes to major theological and ecclesiological issues. Often major issues fall into a paradoxical tension where we have to hold two contradictory opinions or ideas as both being equally valid. As such, when we don’t maintain the appropriate tension, we end up out of balance, and we WILL eventually end up in unhealthy or even heretical territory. Obvious examples are God is three but also God is one. Jesus is 100% man but Jesus is also 100% God.
Let me be so bold as to suggest that God can use our forced time of not being able to meet as we normally have for large group events to help bring back into balance: the tension between large group worship and small group discipleship. I believe we have placed so much emphasis and value on the worship event that we have taken our eye off the best place for deep discipleship to happen: the small group. Let me illustrate. At the height of the growth of Southern Baptists, the Sunday School was viewed as THE outreach and evangelism arm of the church. It was also the primary discipleship arena. When pastors gathered at various events their number one question was, “What’s your Sunday School attendance?” Then they might ask, “How many did you baptize last year?” Very few SBC churches even bothered to count worship attendance back then. Fast forward to today. When pastors gather today, the only question I hear being asked is “What’s your worship attendance?” We have slowly crept out of balance.
Now, anyone that knows me understands I am not suggesting large group worship is not important, because it is! However, with the advent of radio and television and now the internet, a significant emphasis has been placed on those few who have been uniquely gifted by God as orators—like Apollos in the book of Acts was. Most of us are called and equipped to be pastors (shepherds) and teachers. Those roles are better lived out in smaller group contexts. Let me again be so bold as to suggest that in times like these, the shepherding and teaching skills are in particular demand. So, recognize that you are probably NOT one of the small handful of great 21st century orators and begin to strike a healthier balance between your emphasis on the preaching time. I will even go to the point of suggesting you shine a bright spotlight on the small group discipleship times you currently have in place. And then, begin to think of how you will equip new leaders, increase the number of groups, and ramp up your promotion of discipleship groups.
May God be glorified and your church be edified as you find the right balance between worship and discipleship! Remember, we are called to make disciples, who make disciples, who make disciples!
Retiring in April 2022, Mark R. Elliott served as a Director of Missions (Associational Mission Strategist) in Western Iowa and Eastern Nebraska for almost three decades. He is a strong advocate for obedience and Biblically based disciple making. As such, he knows that making healthy disciples requires Christian leaders to be constantly pursuing spiritual maturity—be lifelong learners. Because of the time constraints of ministry, most pastors focus their reading list on resources that assist them in teaching and preaching the Word of God. As such, books focusing on church health, leadership development, and church growth tend to find their way to the bottom of the stack. With that reality in mind, Mark has written discussion summaries on several books that have helped him to personally grow in Christ and that tend to find themselves on the bottom of most pastor’s stack. Many pastors have found them helpful as they are able to more quickly process great insights from other pastors and authors.