Most discipleship programs are linear. That is, they are neatly packaged straight lines where progress can be measured on a graph. Unfortunately, spiritual growth isn’t so linear.
Think back over your own spiritual journey. My guess is that it has been more like a meandering path rather than a straight line. For most of us it would be impossible to translate that experience into a curriculum.
Yet, most of us were weaned on a step-by-step discipleship model. As a new believer I attended “new believers” classes so I could be taught basics of Christianity. (Apparently new believers need to know the finer points of the Trinity, the atonement, the sovereignty of God, and a few other things that I no longer remember). Even though none of this had anything to do with the things I was struggling with as a new believer – such as casting aside sinful habits and cleaning up my life – I was provided with a cool three-ring binder to put my notes in.
It’s a slick process. It makes sense on the flow chart. It’s easy to administer. Enough people will sign up to justify the program. But it has very little to do with how believers actually grow.
Most spiritual growth does not come from a training program or a set curriculum. It is the result of “doing life” and being thrust into “need-to-grow-situations” on the job, in family life, or while standing in the emergency room at the hospital because a loved one has just been in an accident. The lessons we all must learn are, for the most part, universal. All of us need to learn the same lessons. But the order in which we learn them, and the classroom that God uses to teach them to us, are seldom the same for any two people.
Enter Sermon-based small groups.
Sermon-based small groups take this haphazard learning-and-growing process into account. They are perfectly fitted for the way spiritual growth actually takes place in our lives.
The ultimate goal of a sermon-based small groups is to simply velcro people to the two things they need most when faced with a need-to-grow situation in life: the Bible and other Christians.
The "sermon-based" aspect of these groups guarantees that the Bible is always close at hand. It doesn’t matter if last weeks sermon was a dud or home run, or if the lesson itself falls flat. The simple process of handling the Scriptures on a regular basis and looking into them to see what they have to say sets the stage for future need-to-grow moments the believer will face.
Secondly, the “small group” aspect of the group also guarantees that the believer will be well connected to other Christians to benefit from their knowledge and support. While it’s true that Lone Ranger types can learn a lot from self study, they aren’t exempt from needing other believers. As for wise counsel, a swift kick in the rear, and a warm hug, they are hard to self administer.
If we don’t have these kinds of relationship already in place, it’s usually too late to pull them together when a crisis hits full force.