The following post was written by Ben Trueblood, Director of Lifeway Student Ministry
“Red Rover, Red Rover, send Billy right over.” This phrase will bring a flood of memories to many of you. Even now, you are picturing the kid– maybe it was you– who was repeatedly clotheslined as he or she tried to break the chain of arms at the other end of the field. Red Rover is one of those classic schoolyard games. Sadly, it is also a game that has decreased in popularity due to fear of concussion and the self-esteem degradation of being picked as the weakest person in the line to be “sent over.” Ahh, what a great game.
As with any game, over time, strategies are developed to help you win. For Red Rover, teams began to learn that the way to keep an opposing team member from breaking through the line, regardless of their size and strength, was to treat your own line like elastic. You don’t win Red Rover by trying to grip each other’s wrists and hands as tight as you can. You win when the entire line collapses at the point of attack and bends with the two people who have been picked out as the target. Red Rover, at its core, is a game about community, not about having the strongest person on your team.
We can learn a lot from this game and from the strategy that it takes to win. In order for your students to be truly discipled– to be in a place where transformation is most likely to occur– they need to be connected to a small group. Yes, transformation and discipleship can happen in a number of environments. I’m not suggesting that small groups are the only way. I am suggesting that your small groups are the best way.
Your small groups place students in community together. It gives them an opportunity to link arms with each other and live out the partnership in the gospel that they are meant to have (Philippians 1:3-6). This partnership in the gospel that students can experience through your small groups is a vehicle that Jesus will use to carry to completion the work that He began in them. Because of this, your small group ministry is essential to their discipleship process.
Your students will experience hardship this year. They will struggle. They will have drama. They will be attacked by the enemy as they pursue Jesus. The group of students that they experience life with–that they link arms with– the ones that they partner in the gospel together with, will be the ones who bend and collapse around them when they enter into hard times. They are the people the Lord will use to make sure the line doesn’t break with the force of the attack.
Here are three things that you can do to ensure you are creating the kind of small group ministry that helps students live in partnership in the gospel:
- Recruit and develop leaders that share this vision for small groups. Never stop recruiting and training your leaders. Lead through them, you can’t do it all yourself.
- Start new groups. This can be difficult at times, but it is necessary to keep your groups growing. Don’t allow a group to stagnate. Build this idea into the DNA of the leaders your recruit and develop your students to take ownership of this process within the groups.
- Feed them. Point them to God’s word continually through your group ministry. There is no substitute or shortcut for binding students together in the gospel. The only way is a constant dose of the gospel itself, through His word.
Your small groups are important– too important to treat them as secondary pieces of your ministry. They are where your students are most likely to experience transformation. They are where your students will learn how to partner in the gospel together. They are what will prepare them to say “Red Rover, Red Rover send life right over.”