I’ve enjoyed the discussion in the comments of my previous post on discipleship. From the various commenters, I’ve compiled the following list of observations concerning discipleship. I’ve summarized and changed wording to simplify the list.
- is primarily the work of the Holy Spirit.
- is not done in a group but one-on-one.
- is based on an intimate relationship that takes time.
- is not simply teaching biblical truths.
- demonstrates a pattern of biblical living by a more mature (older) believer.
- encourages believers to become more Christ-like and live out biblical precepts.
- requires fellowship, discernment, and obedience.
For the most part, I agree with these observations. Since I agree that the Holy Spirit is the primary agent of making disciples, I would not require “one-on-one” interaction for discipleship, sometimes disciples are made through small, intimate groups – such as Jesus and the twelve, or Paul and his companions. Also, there are several instances in Scripture where someone is discipled without an intimate relationship with another believer (at least at the beginning). Finally, there are times when an older or more mature believer is not available. Should an immature believer wait for a more mature believer to come along before beginning to disciple others? Can that same immature believer be discipled by those of the same (or even less) maturity than himself? I continue to struggle with some of these questions.
Also, making disciples is required of all believers… or, perhaps I should say, making disciples is required of all disciples. There is not a point where a believer stops being a disciple and becomes a discipler. A disciple is a discipler, and a discipler is a disciple. Paul is a great example of this. He began teaching and persuading others immediately after his conversion (Acts 9:20).
Disciple-making has more to do with a person’s obedience to the work of the Holy Spirit than with that person’s knowledge, talents, gifts, or abilities. Jesus said that he would build his church (Matt 16:18). Christ provides gifts to the church through the Holy Spirit in order to work through the believers that are part of the church to build the church up (Eph. 4:1-16; 1 Cor 12). (Note: I am not using “church” here to signify a particular group such as XYZ Church. Instead, I mean Christ working through all believers.)
I do agree with the commenters that discipleship is not a large group study; however, a large group study can be part of discipleship. I think this is best seen in the life of Jesus. Notice that Jesus’ disciples were with him when he spoke to large crowds, and when he taught large groups, even in the synagogues. Jesus would then teach his disciples in a more intimate setting, more fulling explaining the things that they saw and heard. I’ve noticed while studying the book of Mark especially, that the large group settings seem to be a part of Jesus’ plan for teaching his disciples. (I think this is the reason – along with the amazing work of the Holy Spirit – that many of us have learned and grown through large group programs and Bible studies.) This does not deny the importance of the intimate setting; in fact, I believe the intimate setting is more important.
I am still investigating one idea that Isabel suggested in her post. She mentions that she lived with other believers for an extended time, and yet there was little fellowship or discipleship. (Maybe I’m misreading here.) She has suggested that this is because the discipleship was “arranged” as opposed to “spontaneous” (I like those terms better than “forced” and “natural” – see the comments from her post.) Today, many of the things we do as the church are “arranged” instead of “spontaneous” (that is, directed by the Holy Spirit).
So, these are my continuing thoughts on discipleship. I am not ending the discussion, however. I would appreciate your comments.