When Jesus gives the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18–19), Jesus tells His disciples that they must “go and make disciples of all nations.” Our goal as believers—this verse’s main subject—is to make disciples. “Go” in the Greek here is translated “as you go”—we are called to make disciples as we go.
Jesus is the most perfect model we will ever encounter for how to disciple. He verbally taught His disciples; He also traveled, slept, ate, and did life with them. He was compassionate, kind, truthful, and loving.
Here’s the kicker—how many disciples did Jesus have? He had 12 while He was on this earth. Think about the many people He taught and met throughout His life. But His disciples were the ones who literally walked through life with Him. Let’s be honest, 12 is not a lot of people to us, let alone to God incarnate who single-handedly created all of humanity. So we must pay attention to this model—Jesus had just 12 disciples for a reason. Because leading small is an effective, fruitful, and spirit-filled form of discipleship.
There are many times when Jesus teaches, but there are also many times when He listens. He gives His disciples room to respondto Him. He is a safe place for them to ask questions and express doubts (John 20:24–9). Jesus isn’t tyrannical—He is loving, friendly, and kind. He also gives His disciples room to exercise their faith muscles, such as when Peter walks on the water (Matthew 14:22-33). He exercises righteous anger at times, such as driving the money changers from the temple (John 2:13-16). But His heart for His people is evident, so much so that He is willing to die the worst possible death for them. It’s safe to say, Jesus modeled leading small with His 12 disciples.
If the God of the universe incarnate believed in leading small and gave us the perfect model for it, what is stopping us from doing the same? What if we as leaders spent more time in small groups, listening not speaking? What if we taught truth, letting the Spirit work rather than seeking to micromanage responses? People are messy, sin is messy, life is messy.
What if we stopped avoiding, denying, or trying to cover up brokenness and instead embraced it and laid it at the feet of the cross, where Jesus is waiting to redeem and heal?
One time when I led a small group of preteen girls, one of them raised her hand to say something while we were in the middle of going over questions in response to the story of Joseph. She said, “Miss Alicia, I don’t mean to sound rude by saying this. But there are days that go by where I don’t think about God at all.”
In my mind, I paused and realized I had two options in that moment. I could have said; “Oh sweetie, that’s not good. We must always think about God every day. He is the most important thing!” Or I could be honest and raw and say; “Really? Me too. Who else feels that way sometimes? Why do you think that is?” I am all about building trust through honesty that creates a safe place to share. And my friends, I cannot tell you how sweet and fruitful that conversation was. It led to other girls opening up about spiritual highs they’ve had and how they don’t know how to stay on that high.
I later began to think about how this young girl formed her statement. She said that she didn’t want to sound rude by telling me that she doesn’t think about God every day. That means she sees that we as leaders/teachers have an expectation of them to believe everything we say, and if we’re questioned, we will be offended. We as adults and leaders don’t express our honest struggles enough and think that we have to be perfect spiritual models for our youth. This is a lie that we must not buy into. If we act like we don’t need Jesus to heal our brokenness, then so will those we love and teach. If we aren’t modeling what we want to see in our young people, then there will be no change. Paul tells those he writes to in his epistles to imitate him as he imitates Christ. The best way we can lead small is by being who we are in Christ and walking out our identity in Him. Everything else must flow from that.
Maybe we as leaders will be able to see more visible growth in kids and youth if we give them more time and room to respond to truth and ask questions knowing they will not be judged because they know that they are not the only ones who are broken. The truth of the gospel doesn’t make sense in our human minds. It shouldn’t, because God is an infinite God, and we are a finite people. We weren’t created to know all things. In Philippians 2:12, Paul calls Christians to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Wouldn’t this imply some form of doubt and a need to ask questions?
How can we get the kids and teens in our church to know and love Jesus Christ as Savior? We can’t. What we can do is create safe environments for kids and teens to respond to God and freely ask questions and for the Holy Spirit to supernaturally work in hearts and minds.
In Lead Small, author Reggie Joiner writes, “Your few are not problems to be solved. They are people to be loved, when you love them, you will . . .
- CONNECT by showing up predictably, mentally and randomly;
- naturally create a safe place for them to CLARIFY their faith;
- partner with others who love them in order to NURTURE an everyday faith;
- Want to INSPIRE them through your example; [and]
- ENGAGE their faith with things outside of your circle.”
So, for the love of God and for the sake of His Kingdom and glory, let us seek to LEAD small. God has magnificent plans for His Church, and it truly is an honor to serve Him.