Common Misconceptions 

Parkwood’s purpose is to glorify God by laboring together for the growth of all believers while going with the gospel to all peoples. At the core of that purpose is discipleship, maturing disciples within the church or making disciples without. The Growth Group is the primary means of discipleship at Parkwood. Several common misconceptions about the church, though, may negatively affect one’s engagement in Growth Groups. These misconceptions may be felt by Christians and non-Christians and rest in ignorance, in the flesh, or in tradition. The follower of Christ is then behooved to correct wrong thinking and encourage others to join in disciple-making. To this end, consider several misconceptions that hinder discipleship.

1. The church is too big.

The church is not too big, and such a misconception often reveals two flaws. First, the complaint originates from a personal perspective rather than a gospel perspective. What is meant by such a statement is that the numerical size of the membership presents larger crowds than one personally prefers or than one is traditionally accustomed. This complaint is counter to the ministry and work of the gospel. If the size of crowd is legitimately problematic, then simply moving to a different local body would be a sufficient solution. Criticizing the church as too big, however, argues that it is too big for my preference, which is fundamentally a wrong perspective. Second, this complaint misses the purposes of Growth Groups. The Growth Group is the natural solution to the large church since they provide a small group inside the larger church. Regardless how large the local church grows, the Growth Group is always a place to engage, to know everyone, and to be accountable and show accountability. The Growth Group is the small congregation inside the larger one. 

2. The church has abandoned discipleship.

A common feeling among traditional Southern Baptists is that the modern church has abandoned discipleship. Often those who make such an accusation mean that the church has abandoned Sunday School in particular. Granted, the contemporary church has endured many changes in the previous thirty years. Older members will recall such programs as Training Union and Royal Ambassadors, but don’t miss the content simply because the packaging is different. The church may not be ignoring discipleship if they no longer have a traditional Sunday School. Growth Groups exist for the great priority of discipleship. They may not be called Sunday School, and they may occur at different locations and times than the church campus on Sunday mornings, but Growth Groups are a strategic part of laboring together for the growth of all believers. Growth Groups exist for discipleship and spiritual growth, but they also exist for missions, for multiplication, and for community.

3. I don’t have time.

Many modern Americans who work five or six days every week feel they have no time to offer Growth Groups. Certainly the struggle is real with the schedule of work, and piled on top are the priority of marriage, family, and then other commitments. Recreation may be part of the problem with a busy schedule, or it may be a foregone conclusion. Some have no margin in their lives whatsoever. How can a weekly commitment to a Growth Group be added to such a busy schedule? Truthfully, it probably cannot, at least not successfully. But the problem is not simplistically a time and schedule issue; rather it demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of discipleship that can be ‘added’ to my already busy life. Discipleship and Growth Groups are not categories to be added; rather they are part of life. The life of a Christian is a life of discipleship, a disciple in community with other disciples. The spiritual growth, community, mission, and multiplication elements of the Growth Group are as much a part of the Christian’s life as eating and sleeping. Don’t mistake a Growth Group as an addendum; think of it as a vehicle needed to arrive at the destination God has given. Of course, it is work to travel the road of discipleship; of course, we want to travel that road with family and with friends; and of course, we want to enjoy recreational time along the route. But ultimately, the Growth Group is not an additional trip or destination; rather, it’s a logistical necessity for the trip. The Growth Group is integrally related to travel and arrival at life’s singular destination. Other stops along the way may need to be adjusted, limited, or eliminated.

4. I don’t want to.

Many, frankly, would say they simply do not want to be part of a Growth Group. No need to go any further or really even offer particular reasons, they simply don’t want to. While this excuse offers little camouflage, it is thoroughly selfish, yet it is effective because it is viewed sufficient. Growth Groups are for me, and I don’t want to go, so I don’t go. Misunderstood is the essential connection and responsibility of spiritual growth and community. First, one will not grow alone; community is essential. So the idea of simply treating Growth Groups as an option that you would rather not choose is actually shortsighted. Community is not optional; it’s essential. Second, a Christian has responsibility in community that is inherently selfless. Community doesn’t just exist for you, but for others as well. The accountability and encouragement is mutual. When I go to a Growth Group, the group provides accountability and encouragement to me, and I am a part of providing that for others.

5. I don’t need to.

This misconception about Growth Groups is basically the same as “I don’t want to” with a seemingly theological justification. The one who offers such words believes he is saved and spiritually acceptable. Necessary work has been done in his life, and he can now live as he chooses. The discipleship requirement is filled since he is a Christian, a disciple. One doesn’t really need the church, right? Once saved, always saved. Having become a Christian by the power and work of Christ, participation in the church does not grant salvation nor sustain salvation. “I don’t need to go to church” is a common response for non-church goers. This reasoning, though, is a fundamental misunderstanding of salvation. It centers salvation squarely on the individual and ignores the glory and the body of Christ. Flatly claiming “once saved, always saved” disregards personal responsibility and cheapens God’s grace. Salvation is not to spare someone the flames of hell alone but to ransom the saved to God for work in His kingdom. The Savior has plans for those He rescues, plans for growth and for work (Col 1:28, Eph 2:10). He has brought His child into a workforce and a kingdom that has been given a mission. The church cannot claim to experience salvation and then claim to be done. Instead, having been ransomed, she must give herself to the God who saves and to the work He has commissioned His church.

Don’t be trapped by these misconceptions. Don’t be fooled yourself, and don’t be at a loss when someone else offers them to you. Sometimes they are offered in ignorance, or sometimes in sin. But they are misconceptions that can negatively affect discipleship in the church, so they must be addressed. Instead of believing misconceptions of the church, “let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds” (Heb 10:24).

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