The Man in the Pink Chair
MT 28:18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
We say, “The heartbeat of Heartland Church is our small groups.” Why? Small groups are an integral part of how we as a church obey the command of Jesus to “make disciples.” Besides Jesus and His word being at the center of what we do, the design and function of our small groups include key elements that we’ve discovered must be present for disciple making to actually take place. These elements are the difference between a Bible study focused on knowledge and building a personal relationship with Jesus centered in the Bible focused on obedience and transformation. These key elements or strategies are as follows: availability, accountability, intentionality, reproducibility, relational and transformational.
As we study how Jesus and the Apostle Paul made disciples and as we examine the research centered on people who are making disciples in the modern era, these elements stand out as necessary strategies for disciple making. Granted you might find lists and descriptions of these strategies that slightly vary, but the key factor is having an overall system that leads and encourages people to obey the command of Jesus to “make disciples.” With that said, our small groups take on two dimensions. The “open” small groups are groups of 8-12 people mixed in age and gender studying the passages of scripture from the current sermon series. The “closed” small groups are groups of 3-5 men (Every Man a Warrior) or 3-5 women (Cultivating Holy Beauty) with Titus 2 in mind and committed to 9-12 months studying God’s word together as well as memorizing scripture and learning how to do a quiet time and making this practice integral to our lifestyle.
I am so very thankful for the core group of people that have taken the time to ask questions and come to an understanding of why we do what we do. In effect, a number of these people, I should say disciples, have grown to exemplify the key elements of disciple making listed above. As a result, we are seeing them grow and mature and helping others grow and mature. Sure, of course, it is a bumpy road. In fact, it is sometimes downright frustrating. We even feel like we are losing ground at times. However, we have learned to trust Jesus with our goal in mind to love Jesus and show our love for Him by obeying His commands. I didn’t see this coming, but as a result of our journey and testimony of disciple making, we started getting and continue to get invitations to share what we’ve learned with other pastors, churches and associations. It isn’t because we’re considered to be experts or have all of the answers but that we’ve committed to this journey and have a passion to love and obey Jesus. Furthermore, it is because God gave us a vision and a story to tell that may help others recognize what they need to do and how to get started. With all that in mind, I want to tell you a story of a man in the pink chair.
Barbara Luft began attending the small group that meets in our home approximately 12 years ago. At first, she came alone but often asked us to pray for her husband Dennis. She would say things like, “he has religion but he doesn’t have a personal relationship with Jesus. Oh how I wish he would find Jesus.” To our delight, after about a year or so, Dennis began attending Sunday worship with Barbara. This was an answer to prayer and we were excited. However, his so-called cover story at the time was that he was just coming to support Barb. But as he met people and began to interact and have fellowship with us, he developed a genuine affinity for us. For that matter, his curiosity grew as he heard the word preached. As the months went on we prayed for Dennis to come to small group with Barb and invited him on occasion, but it never seemed it would ever happened. And then to our amazement it happened. He did come. Dennis showed up with Barb and did she ever have the biggest smile on her face. That is a day that I remember with tears in my eyes.
In the beginning, Dennis had the typical excuses of why he wasn’t going to come back. The list of excuses included 1) he couldn’t hear very well and he didn’t understand what was being said most of the time, 2) his beliefs were different than ours, and 3) he was so regretful of things he had done in the past he didn’t believe God would forgive him. He even said he believed he was going to hell. We quickly remedied the situation about his hearing the best we could. We found him a chair so he could tuck next to me as I led the group. This made him feel included because he could hear what I said and then he read lips and often asked people to repeat what they said. Now about the chair. This particular chair was in our storage room in the basement and was purchased at a rummage sale. Of course, Cheri bought the chair. It is the shape of a sea shell and pink. I never liked the chair, still don’t, especially the color, but it worked for Dennis and it will likely be a permanent fixture in our basement. And now that he has gone to be with Jesus, we are looking for someone else to sit in it during small group meetings.
The good news is that through the years, more than 10 years, Dennis experienced the impact of small group. That’s right. He gradually became a disciple as his beliefs aligned with the Bible and he accepted the love and forgiveness of Jesus. In fact, after a while, one small group wasn’t enough for him. He and Barb attended 2 small groups every week for a few years until they got sick. Now, if you can imagine a man in his mid to late sixties as he began the journey of accepting Christ and then being baptized in his early seventies and joining the church as a member as he continued his journey all the way until he was too sick to engage. Along the way, he would ask, “where in the Bible does it say this or that?” I would direct him in the Bible if it said it but I would also have to say the Bible doesn’t say that when it didn’t. He learned to differentiate between practicing religion and investing in a relationship with Jesus. As well, Dennis would often stay after small group and ask questions about the sermon that week or what we talked about in the small group meeting. On the one hand he was stubborn and set in his ways. I had to be gentle and approach each situation with wisdom as I relied on the Holy Spirit to guide me and work in Dennis’ heart. But, on the other hand, he gradually became more and more teachable.
Now in case you may get the wrong idea. Dennis didn’t just attend worship and small group. He served. He came on Wednesday nights and helped with the children in Kids ROCK. At first, he didn’t like the kids much. He thought they were unruly and envisioned taking a few of them to the “wood shed” for an adjustment. He was as you might say “old school.” But along the way Dennis began to love those kids and many of them grew to love and respect him as well. I know the teachers he worked with appreciated his presence in the room. So as we look back at Dennis’ journey as a disciple, we see that he became available, accountable, intentional, relational and transformed. Further to that, even though Dennis and Barb didn’t host or lead their own small group, they supported the reproducible aspect of making disciples by inviting and even bringing others. But of course, even the man, an elderly man hard of hearing, seated in a pink chair became a disciple of Jesus. How about you?
A Work in Progress,