By Paul Wilkinson

Our Jesus example of Personal Space is Jesus’ relationship to the 12. Recall that Jesus’ Divine Space was His prayer retreats with the Father and the withdrawing from the crowds (Mark 1:35 and Luke 6:12). Jesus’ Transparent Space was with Peter, James, and John (Luke 9:28-36). Those spaces afforded Jesus deeper understanding of His identity, firmer realization of His calling, fuller intimacy with close friends, and greater openness with trusted brothers. Personal Space provides a context for closeness, support, and challenge.
Personal spaces consist of 4-12 people so that many of our LIFE Groups will fall into this category. And even if a group has more than 12 members, I suspect that the membership will spontaneously split themselves into Personal Groups based on who they sit with each week and who they spend time with outside of LIFE Group time.
If your LIFE Group is larger than 12 people, then you should occasionally split them into groups of 4-8 for prayer time or group work. When I do mini-Immersions and Focus Groups that have >50 participants, I like to set the context of the lesson and then throw out a direct, thought-provoking question that they can wrestle with in groups of 4-8. I find that the depth of conversation, the sense of accountability, and the idea of ownership all dramatically increase.
Personal Spaces offer support. Do not forsake your prayer time, and prayerfully consider keeping track of prayers so that you might, one day, raise as many prayers of praise as prayers of petition. Do not trick yourself into thinking that discipleship is not happening if you are losing lesson teaching time (a tremendous challenge for me!). Teaching is only one dimension of discipleship, so be sure to think holistically and balanced about discipleship. The question is not whether we cover our teaching outlines in full, rather the question is whether our members are speaking and acting more like Jesus. If you have the opportunity to detour from the lesson plan to pray over a member or hear a testimony, then trash the outline. As my preaching professor said: no one knows what’s on your outline but you, so make your main points early so that if you hit a high moment where your sermon should end . . . end it!
We must challenge our group members. We have invited them into a discipling relationship that seeks to form, transform, and conform them into the image of Christ. Set clear expectations for them: Being a part of this group means ________. Being a follower of Christ means ________. And when they are not meeting those expectations, you should graciously challenge them to live into who they’re called to be. As shepherds, we must continually cast vision for our members when they lose it.
I think of one guy, in particular, who loved to teach doctrine so people would know what they believed. However, this guy never really modeled faith for his group by seeking to minister to them throughout the week. He just filled their heads with knowledge on Sunday morning without demonstrating and challenging them to live it. He was given a book called Conformed to His Image by a leader, and he was challenged, explicitly, to understand and focus on his own spirituality so that he would lead by example and overflow. Relationship built through personal space allowed this leader to challenge me. As you nurture this space, you will gain more liberty to challenge your group members more fully.