Hitting the ground running with your spiritual disciplines in a group setting.
While some spiritual disciplines are often practiced individually, there are many that can be taught and performed corporately. That transition from me worshiping God to us worshiping God can do much to strengthen bonds between members within your group as well as bring a fresh perspective to practices that may have fallen to the wayside or become simply another spiritual obligation.
As with anything, being able to teach about spiritual disciplines requires a commitment to develop them in your personal life. But there’s nothing wrong with learning as you go, and hitting the ground running with your spiritual disciplines in a group setting.
It’s difficult to teach something if what you’re preaching isn’t reflected in your own life. Not that we don’t fall into that trap often—after all, as Leo Tolstoy once said, “Everybody thinks of changing humanity and nobody thinks of changing himself.” But with no well of knowledge and experience to draw from, your words will have little impact on those you’re ministering too—not to mention little credibility.
In some ways, living out your words is a natural first step toward directing others in the spiritual disciplines, because the practice of disciplines is often thought of as a solo venture. Keeping up with them will be far from easy or convenient, but make a commitment to intentionally create time for them and incorporate them into your day-to-day.
Begin by examining how seriously you approach the disciplines in your life. Ask yourself: Do I exemplify a prayer-filled life? Do others look at me and see someone who is service-minded? Am I constantly looking for opportunities to share the Gospel with others? In Matthew 5:16, Jesus said, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (TNIV). Do you take this command seriously?
Some of the spiritual disciplines, such as prayer, worship and evangelism, are more common, and you likely are already practicing them in your life. If not, you probably have a good idea what changes you need to make. Others, however, such as Sabbath-keeping, reconciliation and meditation, may be a little more obscure or unfamiliar and will require extra commitment. However, in many ways, the disciplines are very much interwoven, and once you start actively practicing them, it will become easier to tackle the others.
Don’t think that you need to become “good at” the disciplines before you can start discussing them with your group. This is a journey made easier when traveled together.
1. Refer to Scripture. Use the Bible as a launch pad for the rest of your discussions so that your study is centered around God’s Word. While the exact term “spiritual discipline” may not ever make an appearance in the Bible, there are numerous references and commands related to topics such as prayer, fasting, meditation and service. 1 Timothy 4:7–8 advises, “Train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come” (TNIV).
2. Draw from personal experiences. Often, nothing is more striking or relatable than someone who has experienced and understands the difficulties you’re going through and has some wisdom to share. As Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Don’t be afraid to open up and share your own ups and downs as you learn to discipline yourself in ways that are new or difficult. Be a soundboard for those you are ministering to. Offer guidance and give examples of how others might be able to deal with their struggles.
3. Learn from others. Taking a cue from others, especially those who have already studied the disciplines, will help your group gain a broader perspective of every aspect of the disciplines. There is a wealth of books and websites available, so take advantage of the resources out there. You may want to recommend group readings of books by leading authors of the spiritual disciplines. Some good places to start are Freedom of Simplicity by Richard Foster, The Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard and The Life You’ve Always Wanted by John Ortberg.
Learning and studying won’t accomplish much if you don’t put action to words. Encourage your group members right away to start incorporating the disciplines into their own lives; it may help to start in a group setting. This can mean a number of activities, including group prayer, fasting, study and worship. Wherever you decide to start, try to keep the spiritual activities consistent with the spiritual disciplines you are learning about to better cement them in everyone’s minds.
2. Don’t be scared of innovation. If you have an idea for a new way to incorporate spiritual disciplines, make sure it’s scripturally sound and then present it to the group. A good resource on innovation and breaking boundaries is Off-Road Disciplines: Spiritual Adventures of Missional Leaders by Earl Creps. Creps includes some interesting ideas, including “reverse mentors”—finding someone just a bit younger than you who can give you firsthand insight into today’s culture.
3. Get a feel for what’s working. Even if you’re excited about a new venture, if your small group isn’t connecting with it, adapt it so that everyone will benefit. Make sure there’s an open-door policy for any of your small group members to be able to come to you with concerns or changes they may want to see, or to let you know what’s working well. Encourage participation and discussion so everyone will be able to grow and help each other learn as you bring the Kingdom of God to earth through Christ-centered community.