Discipleship (part 3) – a model

December 10, 2007

“But not all small groups experience that life-giving power. Many groups lack the life-changing spiritual and relational growth members hunger for. As a result, members lose interest, and the small group ministry does not grow and does not achieve the vision with which it began. This does not have to happen. Leaders can learn skills and biblical processes that make small groups more effective.”

– Cloud & Townsend, from Making Small Groups Work

Back in the early 70’s Carl Wilson, the founder of a discipleship ministry called WDA, did a detailed study of the life and discipleship style of Jesus using a Harmony of the Gospels, which was later published under the name With Christ in the School of Disciple Building. It’s dense, academic, and hard-to-read, but a worthwhile study, if you’ve the patience. While studying a harmony of the Gospels Carl Wilson recognized a number of patterns in Jesus’ training of the 12, the 70, and the 120. Similar subjects were touched upon, and similar challenges made, in a recognizable order.

The first visible pattern is what WDA calls the five phases. First, both John the Baptist and Jesus called people to change their minds, or repent, of their life of sin, and begin anew, or be born again. During this stage Jesus taught mostly on God’s love and forgiveness of sin, and Jesus was revealed as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. This is called ESTABLISHING FAITH. Second, Jesus called a group of disciples to himself, and taught them of his messiahship and power through miracles, and taught them the basics of body life and evangelism. This is known as LAYING FOUNDATIONS. Third, Jesus calls some of those men to be “fishers of men”, and those committed themselves to minister with him publicly – he further taught them principles of evangelism, demonstrated his power over sin, physical evil, and his authority to judge and to justify. Just so you can see the Scripture in this, I want to go into more detail on at least one of these phases. During this time Jesus demonstrated his power of physical illness – healing Peter’s mother-in-law of fever (Matt. 8:14-15), and exorcised demons (Matt. 8:16-17, Mark 1:21-28, and etc). These miracles demonstrated also that he had the power to forgive sin, as is stated in Matt. 9:2-8, Mark 2:3-12, and Luke 5:18-26). This phase is called MINISTRY TRAINING. Fourth, Jesus chose the twelve as leaders, and he organized His ministry around this group, instructing them and delegating to them authority. The focus of this was Kingdom living, challenging them to step out on their own in this. Wilson referred to this as DEVELOPING NEW LEADERS. And lastly, Jesus appointed the seventy, and the original 12 assumed increased responsibility and ownership of his mission, and became more self-reliant. They learned of God’s sovereignty and the all-sufficiency of Christ, and to make disciples of others. This was known as DEPLOYING MATURE LEADERS.

Admittedly, no single individual fits simply and neatly into just one of these phases. For instance, someone could be in phase four intellectually, but phase two emotionally, possibly to a emotional recovery (like “Living Well”) – which is a whole other topic entirely, yet, believe it or not, was another aspects of Jesus’ ministry which can be easily incorporated into this model. Likewise, as Jesus was fluid and relational, and followed the leading of the Holy Spirit, these phases are simply observations which help us recognize where someone is, where they are going, and where they probably need to go next – not a strict cookie cutter form that particular individuals need to be crammed into. That said, with the Holy Spirit’s help, knowledge of the phases can be very helpful in directing someone’s spiritual growth and recognizing what topics of study, personal challenges, or even prayers might push an individual to grow to the natural next step in their spiritual progression towards maturity.

While reading the Gospels yet another pattern of discipleship arose. This pattern regarded how Jesus went about training them;

1. He built relationships with them.

2. He taught them content (truth about God and the Kingdom) and trained them in ministry and life skills.

3. He held them accountable to put truth into practice.

4. He spent time in prayer for them.

5. He placed them in situations that challenged them to greater commitment and involvement.

Without any one of these 5, a discipleship relationship will be deficient.

Lastly, there was an observable context to Jesus’ discipleship: the Small Group. Small Groups, rightly done, are safe environments that encourage healthy, close, relationships – an ideal place to share God’s story and our place in it (content), hold one another accountable, pray for one another, and even to challenge people in situational ministry. Jesus had a special relationship to three leaders: Peter, James, and John. Peter, James and John had a special place, under Jesus, among the 12 of Jesus’ small group. This small group was trained to be the leaders of another group of people, the 70, and then the 120 – and, as it seems from the book of Acts, so on and so forth. Essentially, this is what we’d today call a “coaching model” – Jesus, on occasion taught the larger group, but his primary focus was upon his immediate circle. The 12 in his small group did the larger work of ministry to the 70 and the 120 for him. The difference between Jesus’ coaching model and many small group coaching models is the directedness of the 5 phases coupled with the particular skills of discipleship (relationships, content, accountability, prayer, and situations).

Another benefit to this model is that within it is great room to recognize the need for, and beginning people on the path to, emotional healing. Think of the pastors who seem to know the Bible inside and out, yet eventually have huge moral failings – or the worship leaders who’s music draws so many closer to God, yet later are discovered to have had multiple affairs on their wife. Often these serious cracks in people’s spiritual armor are caused by unresolved emotional problems. Many of these struggles are signs of a disconnected soul – someone in leadership can even grow disconnected from the Body of Christ. Someone can be a hand, or even a head in the body, but be weak, if not lame, from under-use or disconnectedness. Another aspect of this model involves giving leaders the skills to recognizing these roadblocks in people’s growth, and equips them with the simple tools to disciple individuals through the healing process within a normal small group setting.

Of course, this is not the primary function of this model, but is an added bonus.

Another practical addition, within the Establishing Faith stage of the model, are some small groups that could be added for newcomers to the faith, or non-believers, and organized according to common interest (movies), hobbies (chess, or football, etc.) or even age groups. These might follow Ted Haggard’s model more than WDA’s, but fits the over all picture of the phases of growth, and Community Church’s idea of taking people from the foyer to the kitchen table. It’s a good introduction – a short term group with other newcomers and a few of the “initiated” – where they can simply deepen their relationships with others from the church, and grow in trust before engaging in a deep spiritual study, which require a degree of commitment that could scare off some.



One Response to “Discipleship (part 3) – a model”

  1. Hoop said

    Love it, love it, love it…
    This was a great post. Discipleship has been one of my hot buttons for some time now and as a result, I’ve often found that the church in the past has learned how to tell the good news, but failed to make disciples. We want to, as David Kinnaman wrote in his book Unchristian, get people saved, but we don’t disciple. I’ve asked many who are close to me two questions that they have found difficult to answer. 1) Who are you discipling? 2) Who is discipling you? On the first one, they immediately gave me the name of someone who wasn’t a disciple and they were trying to evangelize. On the second, they said, “Should I have someone discipling me?” I fell over in my chair. Thanks for your post…and about the post you left on my site, I’m not sure about this Mel guy either…. he’s…um, interesting.

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