Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minnesota) EFC.
Thom Rainer claims that “one of the biggest mistakes pastors make” is that “pastors have little emphasis, or sometimes, even knowledge about the content that is taught in groups in their church.”
This is a strong statement about the importance and yet negligence of the pastor (and elders) giving oversight to what is taught in the various small group ministries in the local church. Pastors, he notes, will give detailed and careful attention to what they preach, and rightly so. It is critical to the health and well-being of a local church. The centrality of the Word requires careful and prayerful thought, time and preparation. However, many of those same pastors seldom give oversight to what is taught by others in Sunday School classes or small groups.
Part of the reticence is due to the fact they don’t want to micromanage or control. On the one hand, that is a legitimate concern. But on the other hand, the elders are tasked to give oversight to doctrine and the teaching of doctrine, to ensure that it is sound doctrine that is taught. This requires them to be concerned about and give oversight to all the ministries of the local church, and the teaching ministries specifically.
Rainer rightly notes that without a similar concern for the other teaching that occurs in the various ministries of the church there are some significant unintended consequences, most notably that a local church will “fail to make disciples,” or unhealthy doctrine is being taught and propagated possibly even consisting of “heretical teaching in some groups.”
While pastors are largely very careful about who preaches and what is preached, they do not usually give the same diligence to the content of small groups. Discipleship can take place in many places, but it should be taking place in those small groups. And the unintended consequences of not having a wise plan for discipleship is that you will fail to make disciples, or you may even have heretical teaching in some groups.
Leaders must be intentional in providing a clear plan of discipleship for small groups, and that plan must include clear guidance about content. Such a posture does not mean that leaders are autocratic or non-collaborative. Leaders, pastors particularly, must be involved.
The need is too great to let discipleship become haphazard and unintentional. You wouldn’t approach preaching without a clear idea of what you are preaching and why you are preaching. Please do no less for your small groups.
Rainer closes with a final question for pastors and elders to consider:
So, how does your church determine its content for small groups or Sunday school classes? Do you have a clear and specific plan for discipleship through your church’s groups?