Follow in the Footsteps of Bonhoeffer

Follow in the Footsteps of Bonhoeffer

Using Bonhoeffer's plan for small-group meetings

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor and theologian who lived during the rise of Nazism. He was a prophetic voice to the German Church, recognizing the evil of Adolf Hitler long before most of the world. He valiantly fought Hitler's takeover of the German Church and was eventually imprisoned and executed for his role in an assassination attempt against the Führer.

As part of his fight to preserve the true gospel of Jesus Christ, he founded an underground seminary for aspiring pastors because the traditional seminaries had been taken over by the Nazis. However, this seminary provided not only academic and pastoral training, but also whole-life training, teaching them to be and make disciples of Jesus.

Bonhoeffer and his students all lived together on a large estate in the German countryside, and it was against this backdrop that he wrote Life Together, a treatise on Christian community. In it, Bonhoeffer described what he believed Christian communal life should look like. He also laid out a morning routine that he found helpful, and (with a few minor adjustments) it makes an interesting framework for a small-group meeting.

Trying It Out

My small group has been reading Life Together and decided to try out his plan. It was an interesting experiment. The prayer time at the end was one of the best group prayer times I've ever had. There was a long list of prayer needs, but praying for each of them didn't become just a list to get through. Because the group is slowly becoming a true community, I was able to genuinely pray for the things that they need and the group was able to participate in that prayer without becoming bored.

If you decide to experiment with this, I'd encourage you to share the responsibilities with your group members. Have one person choose and lead the reading of the Psalm, another lead the singing, others read the Scriptures, and ask a few people to bring food for the meal. Sharing responsibilities will not only lighten your load, but also allows others to feel ownership of the group. It can also help prepare them for potentially leading their own groups in the future.

I hope this proves to be a valuable experience for your group as it was for mine. Follow Bonhoeffer's plan below at your next group meeting, using the small-group ideas to guide you.

Pray from the Psalms

From ancient times in the Church a special significance has been attached to the common use of psalms. In many churches to this day, the Psalter constitutes the beginning of every service of common worship. The custom has been largely lost and we must find our way back to its prayers. The Psalter occupies a unique place in the Holy Scriptures. It is God's Word and, with a few exceptions, the prayer of men as well. (From Life Together)

Small-Group Idea:
As a group, read a Psalm responsively. The main reader can read the odd-numbered verses, while the group reads the even-numbered verses in unison. Make this reading a prayer to God.

Sing a Hymn

Why do Christians sing when they are together? The reason is, quite simply, because in singing together it is possible for them to speak and pray the same Word at the same time; in other words, because here they can unite in the Word. All devotion, all attention should be concentrated upon the Word in the hymn. The fact that we do not speak it but sing it only expresses the fact that our spoken words are inadequate to express what we want to say, that the burden of our song goes far beyond all human words.

free newsletter

Sign up for our free Small Groups Newsletter newsletter: Regular access to innovative training resources, Bible-based curriculum, and practical articles.


Experience Group Conversation Prayer
How to turn your group prayers into a real conversation with the Holy Spirit
Christmas Activities for Your Small Group
Celebrate the season with these festive ideas.
Build Community Through Communion
Lead your group in the Lord's Supper at your next meeting.
God, the One and Only
Depend on our solid-rock and safe-harbor.
Falling in Love with God
Reflecting on the beautiful attributes of God
Helping Your Group Connect with God
Practical ideas for small-group worship