[Editor’s Note: The following is the content delivered at the recent Life Group Point meeting, led by Pastors Nick Aufenkamp and Jonathan Parnell. The meeting consisted of two short teachings that sandwiched a discussion on the challenges and highlights happening within our groups.]
What Is a Life Group?
Everything we do at Cities Church comes out of our mission to make disciples. Our discipleship structure consists of three complementary pieces: our Sunday morning gatherings, Community Groups, and Life Groups. Life Groups are the main vehicle by which we aim to make disciples in depth.
The way Life Groups make disciples in depth is by members engaging with one another in level-three-conversations, which are conversations that get down into our hearts, our motivations, and our ultimate desires. They are inherently deeper than the every day small-talk or even ‘get-to-know-you’ topics. They are the conversations that expose and honestly address our fears, failures, doubts, and the complexities of our lives.
You all — the LG Point Persons — have the significant roles of sending out regular communication to your group, especially in confirming when and where the group is meeting; facilitating your group’s discussion by keeping topics on track and moving the time towards level-three conversation; and attending these trainings, which are designed to encourage you and keep the vision for LGs fresh in your mind.
Three Key features of Life Groups
- Life Groups are like fingerprints. Every LG is different — in fact, at risk of stating the obvious, they are as unique as the individuals that comprise each group. Since each group is going to have people with different backgrounds, stages and seasons of life, struggles, hopes, and expectations, there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to the most effective way to structure your LG meetings. This means that your LG will be different from past accountability groups you’ve been a part of and that the practices that worked in previous groups may not be effective in your current LG. As Point Persons, we need to be flexible when it comes to structuring our meetings and do our best to tailor our format to the individuals that comprise our groups.
- Secondly, Life Groups require taking the long-view. In other words, people require patience. Relationships and trust take time to build, and the kind of heart change that we hope level-three-conversations result in generally takes even longer. So, we don’t want you to be discouraged or alarmed by awkwardness, personality conflicts, or the time it takes for relationships and trust to grow. Remember, the goal of our LG meetings is, to the very best of our ability, to help one another follow Jesus; not necessarily to be best-friends.
- Lastly, Life Groups are about serving, not being served. If everyone comes with the attitude to serve the others in their group, more often than not, everyone will be served and leave feeling grateful for the time spent with one another. The inverse is also true. The best way to create this culture of service is, as the Point Person, to come with a particular eye towards caring for the members of your group by leading in active listening and asking good questions that draw the members of your group out, as opposed to hogging the time.
Life Groups and the Mission to Make Disciples
Following Jesus’s commission to the church in Matthew 28, we, as a local church, want to make disciples. That means we want men and women, and boys and girls, to become worshipers, servants, and missionaries of Jesus. To be a disciple of Jesus means that we worship him; it means that we trust and obey him, and become like him; and it means that we live as his witnesses. That’s what we want to make when we say make disciples — we’re talking about worshipers, servants, and missionaries of Jesus. That’s our mission, and there are two parts to the mission.
It’s what we have called discipleship in distance and in depth. It’s what Jesus is saying when he says make disciples by baptizing and by teaching. Another way to say it is that we want to make disciples by multiplying disciples and maturing disciples. Or when it comes to what we do, we are to evangelize and educate.
Our discipleship structure, of course, lines up with these two parts. Because we think the mission really matters, including baptizing and teaching, both from the mouth of Jesus, we want to be intentional about it, so we have Community Groups (for multiplying) and Life Groups (for maturing).
But I want to say a little more about Life Groups here. We want to mature disciples. We want to learn together to obey all that Jesus has commanded us (meaning the Bible). Maturity means Bible-formed, gospel-shaped lives. That is the point of Life Groups. But one important question to ask is: To what end do we want this? What is the goal of mature disciples? And, into what setting are mature disciples sent?
Now this is an important question, and it actually can get pretty deep. I don’t think the mission of the church is complicated — I think Jesus means to keep it straightforward and simple. But there are other layers of details when it comes to calling and agency that are worth clarifying.
First, there is a difference between the church collective and the church as its individual members.
I think we all know there is a difference, but it doesn’t always come through when we talk. But the church as a local corporate body — the assembled ones joined together as members and pastors in the gospel — is different from the church as its individual members spread out in different callings throughout the week. One way to put it is that there are things individuals Christians can do and are called to do that the church collective cannot and should not.
For example, the church collective is not called to “bring up” children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). Who is called to do that? [Right, Christian parents are called to do that.]
The church’s role, then, is to mature parent-disciples to do that faithfully. The church collective doesn’t raise children, but the church collective works to mature parent-disciples who raise children.
The same applies to so many other things. The church doesn’t adopt orphans. The church matures disciples (individual Christians) who, as members of the church, belonging to the church, adopt orphans. You can probably see how applicable this is.
It’s especially relevant when it comes to vocation. The church can’t make a difference in your workplace; the church can only invest, equip, and mature its individual members to do that.
Another place that I think this distinction, or clarification, is helpful is when it comes to church critique. Sometimes people will talk like: “The church doesn’t do enough for orphan care.” I saw some numbers recently on this. According to this one source, in Minnesota, there are 983 orphans waiting to be adopted; and there are 5,628 local churches. And we see those numbers, and we say, the churches isn’t doing enough for orphan care. But wait a minute: what do you mean?
Churches can’t adopt children. What is really meant with critiques like this is that individual Christians aren’t doing enough for orphan care — and the local churches are at fault for not teaching, equipping, and maturing disciples (their church members) to be involved.
The church’s mission is to make disciples — multiplying and maturing disciples — and then the goal is that those maturing disciples live faithfully and righteously in their communities and callings as individual Christians who belong to the church.
One verse to pin to this is Ephesians 4:12: The church collective, led by its leaders, is on mission to “equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Eph. 4:12). We all together as the church collective, led by its pastors, are working to teach, mature, and equip individual church members for various ministries.
Second, mature disciples live in three overlapping spheres of ministry.
This second point gets at the question: Where is the setting of mature disciples? Or we might say: Where is the “ministry” happening that is referred to in Ephesians 4:12?
There are at least three sphere: Home, church, world
No doubt, in all the complexities that are shared about in Life Groups, they all fall into one of these three spheres.
The center red represents the individual Christian, baptized in Christ, as a member of the local church, and then called to the three overlapping spheres of ministry. And the most important is that center. And I want to be really clear on this. The most important is knowing who God is, and knowing who we are in Christ, and learning how the gospel shapes the way we live.
If the center is off, then things will go haywire in the three spheres. And that is where a lot of us are, and we go through seasons when things get blurry. Sometimes we can let something out here distort what is true in the center, and when that happens, we need to spend a lot of time healing and recovering this central identity of in Christ, being baptized in Christ, a member of his church, a son or daughter of God. Worshipers, servants, missionaries.
So we will talk a lot about that in Level-Three conversation. We can only mature by knowing God more through the Bible — and knowing God more through the Bible is going to effect these three spheres. So we go to the center to make a difference in the spheres. That is the setting where the difference is made.
According to this image, the goal of Community Groups is bring more and more people into the red. Then the goal of Life Groups is to help people in Christ mature and thus live faithfully and righteously.
Third, Life Groups are integral in maturing disciples for these three spheres of ministry.
So the mission of the church is not go to work for you tomorrow, but it’s to teach, equip, and mature you to live faithfully and righteously as a disciple at your work tomorrow, as part of, as member of, as an extension of the local church. So we’re never sent out alone, but we do have personal callings and ministries. Most of you will not see a fellow church member tomorrow. When your child is disobedient or foolish, you the parent, mom and dad, are responsible to help them. The church, with the Bible, must teach, equip, mature you to do that faithfully and righteously, but the church can’t do that for you.
So for example, in my Life Group, we are going to talk about God. That’s what we do mainly. But we are also going to get into those three spheres. We are going to talk about how to love our wives well, and why that last argument happened the way it did, and why you felt like that, and how it was resolved, and so forth. We’re going to talk about complexities at work, and the anxiety that you feel because you heard through the grapevine that there are going to be lay-offs. All that. Knowing God, maturing as a disciple, matters there. So Life Groups are designed to go there, in real life.