Disciple Making

A New Book on Spiritual Disciplines That Gets It


Philip Nation is the Director of Content Development with LifeWay Christian Resources, serves as Teaching Pastor for The Fellowship, a multi-campus church in Nashville, and is someone I am proud to call friend. He has a new book that is released yesterday – Habits for Our Holiness: How the Spiritual Disciplines Grow Us Up, Draw Us Together, and Send Us Out. I asked Philip to stop by the site and share a bit about the new work. The following is an excerpt from his book. It is contained in the chapter “Treaty or Surrender: The Practice of Submission.”

The garden of Gethsemane is the bookend to the prayer life of Jesus, the final recorded prayer before His walk to Calvary. Remember that at the beginning of His ministry, Jesus fasted forty days and then faced Satan’s temptations. Now, as the conclusion of His ministry approaches, He separates Him- self from the apostles for a little while to pray before His arrest and crucifixion.

He fell facedown and prayed, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.” . . . Again, a second time, He went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, Your will be done.” (Matt. 26:39, 42)

In the garden prayer, Jesus teaches us two things about submission. First, we learn that it occurs in the context of relationship. Jesus addressed God the Father. It was not an im- personal and passionless portion of the Trinity to whom Jesus spoke. Rather, He was communing with the Father who loves the Son and is pleased with Him. We live out a reality reflecting the same principle. We are not submitting to a nameless, faceless power. Rather, we do this in the context of a loving covenant. We submit because we love Him. He accepts our surrender because He loves us.

The second lesson from the garden prayer is that submission is hard. It is why we should view it as a discipline. In a brief amount of time, the Son asks the Father about the “cup” passing from Him. In other words, Jesus is asking if there is another way to obtain our salvation. Being divine, the Lord knows there is not. I believe His request and immediate submission takes place to give us the example that submission is necessary, even when it is difficult. The gospel of Luke records that Jesus anguished through the prayer and sweat drops like blood (Luke 22:44). It is under this extreme pressure that Jesus entrusts Himself to the will of the Father. Thus, our salvation is won through His death and resurrection.

So our salvation arrives when we surrender to Jesus in faith. Our holiness is developed as we continue to walk in submission to His Spirit. Saint Ignatius once prayed:

Lord, I freely yield to You all my liberty,

Take my memory, my intellect, and my entire will. You have given me everything I am or have;

I give it all back to You to stand under Your will alone. Your love and Your grace are enough for me,

I ask for nothing more.

With this prayer, we see a picture for our own abandonment to God. It is the portrait of one laying down the heavy burden of self-rule. Rather than choose our own experiences, intellect, and self-direction, we submit joyfully to live by God’s love and grace. Nothing more.


Looking for an Incredible Discipleship Conference to Attend?


Are you coming to the Disciple Leader Gathering at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary? I sure hope so. Be sure to register soon.


What is a Disciple? – Featuring Robby Gallaty, Replicate Ministries, Pastor, Long Hollow Baptist Church, Hendersonville, TN.

Models of Discipleship Forum – Multiple presenters led by Bruce Raley, LifeWay Christian Resources and Casey Pearson, Kirby Wood Baptist Church, Memphis, TN.

Discipleship Trends – LifeWay research on trends related to church discipleship strategies. – Micah Fries, LifeWay Research

Putting Together Your Plan for Discipleship – Round table discussions and planning led by Steve Layton, Brentwood Baptist Church, Brentwood Baptist Church, Brentwood, TN.


  • Profile of a Disciple – Herb Hodges, Spiritual Life Ministries
  • Discipling the Family – Jacob Harris, Kirby Woods Baptist Church
  • Discipling Young Adults – Will McKay, Bellevue Baptist Church
  • The Role of Sunday School in Discipleship – Allan Taylor, LifeWay Christian Resources
  • Disciples Path Strategy – Rick Howerton, LifeWay Christian Resources
  • Journey On Discipleship Strategy – Steve Layton, Brentwood Baptist Church
  • The Downline Strategy – Kennon Vaughan, Harvest Church
  • Higher Education & Discipleship – Randy Stone, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary
  • DLife: Living a Lifestyle of Discipleship – John Herring, Life Bible Study


What Is A Successful Small Group Ministry – Really?


What is a successful small group ministry? This is a question every small group point person must ask. If we never ask this question, we never know what we must accomplish so we can never strategize for accomplishment.

But we must first ask who gets to answer the question, “What is a successful small group ministry?”. If we ask the senior pastor, we may be told that a successful small group ministry is a ministry that helps weekend worshipers make friends so that they will stick. If we ask the Finance Team they may be prone to declare that a successful small group ministry brings more tithers into the congregation. If we ask the elders, they may say the small group ministry is successful when no need goes unmet. If we ask group members, they’ll most likely tell us a successful small group ministry makes sure they can have some close friends. And if you ask yourself, the Small Group Point Person, you may say a successful small group ministry is a ministry that functions within its budget and is an efficient machine starting a massive number of new groups annually.

But, who should answer the question, “What is a successful small group ministry?” There’s only one right answer to this question – Jesus. If Jesus were to answer this question, he’d tell us that a successful small group ministry makes mature disciples who then make disciples.

So – are you leading a successful small group ministry?

Provocative… Group Sizes and What Is Best Accomplished in Each


There seems to be great debate concerning the number of people that make up a healthy group. Part of the reason this is so is due to the fact that today’s church seems to have embraced the idea that almost any group that has fewer people in it than is in a weekend worship service and can fit in one room is a small group.

There are groups of 13 or more meeting in a large classroom with one celebrity teacher proclaiming information to those in attendance. Some call this a small group.

There’s small groups of 4 to 12. These groups have been called small groups for decades.

There’s the disciple making group made up of 2 to 4, one person discipling another person or few others. This too is often called a small group.

So, what’s the deal? The deal is, the term “smaller” (denoting size) has become synonymous with “small” (denoting the actions and activities of a stereoptypical small group, a group of 4 to 12). No group size is the wrong size as long as it knows what it can do best in light of the number of people in attendance.

13 or more – This group is best for the proclamation of The Word of God by an effective Bible teacher. Those in attendance are most apt to sit and listen, take notes, and leave fulfilled knowing they’ve attained knowledge they didn’t have upon arrival. This is more of a university class than a small group.

4 to12 – This group is best for living in intimate Christian commnunity, doing life together. Those in attendance are apt to have a conversation around God’s Word, verbalize their own shortcomings, encourage one another on a personal level, pray for one another’s deepest needs, and leave fulfilled knowing they are not alone in their journey toward Christ-likeness or in the messiness of life. This is more of a family than a class.

2 to 4 – This group is best for high expectation, accountable, disciple making. Those in attendance are led by one person who is discipling them, are driven to memorize Scripture, study the Bible daily, share a verbal witness with others, and leave knowing they are growing toward substantial spiritual maturity. This is more of an accountable disciple making group than a small group or a class.

Astounding! A Small Group As Defined Decades Ago


This is day three in a series of blog posts focused on Lyman Coleman’s Serendipity small group model, a model that was given to the groups world decades ago. As I’ve mentioned in prior blog posts this week, we groups point people may need to be reminded of some of the fundamental principles and practices as it seems we may have gotten so far off the tracks that train wrecks are happening in some group ministries.

While reading Lyman’s, Serendipity Encyclopedia, I found the definition he and Roberta Hestenes gave the small group world in 1993. Check it out. I’m giving it to you as it reads.


So what is a small group, anyway? Roberta Hestenes, one of the great pioneers of the small group movement, has defined a small group in this way:

“A Christian small group is an intentional, face-to-face gathering of 3 to 12 people on a regular time schedule with the common purpose of discovering and growing in the possibilities of the abundant life in Christ.”

Consider the elements of this definition:

“intentional” – This refers to the covenant or agreement which the group establishes at the beginning to identify the responsibilities and accountability of the group members. Group members choose to be involved.

“face-to-face” – When people meet face-to-face, the gathering can produce honesty, freedom, trust, evaluation and growth uniquely found in interpersonal relationships. Besides, 90% of all communication is nonverbal.

“3-12 people” – With less than three people, you don’t have a group, and with more than 12 you begin to lose intimacy.

“regular time and schedule” – This is essential to foster loyalty and consistency among group members. Many small groups meet weekly, especially at the beginning so bonding can occur.

 “common purpose” – If a group does not share a common vision and common goals, it will eventually fail. People follow clearly understandable ideas and direction.

“discovering and growing” – A small group is an ideal place for a non-Christian to discover what following Jesus is all about. It is also a place for believers to grow in their faith.

“the abundant life” – Small groups have the capacity to make Christianity come to life through prayer, discussion, study, fellowship and ministry.

Small Groups the Serendipity Way, Four Revealing Group Types


If you read yesterday’s blog post you’re aware that I’m unveiling some of Lyman Coleman’s astoundingly important principles and practices that he established decades ago. Most would agree that Lyman is the father of contemporary small group practices in the United States.

Way too many of those principles and practices have been discarded, overlooked, or ignored. Perhaps we need to reconsider the wisdom of Lyman Coleman.

One of the essential understandings Lyman recognized was the importance of different types of groups to meet the needs of different types of people. He suggested four group types. As you read about each of them you’ll realize that Lyman established some group types decades ago that are being used throughout Christiandom today.

Below you’ll see the four group types Lyman promoted and a description of each of them.

Support Group

The purpose of a Support Group is to offer mutual support around a common need or concern, such as: divorce, grief and loss, unemployed or unfulfilled, single parents, parents of preschoolers, adoptive parents, newly married, blended families, caregivers of Alzheimer’s, and victims of abuse, violence, SIDS, AIDS, etc…

This group is short-term – seven to 13 weeks, with low-level entry – that is, all that is required of a group member is to show up. After the initial period is over, the group can dismiss or switch to another, longer, group model.

All you need to be a leader of a Support Group is life experience. If you are a single parent, you would make a good leader of a short-term support group for single parents.


Pulpit Group

The purpose of this group is to link the teaching of the pulpit to a sharing group after the sermon. This is the easiest group to launch and to lead.

The congregation who attends regularly will like this kind of group because it requires no homework and very few skills to lead the group. A handout in the Sunday bulletin gives the group the questions to start the group meeting, to discuss the Scripture passage and to apply the passage to their lives.

The group can meet immediately after the worship service during Sunday school, Sunday evening, or any other time during the week.

All you need to be the leader of a Pulpit Group is an interest in people and attendance at the Sunday morning worship service.


Discipleship Group

The purpose of a Discipleship Group is to offer a group for the 10% highly committed people in the church to heavy-duty Bible study and grow through accountability.

(Lyman then list a series of studies, most of which are no longer available.) Most of these programs require two to four hours of study before the meetings, they last for one year, and offer and option for another year of study.

Hopefully, everyone a church will get to the place in their spiritual journey that they feel the need to be in a year-long Discipleship Group. But our experience has found that only 10% of a church will sign up for this group – so if you only offer this kind of a group you will write of 90% of your people.


Covenant Group

The purpose of a Covenant Group is to become an extended family over a long period of time. Unlike the other three models, the Covenant Group is targeted for all four levels of commitment – the 10%, 30%, 60% and people at the door.

The symbol for a Covenant Group is a diamond – because “diamonds are forever.”

The Covenant Group begins by people making a “covenant” for six weeks. After this trial period, the group can renew their covenant for the rest of the year (or school year) … and for another year if they wish.

The leader of a Covenant Group needs to know a little more about group process and caregiving.


The information in this blog post comes from the Serendipity Encyclopedia by Lyman Coleman



Eye Opening Historical Small Group Ideas, 8 Assumptions Behind the Serendipity Group Model


The groups world would be wise to look over her shoulder, recognize the heroes that started the contemporary small group movement, and embrace some forgotten assumptions about group life that were established decades ago.

One of the pioneers of the contemporary small group movement is Lyman Coleman. Lyman is one of my heroes and one of the greatest thinkers in the small group space – ever. Lyman established a ministry called Serendipity. His description of Serendipity reads, “Serendipity is what happens when two or three get together and share their lives and the Holy Spirit does something beautiful when you least expect it.” Sounds like a great small group gathering, don’t you think?

For the next few days I want to remind us of some of the philosophies and practices that were established by Lyman. These philosophies and practices have the power to re-establish what small groups really can do. They also unearth for us what we can become through the work of the Holy Spirit, an understanding of and the importance of living the expectations unearthed in the Word of God, and what really happens as we live in sincere Christian community together.

Today, Lyman’s 8 Assumptions Behind the Serendipity Group Model:

  1. We are created in the image of God and endowed with amazing potential
  1. This potential can be realized through Jesus Christ, in the company of a supportive Christian community.
  1. To become a truly supportive Christian community we need to get to know one another in depth, and this takes time, effort and a common commitment to life together.
  1. Personal growth begins with inner change – as we respond to the invitation of God for newness of life.
  1. The Holy Spirit has endowed us with spiritual gifts for ministering to others within our supportive community, and through the community to the church and world at large.
  1. Scripture is the living account of God’s redemptive activity, and the primary guide to his will for right now.
  1. Spiritual wholeness includes our whole being – our emotions, relationships, values, and lifestyles.
  1. Celebration happens naturally and spontaneously when we are set free in a supportive Christian community to discover and express the beautiful persons we are in Christ.


This list was taken from the Serendipity Encyclopedia by Lyman Coleman.