By Bob Smietana
Tommy “TJ” Thresher began to change on a Sunday morning two years ago, when his wife, Ashley, decided to give faith a second chance.
“She woke up one day and said, ‘I’m going to church—You can go if you want to,” he recalls.
Thresher, a sergeant in the Oklahoma National Guard, didn’t grow up in a church-going family, and had little interest in faith. But he wasn’t happy with how life was going for he and Ashley and their three kids.
He went along with her that morning to First Baptist Church in Moore, Oklahoma. The sermon seemed to have been written just for him. He was hooked.
Not long afterwards, the Threshers sent their oldest son to Vacation Bible School. And then when a deacon from the church stopped by to follow up with the family, Thresher gave his life to Christ.
That fall, he decided to start a Bible study Sunday mornings at the church, so he could better learn how to live as a Christian. He invited other newcomers to the church to join the new life group.
“The best way for a follower of Christ to learn is to really get in there with other believers,” says the 30-year-old Thresher.
Bob Mayfield, who was then serving as the interim Christian education pastor, says he’d been looking for new small group leaders at the time. When Thresher volunteered to lead a group, he was skeptical.
“The first thing I thought was, I am about to put someone I don’t know and who accepted Christ only three months ago in charge of a life group, ” says Mayfield.
After meeting the Threshers, Mayfield decided to let them try leading a group.
Mayfield helped TJ pick out some Bible study material and mentored him in the early days of the group.
About 10 people in the group have been baptized since it began. Most have become close friends, though there’s always room for new people, especially non-believers or new Christians, says Thresher.
Having new Christians learn the faith together has been a big help, he says. Group members push each other to grow spiritually.
“It’s one thing to share the gospel with someone, to have them accept Christ, and then off they go,” he says. “It’s another thing when you are engaged in everyday life together.”
Thresher says he’s still learning how to be a better group leader. He meets on Thursday mornings for coffee with Doug Dees, the church’s equipping pastor.
Dees, who’s in charge of small groups and other Christian education programs, asks Thresher three questions at each meeting:
- What do you know about God this week that you didn’t know last week?
- What character trait in you does God need to change so you can look more like Jesus?
- Who is the Holy Spirit leading you to this week?
Dees answers the same questions himself and reminds Thresher to ask those questions of life group members.
The idea is to keep the focus on spiritual maturity and not on accumulating knowledge about God and the Bible, says Dees.
Thresher says he wouldn’t have been able to lead the group without the help of Dees and Mayfield, along with pastor Kevin Clarkson. Thresher says leading a group has pushed him to grow by making him study the Bible carefully and by pushing him to live out his faith each day.
“I think if I was just going to church on Sundays my faith would have become stagnant by now.”
Bob Smietana (@BobSmietana) is is senior writer and content editor for Facts & Trends.