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Commitments in Community

Introduction

So far we’ve established a case for why church members should be regularly involved in private gatherings in smaller groups.

In this session, we’ll explore three kinds of commitments church group members make to develop healthy groups.

I. Group Attendance

The first commitment involves answering four basic questions regarding the nature of the group that will be in attendance: Who, How, When, and Where?

Who will be attending?

The first question is “Who will be attending the group?”

Some groups choose to organize around a certain type of people such as male/female, older/younger, married/single, couples with/without children, a geographical location, etc.

The type of group depends on the unique needs of the church and the direction of the church leaders.

How many will be attending?

The next question is “How many will be attending the group?”

Generally, the ideal is less than twelve people. A healthy small group size is between eight to twelve people. A little larger or smaller can work as well. But when groups have regular attendance of more than sixteen people, group intimacy is compromised. This can also be a signal that it’s time to start a new group.

Sometimes, even in groups of twelve, it’s helpful to organize sharing and prayer in two or three smaller groups so more people can participate, especially those who are timid.

When will we be attending?

The next question is, “When will group members be attending?”

Again, this depends on the unique needs of the church and direction of the church leaders. But healthy groups normally need to meet at least two times a month, and more if possible. It seems that the early church gatherings were at least weekly.

It can also be helpful for groups to decide the number of meetings they expect group members to attend. Healthy group members often make a commitment to meet at least two or more times a month for a minimum of 3-6 months. It’s usually best not to make a commitment for more than 1 year.

This doesn’t mean that groups should stop meeting together after they complete their group commitments. Instead, they should see their present commitment as ending with the option of making a new one for another time period.

This approach helps a group keep their commitment level high and allows group members to “drop with dignity” by finishing their group commitment before moving to another group.

Where will we be attending?

We come now to the question, “Where will we be attending?” This answer also depends on the unique context, needs, and leaders of the groups. In some cultural contexts it’s difficult and awkward to meet in members’ private homes. In other contexts it’s very natural and comfortable to do so. Creativity and perseverance is often needed to determine the best venue for group meetings.

II. Group Agenda

The second commitment involves answering the question, “What will we do when we meet together as a group?”

Since small groups are a subset of the larger church community, they should reflect the same five elements of a healthy church: Worship and Prayer, Learning and Discipleship, Fellowship and Shepherding, Evangelism and Mission, Mercy and Justice.

It’s not realistic to emphasize all five of these elements in all group meetings. But over time, healthy groups will emphasize all of them. So a good way to help determine a healthy group agenda is for leaders to periodically review these essential elements found in Acts 2:

1. Worship and Prayer

“They were praising God” (47) and “devoted to the prayers” (43) Group meetings should include time for worshiping God through praise and prayer.

Group members should be sharing their needs and receiving prayer from others. Prayers should also be offered for the advancement of God’s mission through the church.

Sometimes it’s effective for several people to pray. Other times, it’s best for only one or two. It may also be helpful to pray in smaller groups.

2. Learning and Discipleship

“They were devoted to the apostles’ teaching” (42) Group meetings should also include time for the study and application of God’s word.

In the Great Commission, Jesus commands us to make disciples by teaching people how to obey his commandments (Matt 28:18-20). Small groups provide an excellent place for learning how to apply God’s word to all of life.

Healthy groups often encourage members to listen carefully to the
preaching of God’s word in public worship and come to the group meeting ready to share their personal insights and applications with others.

Also, some groups will take the Sunday sermon message deeper by doing more in-depth bible study and application of the topic. Other groups will study through a book of the bible or use a resource approved by the church leaders.

3. Fellowship and Shepherding

“And … they were breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts” (46) Group meetings should periodically include time for members to share their lives with each other during meals.

Regularly sharing meals in their homes seems to be a normal practice in the early church. There are few activities as effective as eating together to help develop relationships.

4. Evangelism and Mission

“The Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (47) “After fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off” (Acts 13:3). Group meetings should also be outreach oriented, focusing on helping group members grow in their commitment to evangelism and missions.

This includes encouraging members to pray for the lost and consider inviting their lost friends and family to attend public worship and/or their group. Healthy groups also pray regularly for both their church’s wider ministry and for world missions.

5. Mercy and Justice

“They were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need” (45). Group meetings should include times to help group members know the needs of the poor in their community, both within and outside of the church, and how they can pray for them, give to them and serve them.

III. Group Agreement

The third and final commitment involves answering the question, “What is our group agreement?” The group agreement is a practical way group members solidify their commitment to the five essential elements of a healthy group described above.

Every group has expectations of its members and leaders. The problem is that these expectations are often not shared which can result in misunderstanding and conflict.

Some groups find it helpful to share these commitments with each other in writing by having a formal list. Others find it more helpful to share these commitments informally. Here are examples of things that could be included in a group agreement, sometimes called a group covenant.

Group Agreements

• Attendance: To give priority to the group meetings
• Participation: To share a responsibility in the group
• Prayer: To pray for one another and church ministries
• Availability: To be available to serve one another in need
• Confidentiality: To keep anything that is said confidential
• Accountability: To give permission to hold each other accountable
• Evangelism: To reach out to bring others to the church and group
• Mercy/Justice: To pray for and serve the poor with others in the group
• Assessment: To give honest, constructive feedback to help the group improve
• Multiplication: To be willing to consider starting and reproducing new groups

Group Meeting Structure

So, how long should a group meeting be? And how should we use the limited time we have together as a group?

There is no right or wrong way to structure a group meeting. Issues like time and structure depend on the unique needs of the group.

But a general example can be helpful. A healthy 90-minute group meeting might be structured like this:

• Welcome and Worship (15-20)
• Bible Study (20-25)
• Fellowship and Sharing (20-25)
• Prayer for members and outreach (20-25)

Real life group meetings are rarely this structured. Instead, healthy groups will sometimes spend entire meetings focusing on only one or two of these elements. But over time, healthy groups will emphasize all of them.


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As of March 10, the coronavirus infections in Italy increased by 24% from March 9, official figures showed, and the death toll jumped from 366 to 463. Italy is the worst-hit country after China. Cases of the virus have now been confirmed in all 20 Italian regions.

Church planters, pastors, and missionaries serving the Italian people through new churches in Italy are being faced with increasing challenges. Church planting team leader, Justin Valiquette, with Impatto – Acts 29 Italy, reported to Steve Childers today:

“We are all essentially on lockdown. Schools closed nationwide until April 3. Local businesses are really suffering. There is a lot of uncertainty and mild panic for some. Public gatherings or even being out in public socially is being restricted. We cannot meet legally, so we are starting to do Zoom (video) call on Sundays and for weekly community gatherings.” – Justin Valiquette, church planter, Impatto – Acts 29 Italy

Valiquette is helping lead and train a network of church planters and leaders in Italy. The map below shows the locations of church leaders throughout the country taking Pathway Learning church planting courses in Italian.

“Please pray!”

Please share this need and pray for the people of Italy and these church planters, pastors, missionaries and churches seeking to serve and love them well during this crisis.

“Please pray that we would understand how to navigate this delicate situation and find ways to love our neighbors well. Pray we would stay united as we seek to shine as light in this darkness.”

– Justin Valiquette

We help underserved church leaders develop churches that transform lives and communities

As many of you know, my spiritual father and mentor, Behzad Pakizegi, died last week after suffering with cancer. Special thanks to my family and friends for your prayers and timely words of comfort to me and Behzad’s family.

By God’s grace, I was able to fly to San Diego to spend personal time with him before his death. To help me process my grief last week, I wrote: Reflections On the Passing of My Spiritual Father: Behzad Pakizegi

In 2014 Behzad faced another life threatening illness when he suffered a severe heart attack and had to be admitted to a hospital in San Diego for triple-by-pass surgery. As he was lying in a hospital bed waiting for his surgery, we were, like recently, talking and emailing back and forth on our cell phones.

My youngest daughter, Laura, who had never met him, asked me if she could also write him an email. And she did. He told me later that words cannot express how much her email meant to him just before his open-heart surgery.

Little did any of us know that Behzad would keep Laura’s 2014 letter and draw great comfort from reading it again prior to his death last week. Behzad wanted me to share Laura’s letter with his family and friends again. So, here it is:


Dear Behzad,

It’s likely that by now my proud and adoring father has told you all about me and maybe even shown you my picture or made you listen to my singing. I am sorry. If it’s any consolation, you are not alone. You join a long line of people who have been made subject to my parents’ doting and to whom I now feel more than slightly indebted.

My parents told me that you were in the hospital. I hate hospitals: the beeping, the fluorescent lighting, the smell of rubbing alcohol, the endless waiting, the food that looks and smells like it’s from space. Hospitals make the panic bird light inside my brain. So in the chance that you are at all like me, I hope this letter can provide a small respite.

Do you know — your story was somewhat of a legend in our household? I have heard about you since I was a very small child. My father is a born storyteller, and your story has always been one of his favorites to tell. It’s also one of my favorites to hear. Perhaps it’s the warmth that creeps into his voice and his eyes when he says your name. Do you also know — part of the tale made its way into a 1997 issue of Reformed Quarterly (the RTS seminary publication)? I’ll start the story myself and then let the excerpt provide the rest.

“Always the life of the party, Steve’s teenage years were steeped in rock concerts, riotous parties, and rides in his sports car with chrome side pipes. In 1973, he was studying business at Oklahoma State University when…


…one day he saw a sign in the dorm advertising a lecture on the claims of Christ. He and his buddies thought it would be great fun to disrupt the meeting and hassle the speaker. How dare someone come and preach to them! The speaker turned out to be a petrified student with a memorized Gospel presentation who was no match for their cynical questions.

Behzad Pakizegi in 1973 at Steve’s university dormitory

“We had him up against the wall and were delighted with ourselves,” remembers Steve ruefully. “Suddenly from the back of the room, a Middle Eastern man stood up and walked forward, carrying a Bible and smiling broadly. With disarming gentleness, he took us on one by one and answered our questions with a boldness I had never seen. My friends grew tired of it, but this articulate and intelligent man fascinated me. I argued with him until 3 a.m.”

That night was the beginning of Steve’s spiritual pilgrimage with Behzad Pakizegi, a converted Jew from Tehran who was working toward his Ph.D. and had studied with Christian apologist Dr. Francis Schaeffer. Behzad bought Steve a bible and a few weeks later led him to Christ in his dorm room. Thus began a three-year discipling and mentoring relationship that has impacted Steve’s life ever since.

“He didn’t give up on me,” says Steve with a warm smile. “I would have probably given up on someone like me a hundred times. His commitment to me had to be God-given.”

Dramatic changes began to occur in Steve’s life, including a new desire to hear the Word with God’s people and a heavy burden for those without Christ. His parents didn’t understand; they thought Behzad was a “spiritual” guru out to take advantage of their son. Step by step, Behzad helped Steve mature in the Christian faith. During their second year together, Behzad decided it was time for Steve to learn how to share his faith, so he set up a meeting with the leader of the B’Hai cult on campus. Steve remembers that “he ate my lunch, but Behzad jumped in and rescued me.” It was on such difficult playing fields that Steve learned well how to share his faith.

Behzad and Steve in 1976

At Behzad’s direction, Steve became involved in Campus Crusade for Christ, a ministry that would also shape the rest of his life. He took all the training which they offered, including advanced leadership instruction, and began discipling others. His teaching gifts were obvious – large groups of people began attending weekly Bible studies in his apartment. During his junior year, he poured himself into three new converts, a ministry that opened the door for yet another Bible study group and a Sunday School class, and then another door and another…

“I just tried to honor God faithfully and let Him show me what to do next,” says Steve. “Eventually I found myself speaking about the claims of Christ in university fraternities, at times to as many as fifty or sixty hard-core partiers and cynics. I laughed at God’s sense of humor; I had been just like them only two years before.”

By his senior year, Steve began to sense the Lord might be calling him to full-time Christian work. Steve’s father wanted him to go on to law school, but Steve wanted to acquire some more experience in ministry and consider going to seminary. His father agreed to allow Steve to move back home and follow that plan, provided Steve could earn enough money to pay his own way.

So, taking the principles of discipleship he had learned in college, Steve developed a Bible conference called “Journey Into Usefulness,” which he began to teach in local churches. In 1977, during the summer after his graduation, he met the woman who would share that ministry – his wife, Becky. They married in August, 1980.


I don’t know who wrote this piece but it’s clear whoever it was also noted the warmth of my dad’s affection for you. It’s also clear that my father told the same story he has been telling me ever since I was old enough to understand it. My favorite part?

“Suddenly from the back of the room, a Middle Eastern man stood up and walked forward, carrying a Bible and smiling broadly. With disarming gentleness, he took us on one by one and answered our questions with a boldness I had never seen.”

It always gave me the chills!

But may I also point your attention to where the tale ends: with his meeting Becky and marrying her in August 1980. Just between us, I promise you that Becky would never have married Steve if it weren’t for a converted Jew from Tehran named Behzad Pakizegi. I also promise you that Steve and Becky’s third child, Laura, would never have been born if Becky had not married Steve.

So I guess what I am saying to you is that I know very well — and have know for a long time — that if it were not for you, I wouldn’t have even been born. But it’s more than that. What you have done for my father has positively impacted me throughout my life in different ways. I’ll give you just five.

By teaching my father about Reformed Theology, you influenced my education. For my sisters and me, attending Covenant College has shaped our thinking and our worldview. Some of my richest friendships with other believers also began during my time there.

By introducing my father to the writings of Francis Schaeffer, you influenced my thinking about art and life. Schaeffer’s thinking is ingrained into the ethos of our family. This has been great for me—the only family artist and musician! In the past few years, I have often thought about taking a trip to L’Abri — not only to learn more about God amidst the beauty of the Alps, but also to see for myself the Mecca of the thinking in which I was raised.

By being honest with my father about your own failings, you influenced my understanding of sin.  When I was in college, I realized some ways my dad had failed me. But when I confronted him about it, he was completely honest with me about his wrongdoing. It rocked my world to have someone I esteemed so much reveal himself as such a sinner. But his honest acknowledgement of his own frailty ultimately led to me developing a healthier view of Christian leaders. He told me then that you taught him this lesson many years back when you decided he was mature enough for you to openly reveal your flaws to him. I hope that I, like you and my dad, can also be a person that is humble and vulnerable with others about my sin. Simul justus et peccator!

By teaching my dad about Jesus, you influenced my perceptions about Jesus. When my dad talks about Jesus, his voice has the same warmth it gets when he talks about you or his own dad–real people he has known and loved. To him, Jesus is not just a gateway to eternal life. He’s real! He’s alive! He’s present! He’s powerful! When Jesus was here on earth, He laughed and He cried. He hugged people. He felt everything we feel.  I don’t normally hear Christians talk about Jesus affectionately. I want to be a person that does.

By leading my dad to Christ, you paved the way for me to meet my grandfather one day. You likely know better than I do about how difficult it was for my dad to lose his father soon after he graduated from college. But think about it: he now knows he will live for eternity with his father in the New Heavens and the New Earth. I, too, look forward to that time of reunion when I’m planning to plant a huge kiss on my grandfather’s cheek. As an aside, do you know that my dad describes you as having the same “quiet strength” that his father had?

You should know, Behzad, that I do not warm to people easily. It’s actually a great flaw of mine — just ask my parents. So please do not take it as flattery when I say these things in gratitude to you. The truth is, though I don’t know you, I consider you as part of my family. I don’t know if God will ever give me a chance to meet you on this side of eternity–I hope He does. But if he does not, please know that there is a girl out there who considers you her uncle Behzad.

With love,

Laura


We help underserved church leaders develop churches that transform lives and communities