Nurturing towards maturity
Pastor Mario planted a church in Bgy. Poblacion. After a year they had 25 members. They faithfully met for worship, week after week. Some of the new believers stopped smoking and drinking. But that was the extent of their transformation. They never became dynamic believers and the new church made no noticeable impact on the community. Bakit kaya?
You now have a church with people attending. The Nurture Bible Studies have ended. You have gathered everyone into one joint fellowship.
Besides having a worship service, what will you do with these believers? Colossians 1:28 exhorts us to "present everyone perfect in Christ." In Step 7 we used our Nurture Bible Studies. We now need to develop more permanent ministries that will help our members to continue to make progress towards becoming "perfect in Christ." What ministries? What can we do to plant a church which will transform new believers and impact its community?
Have you ever dreamed about structuring your church in such a way that it would genuinely help people grow strong in their spiritual lives? Have you read Bible passages that you yearned to put into practice in your church? It's often hard to put our dreams into practice in an existing church because it's usually hard to change things. Now is your chance! You have a fresh start in a brand new church! Maaaring subukan mo na ngayon!
But before you make any decisions on what ministries you will use to accomplish this, let's first think through some principles. Let's see some basic components that need to be a part of our nurture ministries. Once we understand these principles, then we can decide what programs we'll use.
Implement essential principles of effective Christian nurture
Keep the Bible central
Use active participation in the learning process
Provide a shepherd for every sheep
Mobilize to evangelize
1. Keep the Bible central
For Christian growth the Word of God is vital. But just using the Bible is not enough. By also implementing the other principles below, we can use the Bible in a way that will produce the greatest results in the lives of our members.
2. Use active participation in the learning process
When our members actively participate in discovering, sharing and planning applications from the Bible, much more growth normally takes place. This is far more effective than just using methods where members only passively listen to a lecture.
3. Facilitate relationship-building
Even if we use the very best teaching methods including participation, maaaring kulang pa rin. We also need relationships. Christians grow through relationships with other Christians. The Bible itself exhorts us to have meaningful interaction with other Christians. Ideal growth can take place as we minister to one another in the way the Bible instructs us.
We can gain great insights by studying the "one another" phrases of the New Testament. These commands show how we should minister to one another through significant relationships. Here are a few samples:
Encourage one another(1 Thess. 5:11)
Stimulate one another to love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24)
Instruct one another (Rom. 15:14)
Bear one another's burdens (Gal. 6:2)
Confess your sins to one another (Jas. 5:16)
Be devoted to one another (Rom. 12:10)
Care for one another (1 Cor. 12:25)
Love one another (Jn. 15:12)
Build up one another (Rom. 14:19)1
In deciding what types of ministries we will use to help our believers grow, it's essential that we use ministries that implement the functioning of these "one another" phrases. Every member plays a part. No one person alone can provide all the ministry that even just one other person needs. We need the whole Body of Christ. As we mobilize the Body to minister to its members, not only are those who receive ministry blessed, but those who minister also growthrough ministering! A winning combination is studying the Bible in a group and practicing what is taught in these phrases.
In Romans 1:11-12, the apostle Paul told the Romans, "I long to see you so that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith." Paul was not only expecting to minister to the Romans. He was also longing for them to minister to him! This is the Body of Christ in action.
4. Provide a shepherd for every sheep
Every believer needs someone who will provide him or her with pastoral care. This is what shepherds do. Shepherds make sure that personal attention is given to every sheep, leading them in becoming mature in Christ. If one is experiencing a problem, the shepherd makes sure proper care is given. If a sheep strays, the shepherd makes every effort to bring him back to the fold.
Ideally, the Body of Christ will become aware of the needs of members and take action. Sometimes this happens. At other times, each member of the Body assumes that the pastor or someone else will take care of the need. Result: walang tumulong. Mobilizing shepherds can solve this problem. These shepherds will make sure that those under their care are properly ministered to and are developing well. Sasadyain nila.
Can a pastor shepherd a whole church? He can if the church is very small. But as the church grows, proper oversight sometimes is not provided. Many needs of the members will not even be noticed. Sheep will stray. Growth of churches with this set-up will normally taper off quickly. To provide the care needed and to enable the church to grow, more shepherds are needed. These shepherds will be like pastors. (You can even call them pastors if you'd like!) A pastor can multiply himself by mobilizing others to share his pastoral duties.
When you develop ministries to provide continued nurture, be sure that these ministries include shepherding. You may use a different term. That's okay. Providing pastoral care for the members is what has to be in place.
You will have a great opportunity in your new church! While it's small you can make sure everyone has a shepherd. With growth, you can mobilize the additional shepherds needed. (Use the five steps of on-the-job training on p. 77.) Mobilizing multiple shepherds is crucial.
5. Mobilize to evangelize
We have seen in Step 7 that sharing our faith is inseparable from Christian growth.
&I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ. (Phm. 6)
Be sure to incorporate this into whatever ministries you develop for the ongoing nurture of your members.
6. Assure attendance
Some programs may be good. But if only a few are active we have a big problem, even if we've incorporated all the other principles! Attendance isn't really a principle, but it is important to include it here on our checklist for effective Christian nurture. When we develop good ministries, our members need to be active in them.
Evaluate ministries that are commonly used
Some of the ministries most commonly used to provide ongoing nurture are sermons, Sunday School, discipleship groups and cell groups. Let's evaluate these four methods. This might help you in determining which ministries you will use in your new church. There are also many other commonly used methods. You might want to evaluate these methods on your own.
Refer back to the chart above as we now examine these four different methods, checking to see how well each one fulfills our six principles.
Members can greatly benefit from solid, biblical preaching. This is crucial to establish a healthy church. In developing nurture ministries, preaching is the place to start.
In our chart of nurture principles, we see that sermons are an excellent way of contributing to the needs of our members for Bible input. Sermons give us a good start in fulfilling the principles of effective nurture. But the other principles will probably not be met by preaching alone. During sermons our members are normally passive rather than actively participating. They're usually not active in discovering or planning for application. During sermons there is usually no interaction or developing of relationships. There is no shepherding. We will need to add these somehow. There may be exhortations to evangelize. But this is not the same as mobilizing members to actually share their faith.
Another benefit of sermons is that most of the members are in attendance. The worship service is usually the most highly attended meeting of a church.
2. Sunday School
In Sunday School, the Bible is usually central. In some classes, there is also participation in the learning process. Others mostly use lectures. Sometimes there are opportunities to develop relationships in class and through related activities. In other Sunday Schools, members just come and go with hardly any interaction with one another.
Some Sunday Schools include the shepherding of their members. In others, shepherding is neglected. Most Sunday School classes do not actually mobilize their members to share their faith, although they could. Sunday School has good potential, if the principles of effective Christian nurture are carefully implemented. If not, it can often be just another sermon.
Regarding attendance, this is commonly a problem. If all the other principles of effective Christian nurture are present, but few attend, patay pa rin. Now you see why attendance is included on our checklist. If you have Sunday School in your church, what percentage of your congregation attend? To boost attendance, some pastors try switching the order of Sunday School and the worship service. Members catch on quickly to this trick. Other pastors plead with their members from the pulpit to attend. This usually only results in the members feeling more guilty.
Bakit kaya kakaunti ang uma-attend? Maybe members feel they don't need Sunday School in addition to the pastor's sermon. Maybe they feel this because what they do in Sunday School is so similar to the sermononly the groups are smaller.
Will you use Sunday School in your new church? Puwede. Puwede ring hindi. Your members aren't expecting it since they're all baguhan. Malaya ka kung ano ang maganda sa tingin mo. If you do use Sunday School, make sure to implement the principles of effective Christian nurture!
3. Discipleship groups
In discipleship groups a leader will usually meet weekly with one or two group members. Most discipleship groups use the Bible. Frequently there is a workbook, which creates participation. Relationships are usually strong as groups are generally very small. The group leader often does shepherding. This is also a great context for mobilizing those being discipled to share their faith. Many do this.
Mukhang maganda, ano? Kaya lang, there is one more item on our checklist: "Assure attendance." In churches that use discipleship groups, do most of the members participate? Ayun! Patay din! Maganda sana ang discipleship groups, if you can get everyone involved. I only know one church that has accomplished this. In most churches that use discipleship groups, only a small percentage are involved.
When this happens, many churches will add another program to try to meet the nurture needs. Pero kakaunti pa rin ang a-attend. So some add yet another program. Soon, there are several programs with the same few people attending them all. At pagod na sila!
4. Cell groups
Cell groups are a little different from discipleship groups. The leader is more of a facilitator. The focus is normally on the ministry of group members to one another, rather than upon the ministry of the leader to the group members. The groups are normally larger than discipleship groups.
Most cell groups keep the Bible central. Effective cell groups get their members involved in discovery learning, discussion and application. Less effective cell groups use only the lecture method. Cell groups frequently meet in homes or other informal, comfortable settings. Meryenda can be included. This provides an environment conducive for building relationships. Cell group leaders can shepherd their group members, or delegate this to another leader in the group. Mobilizing cell members to share their faith should be an integral part of all cell groups. This is given priority at every meeting in the Warfare portion when using the 4Ws (see pp. 206-207). Some cell group leaders may neglect this. Kapag ganoon, napakalaki ang kawalan!
How about attendance? In some churches, kaunti lang ang uma-attend sa cell groups. In other churches talagang lahat ay umaattend. In many churches, their total cell attendance is larger than their worship service attendance!
What makes this drastic difference? I've observed two types of churches that use cells. One is an already established church. At some time in their history they decide to add cell groups. In churches like this, usually only a minority of the members participate in a cell.
Then there are newly planted churches. They use cell groups from the very start. This is the heart of the church. It's not something else added. In churches like this, usually a very high percentage of the members are in cell groups. This is the strategy of Victory Christian Fellowship, Jesus Is Lord Church, Take the Nations for Jesus, Christ the Living Stone, Bread of Life, Faith Fellowship, Word of Hope, Baptist General Conference of the Philippines, Christ's Commission Fellowship and many others. It's working very well for them.
The lesson to be learned is: if you want to use cell groups it's best to do it by planting a new church. If you try to change an existing church into one using cells, you've got an uphill battle. Many have tried. Their feedback is that it's hard for existing churches to change.
What if you decide to use cell groups?
Using cell groups will work very smoothly in this model of church planting. The heart of this model is OBSes (Outreach Bible Studies). OBSes become Nurture Bible Studies, which could then become cells.2 This is one option for your ongoing nurture ministry.
OBS Nurture Bible Study Cell Group
If you choose to use cells, the Bible studies will go on indefinitely, as cells, with some possible minor adjustments (which we'll discuss). If you do not use cells, you will only use the Bible studies temporarily, as a way to effectively evangelize and provide basic nurture. After that, in Step 9, you will transfer the new believers to other ministries to provide ongoing nurture. (See the diagram on p. 269.)
If you choose to use cell groups, here are some guidelines for forming cells out of your existing Bible studies.
1. Bible studies can become cells
If there are a lot of people (six or more) in a Bible study, that Bible study can become a cell.
2. Help smaller Bible studies to grow
The ideal for smaller Bible studies (five members or less) is to help them to grow and become a strong cell. Do this by mobilizing the Bible study members to share their faith (pp. 222-230). Pray for this during the Warfare section while using the 4Ws (pp. 206-207).
3. Group together weaker Bible studies
It's much better to help small Bible studies to become a cell. When this does not work out, we can resort to grouping them with other Bible studies to form a cell. Hopefully, this will produce healthy interaction with others. It will also be mas matipid on cell group leaders' schedules.
4. Group single family Bible studies with others to form a cell
It's preferable to help single family Bible studies reach out to neighbors and grow. Group those who are unable to do this with other Bible studies to form a cell. Meeting with others, from outside the family, usually provides a better environment for Christian nurture.
5. Inductive Bible study works very well in cell groups!
If you have been using inductive Bible study you can keep using this same method in your cells! Just go on to another book of the Bible. The Bible itself is a fantastic resource for cell group materials! You'll never run out of materials if you use this method.
6. Disband Bible studies that are unwilling to attend the worship service
We need to handle these in the way described in Step 8, pp. 247-250, in the section "Regretfully, let the unresponsive go." Some will want to continue the Bible study in their home indefinitely, just for them. They won't reach out. They won't participate with the others in joint worship. People like this can eat up your manpower for months if you allow it. It's much better to conclude the Bible study and open new ones with new contacts. These people are very welcome to join in with other healthy cells. If they won't, then regretfully it's tama na, sobra na, palitan na.
7. If homes are too small for cell groups try meeting at the church
I worked in one area where the homes were napakaliit. Kahit apat na tao lang, masikip na. We found one large house that we rented for our worship center. We also held our cells there, right after the service, as this was the only place we had that was suitable.
8. Multiply cells
As cell group members reach out the cells will grow. When they become large, they can multiply to give birth to new cells. We'll cover how to do this in the next chapter.
Cell groups work especially well in cultures that are hospitable and place a high value on relationships. The informal setting of a home or office makes it easy for many to attend, including non-Christians. Maybe this is why the total cell attendance is higher than the worship service attendance in many churches. Cell groups not only help our believers grow spiritually but also help us continue our outreach. This isn't surprising as we know that truly effective nurture is inseparable from evangelizing.
Christian Schwarz has done a massive research project studying over 1,000 growing and non-growing churches in 32 countries on all five continents. Dr. Robert E. Logan, professor of church planting at Fuller Theological Seminary, comments that, "There has never been such an extensive, statistically valid, worldwide church growth research project ever conducted." As a result of this massive project, eight principles were identified which are present in growing churches. All churches practicing these eight principles were found to be growing. One of the eight principles identified was the use of holistic small groups.
After we had processed all 4.2 million survey answers, we calculated which of the 170 variables had the most significant relationship to church growth. If we were to identify any one principle as the "most important," then without a doubt it would be the multiplication of small groups.3
There are many resources available for leading cell groups. In addition to these, in Resource 1 you will find a suggested format. You can use the simple guidelines to train and mobilize many cell group leaders.
Choose effective methods
We have looked at principles of effective Christian nurture and evaluated some methods commonly used. What methods will you use in your new church?
Let's start by using the vital ministry of preaching. Through your sermons, you will teach the Bible and all of the members will normally attend. You will also need to do something else that includes participation, builds relationships, provides shepherding and mobilizes for evangelizing. Many new growing churches in the Philippines are using cell groups. You could choose to use Sunday School, discipleship groups, or whatever other ministries you think will be effective.
Evaluate your mother church. In what ways does it successfully fulfill principles of effective Christian nurture? You can incorporate these things into your new church. Anong mga kulang sa mother church ninyo? Now is your chance to implement a new structure that provides for these weaknesses!
Your guideline is to make sure to cover all six principles of effective Christian nurture. When all the principles are covered, tama na ang mga programa. Huwag nang magdagdag pa.
You can use the worksheet below for planning. There are blanks to list the ministries you will use. Only one more ministry may be needed, if you cover all the principles.
Ongoing nurture ministries worksheet
Principles of effective Christian nurture:
(Check the principles utilized.)
q1. Keep the Bible central
q2. Use active participation in the learning process
q3. Facilitate relationship-building
q4. Provide a shepherd for every sheep
q5. Mobilize to evangelize
q6. Assure attendance
Many churches begin with preaching. Then they will add another program. They feel na parang kulang pa. This is probably because they haven't utilized all the principles, although they probably haven't analyzed it in this way. So what do they do? Add another program! However, the added program often makes use of the same principles that are already being utilized. Still, other principles are not yet implemented. So they add yet another program! They keep doing this hanggang pagod na ang mga umaattend sa lahat. Samantala, kulang pa rin, if the principles aren't all utilized.
Huwag mag-overlap. Don't add additional programs that only deal with the principles that are already utilized. Huwag mag-overload. Don't add too many programs. Only add the programs that are needed to fulfill all the necessary principles. After that, tama na.
Most people today are busy. May trapic pa. Expecting all good church members to be involved in several church activities every week can become a heavy burden. If they don't attend, baka ma-guilty sila. Instead, we can structure our church in a way that effectively meets the basic needs. At the same time, it allows our members to be at home with their families. They will even have free time to develop relationships with neighbors. Ang ganda, ano? Would you like to be a member of a church like this? You can plant it!
Just one more idea. In order to make preaching even more effective you might try forming small groups right after the message. Have everyone share how God used the message to speak to them and how they could apply the message to their lives. The leader will then pray for everyone in the group, by name. This simple technique will add participation and helps build relationships. Most will experience God's touch much more strongly than through preaching alone. You can even make the groupings regular and include a leader who will provide pastoral ministry.
This method works especially well with sermons that are easy to follow and easy to apply to real life. This will not work well if sermons are hard to follow or if it's hard for listeners to see the relevance to their daily lives. If you try this and it doesn't work well, you may want to ask for some honest feedback on your preaching.
This can be much more effective than quickly leaving the message of the sermon and going on to another topic in another class, such as Sunday School. With this method, you will only cover one message, but it's digested more thoroughly. It's much more likely that members will apply what you have taught. Sometimes when we try to give too many messages the people are overloaded, and none of the messages are applied. In trying to aim at several targets we hit none at all. Also, this develops the habit of becoming a hearer of the Word and not a doer (Jas. 1:22). It can contribute to producing believers who are dull of hearing (Heb. 5:11). Delikado, ano?
Yes, some members will hear the message and apply it to their lives. But to assume that everyone will do this is a big assumption. More will actually apply the message if we give them a little encouragement and guidance, through these sharing groups.
When we gather, we need to do more than be spurred on toward love and good deeds by the pastor. The Bible clearly tells us to "spur one another."
&And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another. (Heb. 10:24-25)
Using these sharing groups after the message is one way to do this.
It will probably be very hard to implement this idea in an existing church. Baka magkagiyera pa. But in a new church, malaya ka. Puro baguhan kasi. Napakagandang pagkakataon!
We have done this in the churches we have planted. Many others have also. In one church we called the groups kawans. One Sunday, some of our members visited another church. They came back the next Sunday and asked, "Kuya Dave, bakit wala silang kawans?" They thought kawans were normal! 'Yan ang kagandahan ng bagong church.
Because it's so easy to lead these sharing groups, you can mobilize your new believers as leaders. But you will need to prepare the leaders well. Without good leading, the sharing can easily become a tsismisan.
We have chosen effective methods to help our new believers to continue to become more mature in Christ. Now let's see what we can do to continue to reach out to those who are still unsaved.
Action planning and discussion
1. Which of the essential principles of effective Christian nurture might be easy to neglect? If neglected, what might be the result?
2. Based on your observations, how would you evaluate sermons, Sunday School, discipleship groups and cell groups in fulfilling the principles of effective Christian nurture?
3. What are some of the benefits of cell groups? Disadvantages? Concerns?
4. Do you think cell groups could be effectively used in the Filipino context? Why or why not?
5. Describe your "dream church." What ministries would it include to provide for the ongoing nurture of the members? Why would you want to use these ministries?
The main thing to do now
qUse the ongoing nurture ministries worksheet below to select the programs you will use in your new church.
qCheck and make sure that you will fulfill all of the principles of effective Christian nurture.
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