How can we make more disciples?
by Robert Krumrey
This past weekend we launched our small groups with an emphasis on Discipleship. Honestly, we've always emphasized discipleship as a goal for our small groups. While we talked this talk, we often weren't able to walk the walk. Ask any of our small group leaders if discipleship is important and they will say, "yes!". Ask any of our leaders whether they think our small groups are producing lots of mature disciples, most will say "sort of" or "not sure". I know. I asked them. So what's the problem?
We don't think it's that complicated of an answer. Environments that seem most conducive to fruitful discipleship share three components - content, connection, and commitment. Let's take a look at each of these and what will be required of us to embrace all three.
It will be no surprise to most of you that discipleship must originate with the truth of the gospel. If you don't have this, you have absolutely nothing. You can have the best groups and the best strategy, but if you do not have right doctrine you might as well join the book club. It will probably be more interesting.
It is essential that we are experiencing truth from God's word together. It's what Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes (in his book called Life Together) as "life together under the word". This seems to be what Jesus is saying in Matthew 28:16-20 when he commands us to make disciples by baptizing people into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is not just some ritual bath with religious incantations. He's saying that we must make sure the one who is confessing conversion knows enough to understand the basics of who God is - the work of the Father, the work of the Son, the work of the Spirit. We have to be experiencing this content in an ongoing way in the preaching moment on Sunday, in our devotional reading, and in our small group discussions.
This semester we've chosen to have all of our small groups go through the same content - a portion of the workbook called Discipleship Essentials. It has basic discipleship content which we hope will create a good foundation in the lives of all of our members and others. After going through it together, we plan to ask all future members to go through the material in order to continue the foundation building in the lives of each Christian that makes up our congregation.
You may be saying, "Don't we already have content?" and perhaps you are right. While this is essential, it is not the only thing that's required for making disciples. Effective discipleship only happens in the context of tight-knit relationships. The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 11:1 that the church of Corinth should "be imitators of me as I am of Christ." Again in 1 Timothy 4:16 Paul tells young Pastor Timothy to "Keep a close watch on yourself and your teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers"
These verses and many others indicate that content ("your teaching") is only part of the discipleship equation. There must also be modeling. A kind of show and tell that results in "spiritual formation" in the lives of those who are living life under the word and doing so together. This is why Sunday sermons are very important but not enough. Experiencing the word in a small group context is essential for growing as a disciple. There is absolutely no other way to experience this.
You may still be saying, "Don't we already have these things?" Yes and No. As a church, we do have a teaching diet of gospel truth. We also have some tight-knit relationships. What we lack in many instances is commitment. For some, they lack the commitment to even show up regularly for a small group. For others who do show up, there is a lack of commitment to study and apply the word of God. When we hear good content, but do nothing about it, we end up with hard hearts and a very shallow relationship with God and others.
This new way of doing things in our small group ministry is going to require a greater commitment. Things like:
- Commitment to doing homework every week
- Commitment to pray for one another
- Commitment to memorize scripture
- Commitment to lead others through the same material in the future
As you begin to consider this new discipleship material and some of these new initiatives, you may begin to tell yourself that you just can't afford to make this kind of commitment. Might I suggest that you can't afford not to. Your life as a disciple has got to take first priority if you want to actually walk with God and bear the good fruit that comes from such a relationship with Him. It's a move toward the second part of Jesus' commission in Matthew 28:16-20 where he tells us to teach people to obey everything He has commanded. This is a tall order for the church but it is from the lips of the one who has been given all authority in heaven and on earth (also in Matthew 28). There is nothing in your life that is more important. For you, your church, your family & friends, your world. Join with us this semester as we seek to grow as disciples of Jesus.