Discipleship in Our Groups
Our pastor has laid out for us an ongoing plan for moving from being a good church to being a great church. There are five points of focus to accomplish that goal, the last of which is discipleship. Discipleship is an area in which our groups can have a major impact. Groups are tailor made for such a purpose.
Additionally, our denominational mission statement says that the church exists “to make Christlike disciples in the nations.” This is, of course, a reflection of what Jesus said as he was returning to the Father.
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:16–20, ESV)
The primary task Jesus gave to the Eleven was to go and make disciples. By implication, that is also our main task. The church has many functions within society and within its own community, but the primary job is to go and make disciples.
It follows that the groups of our church should also be involved in making disciples. Among other functions of our groups, such as fellowship, accountability, encouragement, study, we must never forget to focus on discipleship.
What is a disciple?
- At the heart of it, a disciple is one who learns from another. In the context of the life of Jesus, a disciple is one who follows Jesus. For us, this following and learning does not take place so much in the face to face way it did for the original disciples of Jesus, but we still have a face to face relationship with him, mediated by the Holy Spirit that he sent to his followers after he left them.
- We have God’s Word, as well, to help us in our following of Jesus. The gospels and the epistles–and even the Old Testament–are full of instructions for how to follow Jesus.
- The bottom line is that real discipleship demands a level of commitment and loyalty far beyond the ordinary. To his disciples (and through them to us) Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15, ESV) We must admit that this teaching does not leave a lot of wiggle room.
- A disciple is not casual about her or his relationship with God. For a disciple, that relationship is at the center of all of life. It does not mean that we abandon all our other pursuits and retreat to a monastery. Instead, it means having an orientation to life that has Christ at the center and God as the goal. Paul said, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17, ESV) That’s the way a disciple lives.
But what does it mean to make a disciple? And how can we do it?
- Essentially, we take the raw material God gives us and process it to add value. That is, we start with Christians in whatever state they are in and provide to them the instruction and the motivation to become disciples, or to become better and better disciples.
- This making of disciples is not a cookie cutter process. Some people will grow through a group Bible study and some people will need one-on-one coaching. As group leaders, we need to be aware of the status and the needs of the people in our groups, and we need to provide—one way or another—what is needed to bring people to real discipleship.
But how does this affect the life of our group?
- It is important to consider discipleship a major goal of any gathering of the group. Even a purely social gathering can be an occasion for showing people how to live in a Christlike manner.
- Material for study should be chosen with a view toward helping group members grow in Christ. The primary focus should be on what God has to say to us.
- The leaders of the group should be continually assessing the growth of the group members. This may sound on the surface like it is judgmental, but in fact, this kind of discernment is crucial for any leader. Leading and teaching a group is a truly important responsibility in the church, and the task should not be taken lightly.
- Awareness of individual needs is something that develops as the group becomes more and more cohesive and people are freed to share the deep stuff of their lives. Usually this requires the leaders and the more spiritually mature members to open up about the issues in their own walks with Jesus. The less mature members will then be more apt to follow suit, and this is the state in which true discipleship begins. If the mature members seem to have it all together, the immature members will not be encouraged to share.
- Sometimes this will require the pairing up of two people in the group for mentoring sessions outside of the group setting. But it always takes a great deal of discernment and tailoring of teaching to accommodate the real world group you find yourself in and leading.
- There is always more to leading a group than could ever be written down in a job description. Leading a group is a tremendous responsibility; it is where the rubber meets the road. This is the place in church life where it is all about person-to-person relationships.
We hope to encourage you in your work as a group leader/teacher. It is a big responsibility, but you have many resources at your disposal. Most importantly, God is on your side. We must rely on him all the time and continually pray for our groups.
We have two main resources to lean on. We need the Word of God, and we need the Holy Spirit. It has been said that if we have the Word, but no Spirit, we dry up. If we have the Spirit, but no Word, we blow up. But if we have the Word and the Spirt, we grow up.