Over the past 35 years I have used lots of great books and curriculum in leading small groups and discipleship groups—some of them written by me. Thinking of all of the good material I have used, my favorite small group curriculum now is The Good & Beautiful God, by James Bryan Smith.
My friend small group author Greg Bowman commended the book to me several years ago. Based on Greg’s enthusiastic recommendation I picked up the book and started to read it. As I started into it for some reason I thought, “What’s so great about this?”, and I didn’t make it past the first chapter. Then last year our senior pastors, Hap & Di Leman, gave me and all of our senior leadership team a copy of the book and worked through it with us chapter by chapter over coffee on Wednesday mornings. The book thrilled me and was tremendously helpful in accelerating my spiritual journey.
More recently I went through the book with four other guys in a men’s discipleship group early on Wednesday mornings. The biblical principles in the book again were life changing for me and them. As one of the guys expressed, “God has been changing my life through what I am learning. My wife is telling me she sees big changes in me. We are getting our best friends together and working through the book with them because they really need to understand who God is and his amazing love for them.”
The Transformation Triangle
Smith explains that The Good & Beautiful God and the two books that follow it are designed to be “a curriculum for Christlikeness” (p. 13). He points out that we cannot change our own lives. Change comes as the Holy Spirit works in our lives through three elements: adopting the narratives of Jesus (changing our foundational beliefs and assumptions), participating in supportive Christian community, and engaging in soul training exercises (activities that help us put ourselves before God). Foundational to this is realizing our real identity and the new hearts we have been given in Christ.
Who is God?
The heart of Smith’s book is understanding who God really is. The book is appropriately subtitled “Falling in Love with the God Jesus Knows.” So the middle chapters of the book explore the following topics, calling us to lay aside our misconceptions and again and again taking us back to Jesus’ amazing and revolutionary teachings:
- God is Good
- God is Trustworthy
- God is Generous
- God is Love
- God is Holy
- God is Self-Sacrificing
- God Transforms
Cookies on the Bottom Shelf
Smith communicates simply and clearly. I love to read books on spiritual growth and spiritual disciplines but sometimes they overwhelm me. Smith makes everything very accessible and doable. It’s kind of like “spiritual growth for dummies.” He puts the cookies on the bottom shelf, which really helps me. With each chapter Smith gives a “soul training exercise” to help us connect with God. These are simple and often surprising activities that are fun to try and discuss with your group. There’s also a helpful leader’s guide in the back.
The Bottom Line
All this to say that currently my favorite small group curriculum is The Good & Beautiful God. Right now I am taking our pastoral interns through the book in our weekly meetings. Go through the book with a group or some friends. I think you’ll find the simple, biblical truths it conveys deeply transforming.
What questions or insights do you have on curriculum and spiritual growth? I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions.