March 15, 2012 § 5 Comments
Occasionally I’m asked why the Discipleship Networks promote one-on-one discipleship as the basic building block of the Christian life and ministry. Some feel they aren’t called, aren’t gifted, or don’t have the spiritual maturity, biblical knowledge, or time for one-on-one discipleship. I’ll address those issues in another post, but some have also questioned the importance of one-on-one discipleship on biblical grounds. It’s been suggested (correctly) that there’s no evidence of Jesus engaging in one-on-one discipleship, though he did have one-on-one encounters. For the most part, Jesus’ discipleship took place in the context of a small group of 12 men.
It’s also been suggested that the large number of new believers who entered the church on the Day of Pentecost were simply the fruit of the Holy Spirit and Peter’s street preaching. Discipleship followed this growth. It didn’t precede it.
Here’s why I still maintain that every believer and every leader should engage in personal, one-on-one discipleship.
- Discipleship, as Jesus modeled it, requires “doing life” together. For most of us, sharing life communally with 12 other people isn’t an option. But we can share life with a few other people in one-on-one relationships. When small groups are the primary vehicle for discipleship, it’s too easy for it simply to become a Bible study. Focusing on one-on-one discipleship keeps it real, life-based, and relational.
- Without one-on-one discipleship it’s too easy to justify all ministry as discipleship. When preaching, teaching Sunday school, training leaders, and leading small group Bible studies are all discipleship, then everything becomes discipleship. When everything is discipleship, nothing is discipleship. All ministry should promote discipleship and equip for discipleship, but promoting and equipping for it isn’t the same as doing it.
- For disciple-making movements to start, discipleship must always be primarily a grass-roots ministry. Group-based discipleship puts the disciple-making responsibility in the hands of the leaders. Local churches must envision effective discipleship at the grass-roots level, equip people for such discipleship, expect multi-generational discipleship, and model it among the leaders.
- Discipleship principles are best learned in the context of relationships rather than the context of Bible studies. It’s in the close context of a one-on-one relationship that we see God’s transforming work, we learn how to apply the Bible to real-life situations, we learn how to hear the voice of the Spirit, and we experience the cost of discipleship. One-on-one discipleship is one of the most effective ways for a disciple-maker to grow. Pastors who are making disciples one-on-one preach differently than those who aren’t.
- One-on-one discipleship gets the disciple-maker out of the church. It is difficult for most of us to gather groups of unchurched people to hear the gospel, explore the Bible, and encounter God. But we can do it one-on-one. Allowing small group discipleship to dominate our disciple-making ministry probably means that our discipleship will be primarily among those already in the church.
Jesus modeled each of these in a small group of 12. So if you can honestly do it in a small group then go for it! There’s nothing more biblical about doing it one-on-one. I’d just ask you to be honest. Are these 5 things really happening in your small group?
One-on-one discipleship can be intimidating and the temptation is always present to justify what we’re already doing rather than embrace change. But the rewards of one-on-one discipleship can’t be matched. As one pastor confessed to me, “Once I started discipling someone I said to myself, ‘This is why I entered ministry!’”
As for the Day of Pentecost, well … yes. The Holy Spirit broke in, the gospel was preached, and 3000 were added to the church in a single day. But remember that the Day of Pentecost was preceded by 3 years of Jesus’ equipping the 12 through personal discipleship.