Often in a small group, I share something of my past or even my present that I don't want broadcast beyond that setting. This actually goes both ways. You want to assure your group members that anything they say belongs to them and neither you nor anyone in the group will share it with anyone, anywhere. The only exception to that is if you believe the group member's life or another life is in danger. Otherwise, they must know they can trust you—and you must be able to trust them.
Often you will observe or hear of unbiblical lifestyle choices that your disciples are making. If you condemn or sound like Mom or Dad, your disciples will bolt and little will be gained. Asking good questions instead is helpful. Explore the rationale. Do they not know this is wrong? Have they twisted Scripture to make it right? Have they even thought about it? Is it an addiction, a deeply ingrained habit, or a family trait? Once you know those answers you can begin to address the issue. But do so gently and patiently. People don't change overnight, even if they want to.
Unfortunately, I learned this the hard way and lost a disciple who was dear to me because I came down too hard on her for a behavior that, in retrospect, wasn't that big of a deal. Now I'm more careful to honor the image of God in each person, and I attempt to love and woo them into a better choice, even if it takes longer.
Discipleship can be one of the most rewarding opportunities for Christians. What a delight to see a person grow up into Christ and the faith! What a joy to see them take on leadership or ministry and become all God created them to be. And we benefit, too. We get to look at things with fresh eyes, which is energizing. But discipleship in groups won't happen with intentionality and work. Are you up for the challenge?
Note: This article is excerpted from our training tool, Group Discipleship Strategies.
—Pat J. Sikora is a SmallGroups.com editorial advisor, founder of Mighty Oak Ministries, and the author of Why Didn't You Warn Me?; copyright 2015 by Christianity Today.
1. How much intentionality do you put into your questions? How do great questions help disciple group members?
2. Is application stressed in your group? How often do group members follow through?
3. How safe is your group? What can you do to make it safer for sharing?