Brent Prentice is grateful to be the pastor of Eagle Heights Baptist Church in Stillwater, OK. He has been happily married to Lacey for 11 years and together they have three children: Luke, Elijah and Bella.
Necessities and Suggestions for Teaching Doctrine in Small Groups
Can doctrine really be taught in a small group so that disciples are being made?
What if the doctors and nurses (the professionals) from your local hospital gathered some reliable laypeople from the community who were committed to their own health and handed them a copy of “Healthcare for Dummies” and instructed them to teach a small group how to prevent, diagnose and treat every imaginable illness and disease? Would you be okay with a well-meaning, but untrained person(s), diagnosing your stomach virus or inflamed appendix, and then treating it?
What about your local church? Do you really want to turn your laypeople loose, even your most mature people, to teach and apply the finer points of difficult doctrines concerning the Trinity, baptism, eschatology, election, sin and so forth? Can teaching doctrine be done well in small groups, or is it just too difficult and dangerous given the intricacies of these eternally serious doctrines?
I suspect the tendency for many is to avoid using small groups to teach doctrine for the fear of the propagation of error, divisive arguments or even boredom that leads to attendance loss. However, I believe teaching doctrine must be done in small groups and can even be done well – if there is a plan.
So as a part of the ReConnect Sunday School Initiative, here are some necessities and suggestions to accomplish teaching disciple-forming doctrine in small groups.
Necessity: Doctrinal Preaching. Doctrinal preaching must be seen by the pastor and church staff as the catalyst for teaching doctrines in small groups. The pastor has the opportunity to show that doctrine is critical and applicable, as well as, setting the boundaries of truth for doctrine to prevent error. Preaching and teaching on doctrine must be
more than a dry classroom-style lecture. Yes, teaching must be systematic and clear, but we must show why doctrine is eternally serious and how it changes people when all of our lives are submitted to the authority of God’s written truth. The pastor can also guard the small groups from error by pointedly saying what a doctrine does and does not mean and why it matters. The bottom line is that a local church will be excited about what the pastor is excited about and emphasizes. The pastor must set the tone if doctrine is to be embraced and taught in small groups.
Suggestion: Link the content of the small group to the Sunday sermon to emphasize doctrine. Suppose your church was preaching through the book of Acts and questions about baptism kept being asked. The pastor and staff may decide to emphasize baptism by doing several sermons about it. In addition, to really press the understanding and application of baptism the small groups may be asked to take several weeks to go through supplemental content with application questions. The benefit of this is that the pastor can
frame the boundaries of the doctrine of baptism so as to guard against error and then ask his group to dig deeper. This also helps people listen more carefully to the sermon because they know they will be discussing it in their small group.
Necessity: Equipping and Training. Easier said than done – right? To teach doctrine simply means we are teaching the teachings of the whole counsel of God from Genesis to Revelation (Matt. 28:20, Acts 20:27, 1 Tim. 6:3). We have to multiply other Bible teachers by training them, but how do we do that besides handing them “Doctrine for Dummies?” Below are multiple ideas.
Suggestion: A multi-pronged strategy for training and equipping. Training Meetings – A couple of times a year get together with all the leaders and train them in a specific area like Bible interpretation.
Conferences – Take laypeople with you. Often pastors and staff go to conferences alone when they should be taking key people like small group leaders.
Blogging and Social Media – Start a blog and set a goal to write on a specific doctrine once a week (perhaps connected to the sermon), and put it on Facebook or Twitter, or send the link to the blog via email.
Articles and Video – Don’t have time to write? There is a mind-boggling amount of reliable resources via the Internet that you can post on Facebook or Twitter, or send by email. The Gospel Coalition Website is a wonderful resource with varying doctrinal points of view.
Modeling – The fact that you are writing, reading and then sending doctrinal content shows that you believe learning doctrine is important and people will see that and emulate it.
Model a learning atmosphere.
Free Books – Set aside some money to buy books for various groups to read. For instance, our staff, Elders and deacons recently read Mark Dever’s book, What Is A Healthy Church? Also, give good books away.
Availability and Lunches – Inquiring minds want to know, and when they do we should be available to teach them and learn with them. Carve out two or three hours a week to meet with people and make it known that you are eager to meet with those who want to discuss the Bible. Take people to lunch and make the most of it by asking a doctrinal question that is relevant to the sermon series or small group discussion.
Necessity: Intentional and Urgent Planning. Teaching disciple-making doctrine won’t happen by accident. There needs to be a customizable and intentional strategy that accomplishes a specified end. My guess is that almost all small groups are teaching doctrine, but the question is this: Are they teaching meaningful and life-changing doctrine? If you don’t know then there probably isn’t a plan and I hope you make one soon. For the sake of the spiritual health of our people and the glory of God, our small groups need to be teaching sound doctrine. What’s your plan?
We encourage you to interact with Brent by leaving a comment below. Brent will be checking by the blog today to respond to your comments.
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