Family is most important small group in the church, say pastors

|PIC1|LAKE FOREST, California - A panel of pastors speaking at a conference for church leaders in the Purpose Driven network on Wednesday agreed that the process to deepen discipleship should involve some form of small groups but shared unique positions on how to structure disciple-making.

Steve Stroop, pastor of Lake Point Church in Texas, said it is the family that is the most important small group in the church.

"The family should be the primary vehicle for discipleship," the Dallas-based pastor told the international crowd of pastors and Christian leaders convening at Saddleback Church. "God created the family before he created the church ... Parents are responsible for winning their kids to Christ and discipling them."

Stroop was among the 35 influential pastors selected by Rick Warren to speak at the 2008 Purpose Driven Network Summit, which kicked off Tuesday. Panel discussions during the three-day conference put a new spin on the annual Purpose Driven gatherings.

During the "Best Practices for Deepening Discipleship" panel on Wednesday, Stroop said he grew concerned that church members had "outsourced" the discipleship of their children to Sunday School teachers like they would their laundry.

His church has made an attempt to create a culture of family discipleship. The church began to resource the parents by installing a permanent kiosk designed to answer parenting and marriage questions and screening the camp services to parents to make it easier for them to discuss the messages presented.

Mars Hill Church pastor Mark Driscoll, who preaches to a robust crowd of singles in their 20s, uses a more digital approach to moving his Seattle congregants through the discipleship process. His church created its own social networking system dubbed "The City" to better connect people.

"You have small group, prayer requests, and that continues digitally," Driscoll explained.

The multi-site church also has a members-only Web site area where people get answers after posting a question.

According to Driscoll, the Web site helps guide people to the church's "front door" or "living room" and eventually to classes and conferences.

Tammy Gill, a small group minister attending the conference, told The Christian Post that she felt the Web site was important but the technological know-how was an issue.

"I wanted to use it as part of our small group ministry as a way to encourage our leaders and as a way for them to interact with their group members," said Gill, who represents The Kirk of the Hills in Tulsa, Okla. "But at this point, I don't have someone that can help me with the technology."

Daniel S Kim of Sa-rang Community Church in Anaheim, California, pointed out that churches should distinguish between small groups for the sake of fellowship and for the sake of disciple-making.

Discipleship-training is a "totally different kind of small group", offered Kim.

Out of the panel, Kim presented the most systematic approach to discipleship-making.

Although members of his church, who include a significant number of "1.5 generation" Koreans, participate in small group fellowships, they also are asked to go through a discipleship-training program that lasts a little over one and a half years. During the first four months, members do Bible study one-on-one or one-on-two. Church pastors then guide members in groups of 12 through an eight-month session. Finally, Kim takes over to lead them in an eight-month leadership training.

Leaders who pass the discipleship training can then go on to lead small groups and be an "inspiration" to their members to be more like Jesus Christ, explained Kim.

We feed them "until they are able to raise their own lamb", he highlighted.

The panel discussion at one point became so heavily centered around small groups that Radiant Church pastor Lee MacFarland said, "I think I'm on the wrong panel."

The Arizona-based pastor admitted that he did not truly understand the meaning of discipleship until a fitness trainer came alongside him to help him maneuver the gym, from weight loss to bench-pressing 100-lb dumbbells. MacFarland said he learned that his trainer was spending more time teaching him to lift weights than the Radiant pastor was spending on the spiritual growth of his members.

From the entire discussion, it was MacFarland's story illustration that resonated the most with Pastor Jim Fleming of Collierville Bible Church in Tennessee.

"The process was far more robust and rigorous than the typical small group meeting," Fleming commented. "I have been thinking the same thing - that discipleship, pouring yourself into another individual, goes way beyond the traditional 'small group ministry.'"

"Is this kind of discipleship on our radar? Most of the discussion made me wonder."

This year's Purpose Driven Network Summit is expected to be watershed moment for Warren's P.E.A.C.E. plan, in which peace ambassadors are sent to countries around the world to carry out the five actions that Jesus modelled, including promoting reconciliation/planting churches, equipping leaders, assisting the poor, caring for the sick, and educating the next generation.

Bestselling author of The Purpose Driven Life, Warren was scheduled to go public Thursday with the P.E.A.C.E. coalition - a network of churches, business, and NGOs.

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