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– Well, greeting friends and welcome to our webinar on groups tonight. And we are excited to welcome you. My name is Steve Layton and I am a state missionary with the Alabama Baptist State Convention. I’m the lead strategist for groups. And so we are in our wheelhouse tonight and we are excited to be here. We have Jay Gordon with us tonight, one of my dearest friends and a small group leader at the church at Brooke Hill’s. And Jay’s gonna be sharing with us tonight. We’re gonna talk a little bit about groups and Jay to borrow some of your language, some great groups even, and before we get away, we’ll talk about that. So I want to get started and Jay take just a second and introduce yourself to our audience tonight.
– Well, cool. I’ve been at the church of Brook Hills for about seven years, Alabama boy, growing up, living in couple of different states, administering in some different areas. But mostly here I have two grown children that are married, still waiting on grandkids. And my wife, Liz, we have been married 36 years, so anybody that’s a lot under the belt. And so she actually, she’s part of the story we’re gonna talk about tonight. She works for e3 Partners and leads mission trips in church planning, mostly in South America, Ecuador and Peru. And so that has influenced some of my group philosophy a little bit, so.
– That’s awesome, Jay. And so, and we were talking about, you’re currently serving church at Brook Hill there in the Birmingham area for seven years. Prior to that, I know you were very catalytic at Westwood Baptist in Alabaster area?
– Yes, 17 years there. So I’m gonna try to match that and do 17 at Brook Hills,
– Man, have you served other churches in Alabama, Jay?
– In college, I started believe it or not, minister of music and youth at Danville Baptist church up in Morgan county. And you know, I think that’s, oh, your Terrace. Yeah, I went to seminary in Fortworth, Texas at Southwestern, came back and started go to Terrace Baptist Church, which has now merged with First Baptist Sheffield and they are now your Bluff Baptist Church. So I served there for five years before going to Westwood.
– How awesome. So Jay, you were at Shocco, Pinnacle at Shocco this year and how was your experience there?
– It was awesome. I got to stage four conferences there and it’s just really cool to be able to interact with people. And before I do a session, I find out, you know, whether they’re, you know, pastors or small group leaders or, you know, what brings them there that really helps tailor the conversation. But it’s really good to be just face to face hearing what’s going on at people’s churches and allowing them to ask questions about the content and interacting with that. And so that’s always, Hey, I’m encouraged whether they are not, I don’t know, but I always leave encouraged. I think they tell me later too.
– And, you know, I think one of the neat things about Pinnacle is the fact that so many people who come to Pinnacle are new Sunday school leaders, are new group leader so we have that opportunity to really equip and to be an encourager. And I noticed you doing a good bit of that. And so I thank you for encouraging folks out in the hallway and in the snack shop.
– You guys even scheduled some hangout times for different leaders when they weren’t necessarily teaching. It’s just, I meet them somewhere and ask questions. So that was fun as well.
– I thought it was great. And that’s a format, it’s part of who we are at the state board missions, Jay. I mean, you know, we lead conferences and certainly we do that and use some great leaders across our state, but we’re really elevating the conversations, this idea of setting down and engaging. And we do that, you know, through some virtual conversations, but really the best ones are lot conversations like we did at Pinnacle and coming in to DNA. I know that you’re very active in a group of educators in the Birmingham area. And we come in and talk to those pack groups and with pastors and then connections, you know, making sure that we get people connected to the right people. So yeah, I think that’s really, really, really important. Jay, I wanted to ask before we start tell me, I know that you’re leading groups now. You’re not just a great leader who teaches about groups or one who actually talks about it and works behind the scenes, you lead groups, what’s your leading these days? So really what kind of group are you leading these days?
– Well, I will tell you what I do, but I don’t advise you to do that, don’t try this at home. Might be a way to say that, but I co-lead a Sunday morning group on campus at Brook Hills and were kind of a mix of parents, of teams and empty nesters in a, you know, a few years into my ministry at Brook Hills. One of our groups down where I live near Chelsea, the leader moved away and we needed that. And Liz and I have always enjoyed hosting groups in our home. So we took on that group a Sunday night group that meets in our home. So we get experienced both on and off campus. And for me, it’s a learning experience too. You know, I think when I share from my own group leadership, it just add some validity to what I say when I’m leading with my own leaders and I’m sharing from my experiences. And hey, if I have a wild idea, I get to try it out myself before I share it with somebody else. And another thing, some of you people that are listening to this now or later might realize this that there’s a movement in the state, that kind of models, the Peter, James, John discipleship type movement of a small gender based group, that really is kind of a high accountability high fellowship group. And so I’m very, very interested in helping people become fully mature in Christ. And I think that really helps take it to another level. And so just to be honest, that don’t try this at home comment, I’m doing leading two of those groups as well. And actually we do both of those via zoom and it just, it just, you know, one of those groups has a parent that has some preschoolers and he’s able to get the kids in bed and we jump on about 8:30, 8:45 and it no travel, and so you can get it done via zoom. I know so many folks are zoomed out, but hey, if you’re watching right now, maybe you aren’t. So anyway.
– It’s funny Jay, that we talk about those times and we tend to talk about those more traditional times, you know, breakfast meetings, Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Wednesday evening meetings. But at one of the churches I serve, our men’s group, a group that I led, we began and gathered at eight o’clock on Wednesday night. So we’ll all bring the family, would have family night meal, we go take the children home and help get them to bed. And then we’d come back to the church and who were scheduled to meet from 8:00 to about 9:30, but normally somewhere around 11:30 or midnight I had to go gas, but you start loving each other well and start building those relationships, which are so key in groups, in group ministry. Jay you taught something, I had the privilege of hearing you teach the five looks at the Deacon last year. I know it’s something that you’ve been thinking about and working on, and then we ask you to teach it at Pinnacle this year and you came back and it was so well received because it gives us some hooks on how to do group work. So if you don’t mind, give us a flower, let’s talk a little bit about the five looks and how it gives us a tool to, for leading our groups whenever they need.
– Okay, cool. I’d love to give you a little bit of background to tell you how I wound up here. As I mentioned earlier, my wife’s involvement in missions plays into this a little bit. She works for e3 Partners, and I wound up as a volunteer of being certified to lead trips. They’ve required two trip leaders and so that way, you know, once a year, once every other year, I could go with her and we could be involved in that together. And so have been doing that for years, but there’s another experience. It’ll take a minute to tell you us a little bit of a, maybe a long story, but I think it just illustrates my heart and where we want to go. But while I was on staff at Westwood, there was a time that we lost a missions pastor. And so I was small groups pastor there, and they asked me to kind of hold that together during the search. And so we had a, our missions team, missions committee met at one Wednesday night, and as we worked through some things, it just became really evident. And we talked about it that we really needed a mission strategy in a more formal way. And so we decided we would see what we can do with that. And now here’s the timeline. This was a Wednesday night, I believe after church Thursday morning, I get into the office 8:30 and about 8:45 I get this phone call that’s directed at my office and I don’t remember the man’s name, but he was with the international mission board. And he said, I’m a church strategist and you’re on my list to call. I just, I’ve worked with a number of different churches and just wanted to see if there was any way I can help you. And I said, who told you to call? It was just last night we had this meeting and said, we need to talk with somebody about mission strategy. And so he said, no, this was just random. And I immediately, you know, I’m slow sometimes, but I recognize God’s hand at work.
– So I scheduled him to come and meet with our missions committee as rapidly as possible, because I knew God was in this, but that leads to another part of that conversation. We had a meeting with our missions committee and following the meeting, he and I were just sitting around in the church office talking a little bit. And he’s telling me about this man that served as a missionary man and his wife. And he went to a certain part of the world. And he said, we are able to trace 400,000 new believers as result of this man’s work. And so we, you know, we talked about the strategy and stuff a little while. And I mean, I was just very interested in that. And to be honest, I’ll jump to another part of the story that night I went home and, you know, my head hits the pillow and I’m going 400,000 God, what have I done for you? You know, it just, it makes you, but back to the meeting at church and following that, he is telling us about this guy who later served as a vice-president of the IMB and also was on staff with the three partners where my wife works for awhile. And he eventually named the guy, and I said, what, I was in seminary with him. And in fact, we went to the same church, and in fact, we were in the same Sunday school class. And so that brought it a lot more home. I’m going, you’re talking about a guy that 20 years ago, he and I were in the same Sunday school class and you know, all this great missions work. And so he had been involved as a mission strategist obviously did a great job. And it’s a lot of the things that going through the training with the three partners we talk about it and just trying to, to create a rapidly multiplying movement. And so fast forward a little bit, in my current Sunday morning small group, we were talking about some of these things one day and I asked them, okay, here’s what I want you to do. I want you to write down on an index card that I’ve passed out the amount of time between when you came to faith in Christ and when you felt like you were equipped to tell somebody else about Christ. So I took those numbers and average them really quickly. Steve, I’m gonna ask you a question to guess, and I will say it was in years, but what’s the, what do you think the average number of years would be between a regular group of lay people between when they came to faith in Christ and when they felt ready to share the gospel? What’s the guess, I know it’s only a guess.
– It’s only a guess, I would say three years, two years.
– The answer was nine.
– So I’m thinking, what are we doing as a church if it takes us nine years to equip somebody to repeat, you know, coming to leading somebody to come to Christ. And so I became interested in that and I took some of the strategy that Etheredge was using and I was just thinking, okay, it’s a little bit more complicated. You know, we’re using people who have been through a lot of training to do this. How can I take some of those same principles and plug those into what we’re doing here in North America? And one of my thoughts was, you know, my wife’s involved in church planning, but you know what that church looks like when they first planned that? They’re meeting in a home, they’re meeting in a living room, it’s probably gonna be anywhere from five to 15 people. That’s a small group. And that’s what I work with here. And so I’m going to, let’s lift some of that and see if we can, you know, do a better job. And it’s not about numbers, it’s not about speed. But the thing I think it’s really about is obedience and the great commission calls us to be obedient. And we’re gonna get to that in a minute. The bottom line, let me ask you another questions, Steve, we’re going to start at this point to talk about what we had. What would you say are the three major things that small groups would do on a Sunday morning? Small group Sunday school, at Brook Hills we just, we call them all small groups, some on campus, some off, but what would be the three major things that groups do when they meet?
– Bible study? For sure. I would think that that would be on any type group, probably prayer, you know, most groups would say prayer and I would think probably some type of fellowship community building would probably be the three major ones.
– Yeah, you nailed them, Steve. That’s what most of our groups do. And that’s what I grew up seeing done in churches. And one of the things that very interesting, I want our listeners to understand, and the people watching that we so often just pass on what we saw doing. And if we evaluate the health of the church and our disciple-making in North America, I think it’s kind of evident that we’re not proceeding overall in a great direction. And so what I was thinking about is how can we take what we currently do, tweak it a little bit to make it a little bit more effective. And what I came up with, what I taught at Shocco was there are two other elements that we can grab in that missional component that really helped with obedience that would really take our small groups to a new level in making disciples so that hopefully, you know, a year or two, we have helped somebody become a disciple rather than nine or 15. That was an average of nine. Some of those folks, the answer was 15 or, you know, and so anyway, so obedience is something that’s so important. And so those two components that we’re gonna add to what you talked about Steve was some kind of challenge at the end of the lesson. Now, no, we might do that already. We might call it application and you know, it’s not really important what you call it, but I do want us to do a very good job of doing that. And the thing I would say that I encourage my leaders to do is to be more specific and help people get to where the rubber meets the road with how we obey whatever passage they’re studying. Now, the next component that we’re gonna add is to follow up a week later. And I call that soft accountability. You know, it was kind of funny. I came up with this phrase because it’s not hard accountability because there are people in our groups whose they might’ve been drugged there by a spouse. They may be there just for fellowship. And they’re not really there with a heart and intent to grow, and so I don’t want to make people uncomfortable or put them on a spot. The difference is in one of those small huddle groups I’m doing, when I meet with just three guys, they’ve come there and willingly, they know what they’re getting into, and so it’s hard accountability. Everybody has to answer to what we, what the assignment was last week. And so that’s hard accountability, but soft accountability, I’ll tell you this in a group of say we have 215 people I might say last week, the challenge was that we would, let’s just, I’ll just make up something, pray daily every day for your spouse. And so then I’m gonna say some of you guys tell me how you did with that, was it helpful, you know, did God answer any prayers, whatever. And so it’s not just giving a challenge, but it’s taking a few minutes the next week to follow up with that. And so that’s really what that’s all about, but let me talk to you just a minute something else. that’s really on my heart since I’ve really been interested in disciple-making, as I’m reading the word, I’m really focused on verses, and it’s really surprised me, Steve, how many verses have jumped out and I’m not even gonna share them out tonight, but Colossian 1:28 for example says that he, meaning Christ is the one that we teach about admonishing and teaching so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. And so, you know, that’s who us who are teachers, that our goal is to present people fully mature. It’s not just a sling out some truth and hope it sticks on the wall somewhere.
– God’s desire for us is to have fully mature believers. And so that’s the goal. And I hope everybody listened to will accept that as a challenge. God doesn’t want us to just stay waiting in the shallow end. He wants us to go, go all out for him. Another one is, you know, 2 Corinthians 3:16 that we often talk about, you know, the Bible is, you know, God’s word is inspired. And the end of that says so that the man of God may be complete prepared for every good work, complete, you know, God desires that we be complete. So let me tell you a little bit about my story, my relationship with the great commission. I grew up across the street from a Baptist church from Muldoon Baptist church in Milton, Alabama. And we had no excuse, you know, rain, sleet, hail, or snow. We didn’t even have to get into the car. We just walked across the street, you know, a hundred feet from church. And so I remember whenever I would hear the great commission as a child, it would be, but usually in December, when we’re focusing on Lottie Moon, you know, and always some kind of missions emphasis. And so the word go really stuck out to me in the great commission. That was the key to the great commission, go. And then, you know, laters, I’m maturing, I’m learning, and I realized really, that’s probably, that’s a participle meaning, you know, as you go and the command is make disciples. And so the great bible are as you go teaching and baptizing. So as I matured in my relationship with Christ, I realized that the words, you know, the phrase make disciples is really the key to that verse. That’s the command. And then once I’ve really got interested in helping people become fully mature, I’m meditating on that verse one day and I realized that the definition of disciple is really contained in the word obey or some translations observed. And so if we’re really a disciple, we’re obeying the commands that God gave us. One interesting thing. I’ve been memorizing a lot of scripture in the last couple of years, I found an app that really helps me with that, and so I was plugging in some of these verses to memory. And I noticed John 15:14 and John 14:15, say the same thing. You know, one of them, 14:15, Jesus says, if you love me, you will keep my commandments. John 15:14 says, you are my friend, if you obey my commands. And so if you forget one of those, you’re close, you know, John 14:15, or 15:14 you can quote those pretty much the same. And so, you know, I just kind of became focused on how do we take the groups that we already have and tweak them some and help people progress in their obedience. And so that’s kind of the heart of what my point is in all this.
– And I love that the fact that we elevate that obedience, but we focus on make disciples, Craig Etheredge, a mutual friend of ours out in Colleyville. He talks about that, make disciples is job one. It’s our one job. And we start thinking about that. You know, if we, how do we love God and love others? We make disciples. You know, what is love God, love others, our way, make disciples. And it’s a great conversation, Jay, whether we’re talking about live groups or small groups or micro groups, to be able to focus that conversation on our one job and that is to make disciples. And it moves that line a little bit from the focus on just teaching a great lesson, to really an accountability on our part as leaders to be disciple makers and realize that ultimately we’re creating disciples that make disciples down through the generations. And I think that you guys have hit that whale. And as we at the office are talking about that, we’re talking about how do we re-engineer our groups, if you will, what do we elevate to help us to be effective disciple makers? And that’s what I loved about the five looks because it helps us to begin to elevate those important things. The other thing I think that you’ve hit on, which is really neat all the way from your practice to your teaching is this idea of learner allowed Jay, you know, we tend to teach just like in biology, we go to class and we learn a lot of things and we’ve thought, well, we did, we taught, we did our job, but most of what we learn, we learned in the lab. And so what you’ve done from the mission field and through these, by giving people these challenges and this soft accountability is you’re giving them a lab and you’re saying, hey, it’s not enough just to come to class and pass the test. The test is, is how well did we do in the lab? And hopefully we can shorten that nine years span down to a few years, if it takes us nine or 10 years to reach that point where we began to make disciples and it takes them to make disciples, don’t be a pretty slow conversion, right. So if we can help make disciples and then elevate that call to do that, I think it’s gonna help the kingdom. It’s certainly gonna help our congregations and our churches and help us fulfill what God’s commanded us to do. Talk to us a little bit.
– You mentioned the lab, let me share another illustration I think will help people understand. Back to the great commission, the phrase and the great commission is teaching them to obey or teaching them to observe. And it’s not just teaching. Let’s just let that resonate a minute. It’s not just teaching, it’s teaching them to obey. And I feel like a lot of our small groups and a lot of our Sunday school classes are so focused on teaching that we put that out there and we teach really well. I say that on a leader one time, and I was just amazed at the quality of teaching, but he got to the end that there was no teaching to obey. It was just, it was just teaching. And so we really want to wanna focus on that. And my illustration is this, and I’m gonna apologize in advance in case I offend half of our listeners and Steve, I just realized you two will be offended by this, but I’m an Alabama fan. And so if we’re talking about Nick Saban, you know, you’ve seen on TV that where they announced who’s in the national championship and it’s they’re all in rows and they’re watching TV together. Well, I don’t know what that room is called, but you know, it’s got a board in there too. And Nick Saban and the coaches can go draw schemes. And who goes where, when, if the team just stayed in there all the time and never got out on the practice field, how would they do when they got to a real game, they’d get blown away, you know? And so they wouldn’t be coordinated, but in a practice, the coach is out there, the coach is observing the learner and go, no, no, no, tweak it, do it this way. You know, we’ve taught you to do this. No, no, no, get lower. Okay, you gotta turn them right here. Make that a sharper, you know, all those kinds of coaching things. And so I would love to encourage our small group leaders to adopt the title of coach almost, you know, the mindset not the title, but the mindset of being a coach and the coach is looking at the learners and evaluating his teaching and leadership based on the learning. Steve, I had a college professor and I’m sure you probably did too that really didn’t care whether I got it or not, you know, he’s just teaching in. So that’s what we don’t want to do. And another thing I realized a couple of minutes ago, Steve, that there are probably some people watching this who said, okay, you and Steve had been talking about five looks, but you haven’t mentioned anything about looking anywhere. So what’s that all about? So let me say this. I was thinking about how to give my leaders a handle to remember what five things to do in every meeting. And so let me say that again, here are five things I think we should do in every meeting. And I’m gonna introduce those kind of in an understanding order. Then I’ll move to how we do that in a classroom or in a home what we’re doing small group. The first is to look around and that’s just a picture of just looking to the right and the left. And by the way, outside, their circles are better than rows. And when it allows us to interact, I love Hebrews 10, it talks about encouraging one another. It’s hard to encourage one another from rows, but we can do that in a circle. So hopefully you’re in a group or the class that’s small enough to have that encouragement going on. But looking around round is just a picture of us interacting with the people who are in the room, getting to know them. And you know, it’s okay during that time for us to talk about whatever interests us, be it hunting or swimming or the football game or the world series. But now we don’t want to talk about that for the whole last, I’ve heard some horror stories and you have to Steve of a group set up that let that time go way too long. But you know, in fact, one of the things I told somebody the other day, if I have a guest in my group and he’s interested in deer hunting, I’m gonna connect him with somebody else in my group. And if we don’t talk about any of that, I’m gonna connect him with another deer hunter, so. That kind of thing is, the fellowship is important. And so right now we have to two things that are the traditional things. And I’m gonna call that a look up and look down. So thinking about these opposites will help you. And the look up is a picture of us just looking toward heaven because we look to God for answers to our prayers. So looking up is a prayer time, looking around is the fellowship time in case I wasn’t clear with that, looking around is fellowship, look up is prayer and for our Bible study. I just picture an open Bible or an open iPhone and then looking down in to the word. And so those are the three components that you mentioned Steve that we normally do. The lookup, the fellowship, the look up and the look down and the two others are the ones that we’re gonna add. And the look ahead is challenge, look ahead, look back, look ahead is thinking about looking to the week ahead. What are we gonna do with what we’ve learned in the week ahead? And of course the accountability or soft accountability is the look back and that happens a week later. And so that’s something that’s really, really important. Let me let the rubber hit the road on this Steve, just give you my favorite example from our Sunday morning small group. At Brook Hills, we as a church have eight pursuits, eight things that we pursue as a believer. And it sort of defines what a disciple is for us, and I’m not gonna go through all of those. Your church probably has your own. And so you can incorporate those however, but many of our groups do a sermon based lesson. We have a team that writes a sermon based guide. And so the week the pastor was preaching through those eight things. So number one is that we abide in God’s word, we abide in the Bible. You know, that’s an important principle for us. So the following week I’m teaching that number one of eight in the series. And as I’m preparing that week, I’m thinking, okay, what am I gonna challenge my group to do? What’s the best actions to help for them to take from us studying we abide scripturally. So I thought, okay, I think I’m gonna challenge them this. If you don’t have a Bible reading plan, I want to encourage you to start one this week, get into God’s word on a daily basis. And Steve, we know from some of the Lifeway studies that the most effective thing for having a person to grow spiritually is them getting into the word on their own. So that’s critical. And so, as I was thinking about that a little bit farther, I thought, okay, how can I help give them a little bit of accountability and encouragement in that? And I thought I would love for them to have a Bible reading partner. It could be somebody in the classroom, it could be somebody at work, it could be somebody in the family, it could be somebody, their kid plays ball with, you know, you’re sitting in the stands with another parent. But what you would do is ask another person to get on that Bible reading plan with you, and then once a week, you can chat on the phone or live at the ballpark or over lunch, you know, or cubicle break room, whatever, and just share with one another, hey, how’s the Bible reading going? What are you learning? And how are you growing? What are you doing in obedience to that? Just, it doesn’t have to be those exact words, but that was my challenge to them. And then I realized, okay, I need two piece, have a plan and have a partner. And so that week I taught the lesson, and I think it’s important too, that we share with our learners, some things we’re doing. And so I shared with him a plan I was on at that point. And it was a plan I signed up for online where they daily send you a little bit of old Testament, a little bit of new Testament to read. And so the following week, I mean, I shared the challenge of a plan and a partner, the next week I said, okay, last week, I challenged you to have a plan and a partner some of you share what you did with that and how that went. And so we’re getting some accountability here a little bit, soft accountability because I didn’t point to somebody and go, Steve, did you do it? But you know, I’m not embarrassing anybody by calling them out. And so I had three people share that day and the third one really made an impact on me. It was a single parent in my group who had a 14 year old son she was raising. And she said, Jay last week when you shared that, I confess I really wasn’t on a Bible reading plan, but the plan you shared sound intriguing. So I decided to do that. And so I signed up this week, I’m getting the email reminders to read. And for a partner, I decided to ask my 14 year old son, if he would be my Bible reading partner. And in my mind I just went, yeah, that’s awesome. Because now she’s having an opportunity to disciple him somewhat based on what we did in the group. And so, so she started on that plan and the story goes on about three months later, she came to me and said, Jay, I’ve got a question for you, my son is kind of struggling to keep up with a Bible reading. So do you have any suggestions? And I said, you know, I would let him drop off the old Testament and just do the new Testament. And you’re still getting a chance to talk with him every week about the new Testament reading. And I want you to know this, my answer to that question is not the moral of the story. The moral of the story is this, three months later, she and her son are still striving to do that. And they’re still doing that. And so how often do we even remember what we studied three months ago, much less beyond being acquired that new discipline in our life and we’re practicing that. And so that’s one of my favorite stories about just shows that I believe adding some challenge in some specific accountability, helps us practice that obedience which is the key.
– Well, I think sometimes too, Jay, we tend to make it harder than it has to be. You know, I mean, I have a similar story, back one of the churches that I serve and I want to just challenge people to read through the whole Bible in a year. So to read through the Bible in a year, as we both know, that’s about a four chapter four and a half, five chapters per day reading. And it can be pretty hard and heavy. And my wife came to me and she said, Steve, I love the Bible, and I love God and I love you, but she said, I’m not getting anything out of this. It’s just too much. And she said, I’m reading and I’m trying, but I’m finding myself, especially in some of the older Testament passage, it’s just reading. And I said, well, let’s just cut it back. And let’s go back as you did to a new Testament reading and all of a sudden over just reading a few verses and to be able to add that memorization, that time to meditate on it, to think about it. I began to watch the lights become the got back on and I watched a habit become, you know, in her life that was leading to holiness. And so I do think that there’s a lot that I think that we have to be careful not to be so overzealous. We put people in bondage on that. But I think the more important thing is that really that story that says to me as a group leader, sometimes it’s just those simple challenges that you give them with the accountability, and it leads to that practice if you will. That’s what I call them spiritual practices, right. And so you got them practicing reading through the new Testament and now they’re developing that practice becomes a habit and using your team, they’ll start developing verses memory. Well, I wouldn’t even have to think about it. They’ll just do it. And that is the essence of a maturing disciple.
– Right. Let me talk a minute about what I think goes on in the room. We mentioned earlier, not putting anybody on the spot, but I want us to put ourselves for a minute in the shoes of the spouse that really would probably be on the golf course if his wife didn’t drag him there, or it can be vice versa sometimes, or the person who’s really just interested in fellowship and not really interested in growing in Christ, you know, he enjoys people and church kind of fills that need. Let’s picture them in that classroom that we talked about and granted we’re making the conversation optional, so they’re probably not participating, but they’re sitting there watching, and they’re seeing people who are reading God’s word and applying it to their life and sharing positive things that it’s doing in their life. And so I think that helps us move even some of the people that aren’t interested into the mode of, hey, they’re doing this, you know, we’re kinda creating a culture of obedience to the word and not just being happy to hear teaching and go in our lives, not change. And so to me, I think that’s another positive thing. And of course, to the believers, you know, the believers in the room, we’re going to be challenged just by hearing other stories about what they’re trying to do, you know? And so I think that can be encouraging.
– Well and so important in discipleship to remember that we teach with word and aid. And so this is that action step again, that is the date of disciple making. And I do think, you know, the practice of seeing other believers who are memorizing scripture, who are reading scriptures, who are practicing these challenges. Hey, I’m curious, and I know this is off script just a little bit, what’s an example of another challenge or other type challenges. So we’ve talked about a Bible reading challenge. Are you still, I was thinking at one point you might have done where you were teaching them or challenging them to learn to share their testimony or faith or something. What’s some other type challenges you had?
– Yeah, absolutely. And yeah, I think it’s helpful to talk about some different things. I actually made a list one time. I wish I had it with me now of the top 10 challenges I most often give. And you might, you know, I might circle back around the Bible two or three times a year. I really love to focus on the spiritual disciplines. You know, prayer. Sometimes it might be praying for the lost, it might be praying for people group or whatever, you know, they’re oftentimes that I challenge people to start the spiritual conversation with somebody else. And the challenge is never from my mouth to share the gospel because we need to get into a conversation to see if they’re ready for the gospel. And so we don’t want to lead people to beat anybody over the head who’s not ready, but you know, if I was talking to a guy before, before Christmas and I just kept getting the green light is a guy I’d been building a relationship with and I just kept getting a green light. So yeah, I know finally shared the gospel with him and now I’m working on, he accepted Christ and now I’m working on discipling him. So, but to some people in the room, I want to say this, that sometimes when we give a challenge, that’s pretty high level, like starting a spiritual conversation, there’ll be some people that aren’t ready for that. And so sometimes I’ll give a multiple challenge. I might say, hey, I would love for you to start a conversation with somebody this week. It could be somebody you know, a friend, coworker, or it could be somebody at a restaurant or a store attendant, you know, gas station attendant, and just interject something about God or being blessed or whatever end of the conversation and see where that goes. And so if some people were kind of panicky about it, they’re not ready for that, I’ll just go ahead and say, hey, if that scares you, here’s another challenge for you. I would love for you to identify three people in your circle of influence, you know, friends, work, malt teams, whatever, and write them down on an index card or prayer list, stick it in your Bible. And my challenge is to start praying for them every day. But at least every day, this week, I want you to pray for three people that you don’t know their spiritual condition, and that’s kind of a step one, you know, give people some multiple options in sharing those type things. And so really what I try to do is whatever scripture passage that we’re teaching, I want to look at that passage. And I’m looking at that passage. I’m looking at the needs of my people because often when we study a scripture passage, there could be five or six different directions to go with the challenge. And one of the things we need to do maybe is to choose the challenge first to make sure we’re going to adequately emphasize the spiritual background of that challenge when we do that, and so.
– Do you always use your challenge at the end of the lesson? Or do you sometimes include it somewhere else on the lesson?
– You know that’s a great question Steve. I’ve been teaching this to my small group leaders for about six years and I’ve always just kind of focused on it on the end. And about a year ago, maybe two, I had this revelation of why does the challenge have to be at the end, you know? And so I’ll go ahead and jump ahead. One of the things that I’m gonna talk about that I hope we get to is why wouldn’t people do this and there’s a time management factor in this. If you’re doing it at the end, you have to make sure you get in all the teaching in order to get to that challenge. But all of a sudden I was preparing one day and I went, why not just do the challenge when we get to it, you know? And so there are times now that I’m early in the lesson and I’ll go ahead and let it out. And I’ll say, okay, groups, you know, I’m gonna do a challenge. This is the passage it comes through in the challenge, come from the challenge is going to be X from this passage. And so it was like a VA moment. You don’t have to wait until the end, so.
– Yeah, what I love about that is, is that it makes the challenge not attack on or an additional to the disciple-making process, it’s integral in the process. You know, it’s important. We’re giving it to you early on. I am curious, Jay, you know, what is your look up and look down look like in your groups, your prayer time, because I know we get questions, we both do in our conferencing about prayer time and about study of God’s word. How did those look?
– Well, to be honest, I’ve bet you, if you drop in on my groups, the prayer time and Bible study would look a lot like what you, whoever you are already do, pretty, pretty typical. Now the Bible study time is different on a Sunday morning. Obviously we have a flip-flop schedule at Brook Hills, mass small group is at the nine o’clock hour. And then we go to worship at the 10:35, it’s kind of a unique time, that’s where we are right now at 10:35 worship. And so I’ve got to be done in time for them to transition. You know, our Sunday night group is a little different and there’s always a lot more time for discussion on Sunday night. But by the way, I want to say this, either one of those groups, if somebody is interested in attending, I always tell them, hey, we’re gonna have about 50% discussion. So if you’re really looking for a lecture, you know, this may not be the group for you. But I think discussing is very important. It keeps people engaged and it makes it a conversation more so than just a lecture. And so, you know, I said, mine may look like yours. Just know that many groups out there converse a good bit, but I want to make sure mine has a good portion of that. And I go ahead and write out questions in my lesson guide, you know, write a cheat. I have a question here, hey, you know, how would you react to this? Or what do you think this guy did in result, you know, as a result? Just whatever, to get the group talking and keep them engaged.
– Yeah, last week we talked with Reid Patton who taught us a little bit on preparation and presentation, and he spent a good bit of time talking about how to craft questions and he would talk about, you know, considering the people that, consider the people in the group, build that, look at that scripture, and then to begin to think not necessarily just about the application or the theological, but to begin to think about the transformational nature, where do they need to take their next step in moving toward price lines? And he said, you know, he’ll craft a few questions early in the week, but then he goes back as that’s marinating in his time with God. And he begins to rethink and clarify those questions specifically for his small group. And I thought that was really just really wise the fact, and even not just to take the lessons that may be written in the lesson plan that’s provided in either your purchase curriculum or your provided curriculum, but to be able to really make those questions. And as Bible study, I shared with him that you use lines and circles, I use the conversation. The way I teach is I use triangle circle because I think so many groups are teacher up front, just communicating information, kind of the raw idea. And if we can move and help take those rough edges off, we’ll have circle groups and Reid reminded us that, you know, always ask that first question in such a way that everybody can participate, you know? And he said, that’s usually not a biblical question or often not a biblical question because you have that person that we’ve talked about, that’s not acquainted, but he may ask a biblical question, he said, but he may not. He may ask a hard question and I thought those were some pretty good takeaways on questions. Tom, do you, I’m curious in the groups you lead, this is a personal question, and I know people watching will do it differently. I used different leaders for these different segments. And in other words, I would have someone lead the prayer time and someone else than I normally would lead the discussion teaching time. But, you know, we’d have someone else lead that missional evangelism conversation, you lead a lot of that personally or do you engage other leaders in that?
– I do some of both, I’ll confess I love your idea better. I probably wind up leading too much, but there are times, you know, I’ll let my Sunday morning co-leader or somebody else do it. There are times in our group, I’ll ask my wife to kind of lead the prayer time and doing that, and so we do spread it around a little bit, but you’ve just challenged me to spread it around more, which I think is a great idea.
– Yeah, well for me, when I, you know, in the groups that I’ve led Jay is the fact that, and I’m encouraging teachers across the Alabama’s I’m meeting with them is that God’s gifted everybody with a spiritual gifts. So if I can help discover what that is, and then let them use that Sunday morning class time as a lab time to learn, I feel like that might be a way that I can help them out. I’m like you, I love to lead and teach, and so I have to stretch myself also. I have to say, okay, I’m going to give, and I’m going to trust the holy spirit to lead in all of that.
– I do spread around the teaching time a good bit. I probably am better spreading that around. And some of the, you know, the prayer time and different things like that, so.
– Just taking, you know, bringing the teachers along. I mean, we see, I think if COVID has taught us one thing, it’s taught us that we need to have maturing disciples that can step in and lead some of these groups and some people that are flexible. So it’s elevated this need for us as staff members and as leaders to really focus on equipping people and encouraging their gifts.
– Let me throw out your idea. One idea as far as developing people, developing future leaders, we’ve got a small group that kicks off next week that is coming out of a group that multiplied, you know, a year or two ago. And that’s just so exciting to see. And I hope our leaders, if you’re listening to this, I hope you’ll really value multiplication. And one of the things I think a leader might consider doing, we talked about those same gender huddle grips. If you’re a leader, you might take two or three guys at one time and just spend some extra time with them. And what we’re actually doing is modeling what Jesus did. You know, it might be once a month, it might be once a week, but take two or three guys, you know, and you might challenge your wife to take two or three girls, that you can develop and maybe have some higher expectations if there, but tell them, hey, this is gonna be a group that we’re gonna do kind of on the side, it’s going to be a little bit higher accountability, but it’ll really help them grow. And you can kind of facilitate the multiplication of your group when you help somebody in equipping them for leadership.
– So a question, I don’t even know that this is a softball question, but it’s just we’re friends or not, but I feel comfortable asking. So you reach different type groups, obviously you have a Sunday morning group, you have a group that makes it home and you have a micro group, two or three guys that you’re investing in big group, whatever the language might be. There are a lot of leaders across the state of Alabama, Jay, trying to figure out what that looks like. And we’re a lot, we’re engaging in a lot of conversation where you, know, out of JT Englishes deep discipleship book, where he talks about that it’s should be probably both. And instead of either, or, and you have a lot of both ends going on, what’s your, what have you learned? What are you learning? What do we need to know? What can you teach us as leaders about those different type groups and how we invest ourselves, then a much God saying to you these days about different types of groups, if that make sense.
– You know, I had some questions at Shocco in kind of just in the hallway discussion time. And I was just transparent and told the guy that was asking questions, Hey, I feel like I’m on the front end of learning a lot about this and how it fits in to the church. But I know this, let me tell you a story that’s very intriguing to me. One of the things we have a leadership process at Brook Hills, when somebody is interested in being a leader or groups multiplying, I have that potential leader. They fill out an online application and there things worked into that, that do some teaching. And if anybody’s interested, you can see all of this if you go to BrookHills.org/lead, L-E-A-D and you can see our application, but then we have a two hour class that we call small group basics. It’s just a one-time overview of everything that is involved in leadership. And so we put that in our announcements. If there’s somebody that just wants to check out, Hey, would this be something I could do and the five looks is part of what we teach in that. And then we do an interview, that interview is a strong word, but I want to sit down with that leader. I want to hear their testimony. I want to ask them if they’re married, just healthy. I want to ask them about their spiritual disciplines. But one of the things I found out by doing a number of those studies is that many of our young leaders, well, let me back up and tell you one other thing, in listening to so many testimonies I often hear that there’s a time when people come to Christ and there’s often a time later in life, not late life, but it could be a month later, two years later, five years later, where for some reason, people shift their discipleship into a higher gear. They become more interested in becoming one of those fully mature disciples of Christ. And what I found out by listening to the testimonies of many of my potential leaders as I came through the process was it in college, they were discipled by campus crusade for Christ, the navigators campus outreach. And so we do a big small group leader gathering in our church twice a year. In fact, Steve, I’m sorry, you missed it. This was this past Sunday night. We fed all our leaders a steak dinner. And so sorry you missed it. But I told our leaders a couple of years ago, Hey, I’m ready to start hearing some of these testimonies where I hear, Hey, somebody at Brook Hills pulled me aside or pulled me into a group that really helped me grow. And I, Hey, I’m proud for campus crusade and the navigators and campus outreach, but they’re doing what the church should be doing. Helping people become fully mature in Christ. And so most of them were in one of these little small, same gender groups, where there was high accountability and high expectation, and they rose to the challenge. And they would speak in loving terms of the person who challenged them to that higher level of spiritual growth, because they were reaping the benefit of that. But these leaders were now ready to invest in others. And so that’s another thing that got my head really spinning on this discipleship thing at Brook Hills, it’s kind of just organic that we don’t have an organized program like we do with our small group or Sunday school type ministry. That’s really, you know, it’s kind of structured and very, you know, part of our organization, you know, the smaller type groups, that’s just sort of an organic type thing going on.
– I think that what we’re seeing, again as these disciples who have come through our group life program and ministries, and they do begin to gain knowledge, but now leaders are starting to challenge them in deeper ways. And I think there is a spiritual challenge to that. You know, I mean, Jesus laid it out there. You know, if you love me, you’re gonna have to take up my cross, deny yourself and follow me. You know and Jesus light some of those higher challenges out there. So knowing your group type, I find it refreshing to be in that small huddle with two or three guys, and really be able to have a deep accountability. It holds me and draws me. I feel like I grow, go farther faster, if you will, in those groups.
– I’ll tell you one story and it’s embarrassing, but I’m just gonna be transparent with you, okay. As a result of one of those groups, we were talking about fasting and I haven’t looked back on my, you know, 45 years of being a Christian and go, I’ve never been in an active time where I consistently fasted and I’m going, okay, I hear myself talk about all this. Hey, be fully mature in Christ all this, and I’m going, I’m a hypocrite? You know, if Jesus talked about it over and over again, and I too talked about taking small steps toward obedience, and I thought, okay, there’s enough of this. What can I do? What’s my first small step? And so I decided I would take Tuesday lunch of every week and I would fast and I would pray. I’d let the hunger pains remind me to pray, you know? And so, you know, I started that about six weeks ago, I’m embarrassed to say, I didn’t start it 46 years ago or whatever, you know, but for me, like you were saying, Steve, this small group, I told them, guys I’m embarrassed to say this. I don’t regularly practice fasting, but here’s what I’m gonna do. And I believe the verbalization to a small group, and they’re probably gonna ask me next week, Hey Jay, how’s that fasting thing going with a little laugh, you know? So, but anyway, I hope that I grow in that, but I’ll tell you I love food, I really hate that thought of growing in it and getting to a point.
– Well, what I love about it is is that I do think that, you know, for some it’s, I just need to start praying and I’ve talked to a lot of men that don’t pray daily. And for them where fasting is a big deal for you praying for other guys, you know, consistency in God’s word. And there’s so many spiritual practices. So finding those spiritual practices that I really believe the holy spirit elevates in our life, you know, and there are those foundational practices there are those times where God brings us stewardships one, you know, is another one of those that happens. Well before our time gets away, and I know it’s ticking, you has shared with me and others a story which has really spoke to my heart. And I know that you use and teach the three circles evangelism with your folks there at Brook Hills this year in the state office, we are really elevating in our office, evangelistic gospel conversations, tools helps, learn to share your faith, which calling people to a higher accountability and sharing there faith. Can you just give us, I know that’s a tool you use, tell me a little bit about three circles and the folks that are on lock there with us tonight.
– That’s interesting. I’m actually teaching that at 6:15 in the morning to a men’s group at church. So yeah, so I’ve done a little bit of prep on that even today, but you know, the thing I like about the three circles, let me share one quick story that I think will illustrate one of the things I love about it. We are encouraging our small group leaders to learn the three circles and to use it themselves, but also to take once a year in their small group, take the whole time and teach them how to share the three circles. Now we’re talking about some other things with evangelism at our church. There’s the ramp that we don’t often talk about, about what you do before you share that, we’re gonna be teaching that stronger in the coming years as well. We’re working on that, had a meeting this week, but one Wednesday night a leader contacted me and said, Hey, I’m gonna be out, you had mentioned three circles in it. You or some other, anybody else would, some other people would be willing to come in and teach that when you do that this night I’m out. And I said, I’ll be glad to. So I went into the group and there were like five couples there on a Wednesday night on campus. And I asked them how many had heard of the three circles and only one couple raised their hand. So we launched into that. I taught it for an hour and then I said, okay, I would like one of you who didn’t raise your hand that you’ve heard of this before, come to the board and draw that for us. And a guy said, I’ll do it so you can teach it in less than an hour and have somebody reproduce that. And so it’s a simple gospel presentation, but one thing I like is you can add as you, if you desire to memorize verses and add them to that, you can do it later. But there’s a real simple diagram of three circles with arrows going to each, and I won’t get that now, but it’s a simple presentation that you can learn in a few minutes. And one of the things I did when I first heard about it, I went out to YouTube and watched a few to learn that.
– Yeah, that life on mission app is really a tool that I’ve taught and encourage people to use. I just know that that’s a tool that the church at Brook Hills and especially that you’ve led your small groups. There’s one more thing that we’ve got to talk about, and I love the fact that we’re friends enough that we can just have these conversations like this. I think Jay, one of the most important things in our Christian walk is having a spiritual friend and having somebody who can walk with. You’ve been that with me, we have been friends for a long, long time and a friend that you can share your heart with, the folks, some of the folks watching this may or may not know, but my first wife passed away and you were there for me. When our children need prayer, we call each other and we pray for each other. And I couldn’t do a webinar with you without first saying thank you for being a friend and for loving me well as a minister and just encouraging the people that are here, Jay, that in the ministry, we all need spiritual friends and you and I have handfuls of them, but we just have handfuls of them. We have a lot of acquaintances, but we have some really close friends. And so I want to encourage the ministers and the leaders that are on this, I guess, to realize that we need people to go on the journey with us. And that is really important. And, you know, sometimes it’s just the holy spirit that leads us. I had not put that in my notes, but it’s just hard for me to listen to you. And just every time I listen to you, it’s hard for me not to be inspired because I see how God’s working in you. And so thank you for being a friend. And thank you for teaching us tonight about the five looks and given us this simple tool. I shared last week, and I just continued to share with the audience that if you’d like to know more about the five looks, if you’ll give me a shout at the office email@example.com. I’ll reach out to Jay and give him your contact information. Jay it’d be, we would be amiss, you’ve got a podcast called Great Groups. You wanna tell us about it.
– Well, you know, like I was mentioning earlier that we do two big leadership meetings a year and it was just on my heart to do more equipping. There were times we would schedule like a special hour long thing before church, like how to multiply in your group or how to teach the Bible. And it just wasn’t, I don’t know, we weren’t making a big impact there and then schedule change, and that was hard. And let me tell you the funny part of this, like I would say four years ago, I don’t know if I had ever listened to a podcast, but I kept hearing people talk about it. And I actually Googled, this is embarrassing how to listen to a podcast. And this article came up and it said I already had the app on my phone, but I’d never used it. And it suggested another app. So I was just following it, downloaded an app and then once I downloaded the app, I searched for discipleship and groups and I started listening to some podcasts and I went, wow, this is the best thing ever. And so when I got to the point of desiring to equip my leaders a little bit more, I just reflected on how much I was equipped, just driving to work, driving back, anytime I’m in the car, just listening. And so I decided, Hey, let me do that for our leaders. And I sent out this survey to my small group leaders and said, Hey, do you listen to podcasts? What app do you listen to? How long should a podcast be? And five or six other questions. And I had a comment box at the bottom, and one of my leaders replied back a lot of the mantra and I found out it was a valuable thing. And one of them said, Hey, I’ve always wanted to do a podcast that’s so cool you’re doing that, thanks. And of course I hadn’t decided to do it yet, but I honestly didn’t know this leader real well yet, but I saw him on Sunday morning and just out of the blue, I said, Hey man, you wanna co-host the podcast. And there was a guy that I’m in, and Chris Amaro said, yeah, man, I’d love to. So anyway, so the rest is history. We started the podcast, you know, not that my groups were great. It’s kind of an aspirational thing. I want to have great groups. And so I’m still talking about groups, learning about groups, we often have leaders, my own small group leaders come on and I’ll talk about something they’re doing well. And so that’s always fun. We just try to have a conversation like you and I are having here and record it on the podcast and put it out for people. And it’s been lots of fun. And in fact, the podcast is not great either yet, but we hope that you’ll listen and be inspired by some of the things we’re talking about.
– Well, I just, if it’s encouraging to those who are watching this webinar, I do listen to it. I listen to it weekly. And a couple of weeks ago, you guys were talking about some of your favorite apps. And so being, can you go back if folks are asking, could they go back and grab that podcast if they wanted to?
– Absolutely, we’ve got a website, greatgroups.org. And there you can click on episodes at the top and see all of the episodes we’ve done and go back a few weeks and found one of the other ones. But yep.
– Absolutely. Well, that was, I love that, I was actually driving going, I’ve gotta go back and listen so I can grab a couple of websites down. You know, there’s a couple of tools that you’re using, which Jay it’s been fun. It’s amazing how fast an hour flies.
– Yeah, I didn’t even finish my notes. So I’ll email Steve, and I’ll send you the rest of the notes.
– It’s all good, if you’d like to know more about the five looks, Jay does have a great talk sheet. He’s a popular speaker around the state of Alabama. Jay, we’re talking about Shocco next year and other opportunities. And I just, again, it just reminds me to say thank you again. Thank you again for being a friend to Alabama Baptist and for being a friend to me, God bless you. Thank you again for being a part of our webinar tonight and we’ll catch you next time. So we’ll see you Jay, you have a good night. Everybody have a good evening.
– Thank you.
– Bye y’all.