Who will you invite to your Small Group ministry? Discern it carefully. Who can benefit the most from what you have to offer?
Without discernment, we might, out of a misguided generosity of spirit, freely give our time and effort to anyone or everyone, even if they’re manifesting clear signs that they don’t want what we have.
And if the person is not interested, we should respect their wishes.
Their signs of interest are usually visible, and they can be discerned. To ignore them is to be insensitive to the person, if not unloving. We don’t cram our stuff down people’s throats. We need to discern if they want it, and if so, how will it benefit them.
Jesus did that. He discerned carefully who it was that he would focus on. He sowed seeds widely in his Public Ministry, but he focused on only a very few in his Small Group Ministry.
How did Jesus Christ select people for his Small Group Ministry? We see a discernment process. We see three levels:
Let’s look at those three levels of discernment.
There were people in the life of Jesus Christ who were naturally drawn to him. Their friendship was natural and easy. Things fell into place, without a great struggle. They hit it off, and they were generally eager to be with him.
A natural friendship is almost essential for a fruitful Small Group Ministry relationship.
Otherwise, if you can’t get along, or if you’re at odds with each other, the possibility of Small Group Ministry is smashed. Instead of strategically investing your time in a fruitful ministry to the person, you’ll squander your efforts repairing and maintaining a relationship that can’t be repaired or maintained.
Let’s look at a few examples of natural friendships of Jesus. Think of Mary and Martha and Lazarus. Think of the people he called to be his first disciples. It’s quite likely that he had already known them and had already became friends with them. Think of Mary of Magdala.
Jesus didn’t have to chase down these people. They sought him. They valued their relationship with him, simply for its own sake, and not because a relationship was a way to get something out of him.
Lots of people drew near to Jesus because they wanted something. Some of them had wonderful motives, and he didn’t turn them away. But neither did he invite them to his Small Group Ministry group. For example, think of the government official, the Samaritan woman at the well, the crowds, the two blind men, the Roman Centurion, the 5,000 he fed, the bleeding woman, the man born blind, the Gentile woman, the Rich Man. Their approaching Jesus was based on wanting him to do something for them. And he did. He gladly met their need. But he did not invite them to his Small Group Ministry.
So we’ve theorized one way that Jesus discerned whether to invite someone to his Small Group Ministry: is there a natural friendship? Is the person eager to meet you? Do they run in the other direction? Do they attack?
If the person is not naturally drawn to your friendship, it is unlikely that your focusing on that person will be fruitful. To invest deeply into the life of a person where there is no natural friendship is, in many ways, to build a house on sand. The storms will inevitably come, the shabby foundation will be wrecked, and the house of cards will come tumbling down. It will collapse.
Conversely, if a person is always around in your life, then that person may well be a candidate for your own Small Group Ministry.
Now let’s look at the second category of discernment. Does the person seem to be open to spiritual conversation? Or do they push it away?
If a person is spiritually hungry, there will almost always be signs. These signs are subtle, and they’re invisible to most people. But if you pay attention, you can observe at least some of them. The person will ask questions, often about the meaning of life. They’ll be reading books, especially deeper ones. They show that they’re thinking about things that actually matter. They find rote answers to their questions to be unfulfilling. They wonder.
Yet these things might not be very apparent, at least on the outside. Many people have learned to camouflage these interests from the prying eyes of others. They just won’t blurt these things out in a crowd. So just about any evidence that you can pick up on, of spiritual seeking, is great. You’re probably seeing but the tiny tip of a huge iceberg.
And frankly, whatever it is that they’re seeking at the very moment isn’t so important as the fact that they actually are seeking. If they’re going down a path you wouldn’t chose for yourself, that’s fine. The point is that they’re seeking.
The reverse of all that is a person who is not spiritually hungry. When spiritual topics come up, they change the topic. They are closed to conversations about the meaning of life. They push spirituality or religion away. Maybe they attack.
Of course, we will never know for sure what’s going on in their inner being. But at least based on what evidence they’re presenting to us, they’re not a seeker.
In the ministry of Jesus, we can see lots of people who were spiritually hungry, as well as many who were not.
Think of the Samaritan woman at the well, the Samaritans in her town, Andrew, Simon Peter, Philip, Nathaniel, Nicodemus, the government official, Martha and Mary and Lazarus, the Greeks who visited Philip, Matthew, Mary of Magdala, Thomas and James and John.
Here are a few examples of people in the life of Jesus that showed signs they were not spiritually hungry: Jesus’ brothers, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the leading priests, the demon-possessed man in the Gadarenes, the money-changers, the town of Nazareth,
Sometimes its unclear whether somebody is spiritually hungry or not. Here are a few examples of that: the lame man at the pool in Bethesda, the 5,000, the woman caught in adultery, the man born blind, the Roman Centurion.
So we’ve theorized a second way that Jesus discerned whether to invite someone to his Small Group Ministry: is the person spiritually hungry? Or do they push spirituality away? Do they attack?
If the person is not spiritually hungry, it is unlikely that your focusing on that person will be fruitful. To invest deeply into the life of a person who is not spiritually hungry is, in many ways, to try to force a horse to water and to try to force it to drink. It can hardly be fruitful, it will squander your time and effort, and it will build resentment in the person.
Conversely, if you bring up spiritual topics, and the person is like a cat on the screen door of your life, then that person may well be a candidate for your own Small Group Ministry.
There are a lot of spiritual teachers out there. And lots of people are already learning from them. A strong indicator of whether to invite a person to your own Small Group Ministry is that they want to learn . . . from you.
Just because a person listens to John MacArthur or Fr. Corapi is no indication at all that the person wants to learn from you. Their openness to other spiritual teachers does not at all translate into their wanting to learn from you. In fact, it might mean they’re closed to your input. Or at least that they’ll always be filtering what you say past what they think their favorite would say. And you’ll always come up short; hence, this person is unlikely to embrace what you offer.
To invest deeply in a person, they need to be manifesting signs that they want to learn from you. Do they more-or-less accept what you say as trustworthy? Is the person eager to soak up whatever you say? Do they seek your opinions? Do they almost treasure the crumbs that fall from your table?
Conversely, maybe they ask you questions so they can prove you wrong. Maybe they ask you questions, not caring about your answer, so they can vent their inner demons. Maybe they treat you like you’re an idiot.
Some people have acquired expertise in appearing to be teachable. They appear to want to hear your ideas. But after a while, it will become clear for you that the person is a time-eater. They’re pretending to be learning from you for an ulterior motive. You’re being used.
If the person shows any signs of rejecting you as a spiritual person, or of using you, its unlikely that they will ever be willing to learn from you.
So we’ve theorized a third way that Jesus discerned whether to invite someone to his Small Group Ministry: is the person teachable? Do they want to learn from you?
That’s what the word “disciple” means, after all: learner.
If the person is not teachable, it is unlikely that your focusing on that person will be fruitful. To invest deeply into the life of a person who is not teachable is, in many ways, a total waste of your time. And you won’t help the person at all.
Conversely, if you bring up spiritual topics, and the person becomes a human sponge, clinging to your teachings like like a cat on the screen door, then that person may well be a candidate for your own Small Group Ministry.
Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations on this page are from the World English Bible and the World Messianic Edition. These translations have no copyright restrictions. They are in the Public Domain.