By Mark Dance
When we moved to Nashville four years ago so I could launch LifeWay Pastors, Janet and I were eager to find a church home. For the first time in our marriage and ministry, we were looking for a church where I wouldn’t be the pastor!
Honestly, it was initially euphoric to not be the center of attention at church. After being a lead pastor for almost thirty years, I realized nobody would even know if we showed up at church.
We Were At Risk
Looking back, however, we were vulnerable to spiritual stagnation and emotional isolation.
Our anonymity was beginning to create a relational vacuum, so we set roots into a wonderful church family in metro Nashville. Our new church had a new lead pastor, and we were eager to get behind his vision starting with joining a life group.
The process of finding a life group was not easy. For us, it was surprisingly long, frustrating, and messy. After visiting six groups, we had yet to find what we wanted.
How can it be this hard to find the right group? I now know how guests and new members feel when they try to connect in a new church.
No More Excuses
Part of our problem was that I speak at over 30 ministry events a year in various parts of North America. Twenty of these events are for ministry couples, so Janet was also speaking and traveling on many of these trips. It was hard to find a connection with a Life Group between our trips.
As a pastor, I’ve heard every excuse imaginable about why people cannot commit to a group. We were determined not to let that happen, so we both joined discipleship groups.
In our church, “D-Groups” are made up of 3-5 adults of the same gender and are designed to replicate after 12-18 months. This was not a substitute for a life group, but it met our immediate need for community and spiritual growth.
It’s Not Negotiable
Discipleship is rarely easy and sometimes messy, but it’s never negotiable.
Eventually, Janet and I helped start an adult life group that continues to be a blessing to both of us. I also teach a theology class on Wednesday nights.
Why say all this? The primary point of this post is to encourage all pastors and spouses to connect with a group in your church because you can’t afford to coast spiritually or relationally.
I doubt you’ll ever serve in a season of ministry where this will be easy. The fact is, your spiritual growth is directly related to your connection with other believers. In other words, you need other people to grow.
No more excuses. Join or start a group and grow together with other believers.
In our season of transition, Janet and I left ourselves vulnerable to spiritual drift and isolation. As I was preaching to pastors about the need for discipleship, back home I wasn’t practicing it with other believers.
You Need It
Disciple-making pastors need to practice discipleship by connecting with a home group, Sunday School class, or a single-gender discipleship group. You need it!
Perhaps the most meaningful result of our D-groups and life group are the friendships we’ve made through them. Janet and I connected with one particular couple which eventually led to relationships that offered accountability. Life-on-life is the ultimate gold standard of discipleship, in my opinion.
Frankly, the disciple-making strategy of our church is not much different than any other evangelical church. Discipleship flows from the pulpit through various groups and relationships, and eventually onto the mission field.
Our discipleship path has been messy, but isolation and stagnation are not an option for the Dances. The groups and relationships we’re connected to have made our local church a true spiritual family for us.
MARK DANCE (@markdance) serves as director of LifeWay Pastors. He speaks at churches, conferences, and retreats–often with his wife Janet. Mark has contributed to several books and offers weekly encouragement at MarkDance.net.