The Mysterious Mandate of ‘Small Discipleship’

I was a college sophomore when I heard through word-of-mouth about a man named Steve who discipled men on campus. Interested, I met with him. “Outside of your classes, I’d like you to be available as much as possible whenever I call you,” he said in what seemed like an interview.

I agreed, and over the next two years, I would drop everything I was doing anytime he called. Sometimes he would just swing by. Sometimes he would encourage me to invite unchurched and Christian friends to his home to watch a football game. And sometimes he would pull up in a truck and we’d go work for someone who needed help.

Along the journey with Steve, I learned how dynamic conversations could just happen naturally when you made a habit of always including friends who didn’t yet know Christ when you hung out with your Christian friends. And I learned that powerful things happen when you simply help people.

Over two years, I saw many of my friends come to faith. I learned how to take the information Steve was sharing and start my own group of peers in order to disciple them. So when I hear the word disciple-making today, I think about Steve and what he taught me.

Yes, on occasion, I have made the error that many of us make by celebrating and thinking we are doing good work by filling up rooms with people on Sunday. But whenever I want to recalibrate around methods that always show true fruit, I go back to calling a handful of men to a consistent time of learning and action.

Why don’t we just do what Jesus modeled and asked us to do? Why is the Great Commission so often the Great Omission? Why do we always seem to go back to metrics of consumerism versus metrics of kingdom growth?

A few reasons stand out.

1. Small discipleship takes a lot of relational time.

Not only does our culture influence us, but our ministry culture disciples us to stay busy, have meetings, go to conferences and hang out with other ministry leaders. But small discipleship requires that you have blocks of time that are open for people.

2. Small discipleship isn’t seen.

Your efforts may not be visible until 12 years later when a young man or woman tells you that you’ve changed their life. The in-between times don’t bring any accolades or public pats on the back.

3. Small discipleship is deep.

Surface-level, large discipleship patterns remain entry level as we simply give a sermon or provide training and then hope some of the mud we fling sticks on the wall. Small discipleship naturally hits areas of the heart that pull us, and those we disciple, into the depths of transformation.

4. Small discipleship cannot and should not be monetized.

Large discipleship patterns almost always force us to tie finances to fruit, which is an expensive and dangerous practice. Making disciples is far more economical than keeping consumer Christians coming to our churches.

In almost every aspect of discipleship, Jesus will push us to the small, to the economical, to the unseen and to the deep. Start today by calling a handful of would-be disciples to your side, your life, your King.

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Hugh Halter, an Outreach magazine contributing editor, is the U.S. director of Forge America.