A careful study of Jesus life and ministry reveals that Jesus core ministry was that of small group leader. He taught the masses; he helped and healed the many; he concentrated on the few. There seemed to be a kind of gravitational pull toward the small group. He often tried to get away from the masses to be with the few. He discouraged those he healed from talking so as not to make the crowds any bigger than they were. This gave him more time to spend with the few.
Robert Coleman has done an excellent job of analyzing and communicating about Jesus’ life at this point. In his book The Master Plan of Evangelism, he details how Jesus spent even more time with the few as his ministry drew to a close. He applies his findings to the work of the pastor. I would like to make some applications of these truths to the life of the small group leader. Jesus was the first Christian small group leader and the best. We could all learn to be a better small group leader from him.
He charged his small group to make disciples of the whole world
Steven Covey taught us to “begin with the end in mind.” I’d like for us to look at Jesus’ small group from this perspective.
The day Jesus called the disciples he had the end in mind. The day He was baptized He had the end in mind. In the back of his mind during every teaching, every healing, every conversation He had the end in mind. He would eventually say to his disciples, “Go make disciples of all nations.” When I say eventually I don’t mean twenty years from now. In three short years Jesus will go from, “Hi, my name is Jesus, nice to meet you,” to, “Go, make disciples of all nations.” Three short years.
Time flies. It would be here before He knew it. In three short years He would say to His men, “Go, make disciples.” If it were me, I would give myself more time.
This is an important point because, quite honestly, Jesus didn’t seem all that intentional in the way He spent time with His men. It seemed so unstructured–somewhat lackadaisical and haphazard. You don’t get the feeling that He ever said to His disciples, “Ok, from 8:00 A.M. to 9:00 we are going to study the Pentateuch. Then we will take a ten minute break. From 10.10 to 11.10 we will study preaching, then ethics. No, it looked like they were just hanging out.
But they were not just hanging out. Jesus was very goal-oriented. We serve a very goal oriented God. We see this in verses like John 4.4 Now he had to go through Samaria. (NIV) I like the way the old King James reads, “He must needs go through Samaria.”
Another example or Jesus’ goal orientation is Luke 13:33, “In any case, I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day–for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!” (NIV) and, “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” John 4:34 (NIV)
Ultimately, Jesus did finish His work. On the cross He declared, “It is finished.” Goal oriented Jesus began with the end in mind and knew when it was finished.
Good parents parent this way. They don’t ask what will get them through the day. They do not ask what will help them cope with this situation. They ask what will turn out good adults. They begin with the end in mind. They are constantly asking how this approach or that will affect this child’s future. They raise this child to say good bye.
Jesus taught his disciples to say good-bye to them. Everything He said and did pointed to that moment when He would turn the ministry over to them.
This perspective changes everything.
Small group leaders who would follow in the footsteps of Jesus will lead their groups this way. Everything points to the day when they will say good bye to them. They don’t plan to be with them forever. Eventually, they will speak 2 Timothy 2.2 to someone in that group, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.” (NIV)
He selected a group and concentrated on them
Jesus was very forward looking toward his goals. He was also very backward looking toward centuries of prophecies and covenants that predicted his work.
Jesus knew that he was the fulfillment of the covenant with Noah and the covenant with Abraham and the covenant with Moses and the covenant with David. All these covenants repeated a theme that all peoples would be blessed though God’s servant. The blessing to all people was to come through Jesus. Jesus knew he was the means of God’s blessing to all people.
And so, he started a small group.
True to the upside down kingdom that Jesus proclaimed, Jesus planned to reach the masses by concentrating on a small group. In the upside down kingdom the way up is down. We lead by serving. We find life by giving life away. That is how things are in Jesus upside down kingdoms.
Modern pastors would do well to follow Jesus example. They would do well to go after the masses through the means of a small group. They would do well to pour their lives into a small group who would take what they have learned, impart it to faithful men, who would be able to teach others.
This exactly how Billy Graham says he would go at it if he were a pastor. See www.joshhunt.com/mail264.htm
This is the approach of Andy I have collected five recorded versions of Andy saying, [paraphrased] “I am in a small group that is committed to doubling; I want you to be in a small group that is committed to doubling.” See http://www.joshhunt.com/mail82.htm
He spent lots of unstructured, unhurried time with the group
With Christ in the school of discipleship was very different than modern theological training. I have never had the feeling that Jesus gave a schedule to his disciples:
8:00 Old Testament Survey
Maybe that is how Jesus did it, but I don’t think so. I think his strategy is summarized in, “He appointed twelve–designating them apostles –that they might be with him.” Mark 3:14 (NIV)
Jesus was his seminary. He was the coursework. He was the curriculum. Class was always in session. There were no tests–not the written kind. There were life tests and they could come any time.
To an outside observer it might appear that this was discipleship by hanging around, and, in a way, it was. But it was hanging around with a purpose. The clock was ticking. Time was running out. There was a time when Jesus would turn the keys to the kingdom over to His men. Until then, they spent a lot of time together.
It would be the same any father who knew he only had three years to spend with his children. Any father that got the news that he would be gone in three years would want to spend a lot of time with his kids. Not just structured time where he sat and taught them things–although there might be a little of that. Mostly though, it would be just unstructured, unhurried time.
This is how relationships are formed. This is how life is passed onto life. This is how values are caught, not taught. Jesus spent lots of unhurried, unstructured time with his men and if we would make disciples as Jesus did, we will do the same.