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I have been writing a series of blogs comparing gardening to leading a small group discipleship ministry.  This is the third part of an eight week series. The first two roles are leading from a posture of prayer and picturing God’s call of discipleship. Today we are focusing on “Planning.” 

Planning for ministry is much more complex than planning for a garden and often causes frustration for leaders and participants. Just like in gardening, there is not a one-size-fits-all plan. For example, my garden would need to be adapted to fit in your yard, and a plan that works at Willow Creek will not necessarily fit your church. There are many great books about small group strategies that outline a plan. The job of a small group discipleship leader is to discern what strategies and plans are right for your environment. 

Planning for a garden is pretty straight forward.  Gardening experts say that every great garden or landscape starts with a good plan.  The planning process involves assessing what you already have, defining the purpose, gathering ideas, and finally, making decisions about what you will do.  Experienced gardeners know that every plan will change over time, like how today’s sandbox might be tomorrow’s basketball court.

Imagine using these steps for designing a discipleship ministry plan in your church:

Step one: Assess what you have.
Step two: Define your purpose.
Step three: Gather ideas.
Step four: Draft your plan.

That sounds pretty easy. Now take into consideration another factor: people! People are not like potted plants. People are not easily transplanted and do not like to stay put. People are wonderful, complex creatures with creative abilities, desires and ideas. We are created in the image of God and we are messy.

What else is true about people? Here are some ideas from Margaret Wheatley, an expert on leadership. These quotes are from her book Finding our Way. She compares leading an organization to leading a living system and she says:

  • “People own what they help create.” 
  • “It is impossible to impose anything on people.” 
  • “A living system forms from shared interest.”

Wheatley talks about the complexities of leading groups of people. But people are also complex on their own. They possess histories, personalities, goals, etc.

Before we give up hope for planning, I want to share more insights from Wheatley. She believes to lead groups of people we need three things: clear identity, access to information, and relationships.  Identity answers the question “why are we doing this?” She calls information the ‘nutrient’ of an organization. The spread of information feeds an organization and its members. Lastly, without relationships nothing happens. “The more access people have to one another the more possibilities there are.”

What does all of this mean for planning discipleship small group ministries?

  • Define vision or identity.
  • Involve people in the planning.
  • Build on what is already working.
  • Expect your plans to change.
  • Find ways to develop relationships.
  • What else?

Zephaniah 4:6 “… ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.”

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