Intentional Spiritual Growth in Small Groups

Intentional Spiritual Growth in Small Groups

Understanding how we grow and change

Note: This article is excerpted from our Training Tool Theological Discussions for Everyone.

As small-group leaders, we want to help the people in our groups grow and mature in their faith. We want them to experience life change and walk away from our groups different from when they came in. And so we discuss the Bible or the sermon from Sunday or some theology we want our group members to understand.

Although we have good intentions, we may not see the change we're hoping for, and that's because so few of us have considered what it takes to really grow. James C. Wilhoit writes in Spiritual Formation as if the Church Mattered, "Christian spiritual formation: (1) is intentional; (2) is communal; (3) requires our engagement; (4) is accomplished by the Holy Spirit; (5) is for the glory of God and the service of others; and (6) has as its means and end the imitation of Christ." A lot goes into spiritual formation—the process of becoming more like Christ—and yet we often enter into it with little to no thought. And then we wonder why we're not seeing results.

To get the results we desire, we must take a step back and ask, How do we grow? If we're to be intentional in our formation, we must understand the process. Essentially, all growth begins with a desire, a yearning for a change. We must decide that we want to grow. This desire may come as we read about the way things should be or we see a godly attribute in another. It may come when we've been humbled and shown a side of our self that we tend to ignore.

But the desire is simply not enough. If it were, we wouldn't struggle to keep our New Year's resolutions each year. Instead, we must allow our desire to propel us to gain knowledge that will help us see things differently. This knowledge will turn into changed behavior and a new way of life. As we experience this new way of life, we develop new desires for change and growth, and the cycle starts over again.

To flesh out this cycle, imagine that Sara has the desire to make a difference in the world, to have a life of meaning. It's a good desire, but without adding knowledge, Sara has no idea how to make a difference. Then, Sara's small group works through a Bible study on spiritual gifts. As she learns what spiritual gifts are, takes an inventory of her own gifts, and talks with others about how she might be gifted, she learns that there's a good chance she has the spiritual gift of encouragement. Understanding that spiritual gifts are to be used to build up the church, Sara feels compelled to serve somewhere using her gift of encouragement. She becomes a small-group coach to encourage and empower other small-group leaders in their role. Her desire to make a difference plus learning about spiritual gifts has led to change in her life. Now she knows she's making a difference in her church and in the lives of the leaders in her care. As she gets more comfortable in her new role, she begins to desire deeper relationships with her leaders so she can better encourage them. And so the cycle starts over again.

As we lead groups of 6-12, it seems much more daunting to cater to this spiritual formation cycle in each of our group members, but it is possible. First, we must work to create the right environment for this to happen.

Safe to Share
Without safety and openness in your group, members won't ever get close to sharing their heart's true desires and needs. What worries them? What do they hope for in life? What's one thing they wish they could change? What sin or issue keeps them in a downward spiral? What unhealthy patterns do they have?

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