Spiritual Disciplines: Growing Together in Community
When we think of the spiritual disciplines, we usually think about practicing them ourselves. Maybe its reading your Bible more often or having a more consistent prayer life: whatever the discipline, our thoughts go to the individual. But what if the spiritual disciplines were not meant to be practiced solely individually but in community?
As Small Group Leaders and Coaches, this is a key question we need to challenge ourselves with. What kind of community is your group? Is it simply for discussion and a social gathering OR is it a “formation community” where we are learning, trying, and helping each other practice the way of Jesus alongside each other?
The practice of spiritual disciplines is not some new fad. They are practices of Jesus which we see in Jesus’ life and in the New Testament.
The spiritual disciplines can be implemented into our small groups through the processes of learning, practicing, reflecting, and talking which then will lead to growth, vulnerability, and a group rooted in Jesus. These practices help us answer the question: “What if I didn’t just obey the teachings of Jesus but practiced the lifestyle of Jesus”?
Spiritual Disciplines Overview
Many theologians, scholars, pastors, and authors have discussed the spiritual disciplines, and while there is some overlap, they often list and categorize them differently. In this article, we have identified the following 10 spiritual disciplines for reflection:
- Scripture—learning and applying God’s Word
- Prayer—talking with God
- Sabbath—resting in God one day a week
- Evangelism—sharing the gospel with non-Christians
- Generosity—giving to others
- Solitude—time alone with God
- Fasting—not eating to draw closer to God
- Simplicity—limits to focus on God’s kingdom
- Worship—offering God worship in public and private
- Community—developing spiritual relationships
The disciplines on this list may be familiar to you, or some may be new. Some of them may be at the forefront of your mind and others may be all but forgotten. That’s ok! The purpose of these disciplines is not to show you how good of a Christian you are or how godly your small group is. The spiritual disciplines are meant to help us recognize areas of our life that, when practiced, can draw us closer to God and make us more like Jesus. So relax, reflect, and implement, not to be more perfect but to draw near to the God who loves us!
The Spiritual Disciplines in Community Cycle
Some of these 10 practices might seem rather obvious as to how they are done in community, but others aren’t! Like how do you even practice “Solitude” in community? Well, we are here to remind you that we are embedded in community, and God often calls us to experience him together in community rather than on our own.
We believe that there is a pattern or a “cycle” that we can follow for how we cannot just be individualistic in our spiritual practices, but truly practice them in community.
LEARN—can be done alone or in community
You can LEARN on your own—Or you can LEARN together with others: Watching something in the Small Group. All reading the same book or article on the same week, etc.
PRACTICE—can be done alone or in community
You can PRACTICE on your own—Or you can PRACTICE together with others: You guys all give up buying any more clothes for 3 months together to gain greater Simplicity for God. Or you all Fast and Pray as a group for a member who just got a health diagnosis.
REFLECT—must be done alone
You have to REFLECT on your own—What has been my experience with God through this practice?—Whether I journal about it or just pray with him to process.
TALK—must be done in community
Don’t underestimate the talking aspect of community! This can be key to fully processing what God is doing in your heart. Remember: “God has given us his Word, but he’s also given us his People.” And many of us are far more used to going to the 1st and neglecting the 2nd.
To help you begin to understand even further, we are going to walk through 3 of the 10 Spiritual Disciplines and how you can begin to practice them within your Small Group.
Example 1: Scripture
This section is going to introduce 5 “Scripture Engagements” to you so that you might have the boldness and curiosity to use them as tools to study scripture within your small group. But what are Scripture Engagements? Dr. Fergus Macdonald says, “Scripture engagement is interaction with the biblical text in a way that provides sufficient opportunity for the text to speak for itself by the power of the Holy Spirit, enabling readers and listeners to hear the voice of God and discover for themselves the unique claim Jesus Christ is making upon them.” For more information on these scripture egagements, check out the Taylor University Center for Scripture Engagement.
Here are the 5 scripture engagement techniques you can practice within your small group to explore Scripture in a new way together:
This is where you place yourself in the stories of the scripture in order to better empathize with the people of the bible and even begin to “experience” the stories we are reading. This changes scripture from just being a book to becoming a real-life narrative! You get to live in Moses’, Esther’s, Nicodemus, or the woman at the well’s shoes which helps connect your emotions to the scripture.
This practice looks like time with pen and paper and the passage to record your thoughts, feelings, questions, and observations with the help as the Holy Spirit. To then bring your journals to your small group in community allows for vulnerability, confession, and honest relationship with God and others which enhances growth!
Engage Through Art
The best way I like to describe this practice is using artwork as a “commentary” … which helps us look at scripture through the eyes of someone else so then you slow down and think and meditate on the passage. This may look like having a small group member bring a piece of art that is about a specific scripture to your meeting time, or you as the leader looking up on google a piece of art about the specific passage you will be studying with your small group.
The purpose of contemplating Scripture is to help you experience scripture more deeply and reflect on what you already know. To contemplate together is sacred and doing it in a group can open your eyes to different things about the passage. Contemplate is not for discovering the meaning of a passage; it is for soaking in God’s Word, letting it become a part of our lives.
This practice is to use the words of the Scripture to guide and speak your prayers. The Bible is full of prayers. Prayers express many different emotions and experiences. The prayers of the bible become your “tutor” to learn how to communicate with God! This can mean either praying the prayers of the Bible word-for-word as your own prayers, personalizing portions of the Scriptures in prayer, or praying through various topics of the Bible.
Practicing these scripture engagements in your small group will allow for a fresh way to look at scripture and open yourself up to the idea that the Lord might teach you something new that you have never thought of before. In a group setting, when a person learns something as they are reading a passage, they can:
- Compare their ideas and discoveries with other believers.
- Be nudged toward application by the group.
So, give it a shot!
Example 2: Evangelism
Is evangelism really something that we can practice in community? Jesus did! He took his 12 friends with him when he went to share the good news of his Kingdom coming, and we can do the same. How can we do this?
- You can start with the relationship with a non-Christian: When you have someone in your life who is a non-Christian: Invite them to hang out—not just with you, but with 1 or some of your Small Group friends! Get dinner together, do a board game night with some guys, or have a mommy playground date.
- Or you can start with your Small Group:
- Start by praying for the people in one another’s lives who are non-Christians (Acts 26:18). Prayer is pre-evangelism! God can begin to work even before we open our mouths!
- Pray for & Encourage each other as they share the gospel (Eph 6:19)! Your group becomes what it talks about. And if it talks about evangelism, you guys will become evangelists
- You can create opportunities to share the gospel as a group! Whether that is hosting a special neighborhood lemonade event in one person’s front yard; or specifically invite non-Christians to a Small Group BBQ; or being bold and going out to do some street evangelism and see what hearts God opens.
Example 3: Sabbath
Whether or not “Sabbath” is a binding commandment—it is undoubtably built into the universe (Gen 2:1-3); and Jesus and his disciples practiced it (Luke 4:16). So—If you, like me, think it’s important to have a day set aside for worship, rest, and delight in God—how can we practice this not just individually?
- Well—for most of us, Sabbath will be on Sunday: And we can just be intentional with our family and Small Group members: to be consistently at church, to see and talk with one another after services, and to encourage each other to rest that day.
- Whether or not Sunday is the sabbath day that works for our family: We can also try to involve others in our family’s life by doing a meal together at the beginning of sabbath (perhaps Saturday night if it is on Sunday) or at the end of sabbath (Sunday night)—and use that moment to even have a few rituals—like Jewish men and women have through the ages: Like eating a special meal with dessert(!), intentionally putting away our phones or even writing down our anxieties and putting them in a box together to symbolize laying those things down to God for that day; or going around and saying what we are thankful to God for.
Practice Those Spiritual Disciplines!
Small Groups are great communities—especially to PRACTICE these things together and/or to TALK about how they went and what you learned. (“Hey guys, how did Sabbath go for you guys this past Sunday. It was really challenging for us because we had family in town and it was stressful…”). Sometimes this can be in person. Sometimes this can be over Text. And it can include Praying for each other for specific practices you’re pressing into as a group.
So as you reflect on the spiritual disciplines, how you can encourage your group to implement and practice them together, ask yourself these two questions:
- Which of these 10 spiritual disciplines do I think God may be calling me to lead our group into practicing together in the next 2-3 months?
- What first step should I take to get that going?
We are praying for you and your small group, trusting that God will draw you closer to himself and closer in community together in the coming weeks and months!
Helpful Resources for the Spiritual Disciplines:
Sabbath by Dan Allender (Sabbath)
The Abide Bible Initiative by Phil Collins (Scripture Engagement)
The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer (Sabbath, Solitude, Simplicity)
Disciplines of a Godly Man by Kent Hughes (Overview)
A Hunger for God by John Piper (Fasting)
Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney (Overview)
Pastor of Small Groups & Membership
Bob first joined staff at College Park as a Pastoral Resident in 2011 and has served in several important roles since that time. In 2018, Bob became the Assistant Pastor of Small Groups & Membership and then the Pastor of Small Groups & Membership in 2022. In this role, Bob gives leadership and direction to the Small Group ministry by recruiting, training, and supporting Small Group Leaders and Coaches, as well as overseeing the membership process and covenant member care.