Pastorpedia: What Counts as Discipleship?

What does discipleship look like?

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“Who is in your discipleship group?”

All of us in church-work use the term. “Discipleship” as referred to in the Great Commission of our Lord, bold-lined as Jesus left planet Earth. All pastors refer to it at times. Many books explain what a disciple looks like.

“What is the best discipleship program for our church?” is one of the most-asked questions I get as a coach for pastors. My answer starts with a question: “Who is in your discipleship group?”

Often the answer is silence, or the mention of a home group of 15.

Perhaps strong discipleship-accountability instead starts there in the pastor’s schedule.

You decide.

Hoping to help,

Knute Larson, with Jeff Bogue and Jim Brown

Read the conversation here or download the PDF »

Is there any room to use the word “discipleship” in a generic way?

Jeff Bogue

• I suppose, however, the more clearly defined the better. I find everything gets lumped into “discipleship” when it’s actually not discipleship. A clean definition is the best use of the word. I believe we misdefine discipleship by thinking that education and discipleship are simultaneous. The Scripture is clear that we can fill our heads with knowledge without filling our hearts with love.

Jim Brown

• The term is a catchall, but we define it by asking, “What does a fully devoted follower of Jesus look like?”
• It often is limited to knowledge only, rather than living it out. That is not discipleship.
• I actually believe the best way to describe it can be found in Luke 2:52, where Jesus grew in four areas: Intellectually, physically, relationally, and spiritually.
• There must be accountability attached to discipleship for it to be lived out.
• Discipleship is a by-product of the gospel.
• By the way, a fully devoted follower must be actively sharing his or her faith.

Knute Larson

• Surely, if you mean the whole church exists to help people become believers who grow in all areas of following Jesus and abiding in him. But the pastor and staff might have to believe these two truths also:
1. The best discipleship involves obedience to Christ in details, and usually includes man to man or a woman to woman sharpening. It best happens when 4-7 men or 4-7 women meet regularly (at least twice a month) to carefully apply verses in the Bible that deal with character and the church. 2. That the pastor and staff would each lead such a group.
• Surely the whole church should be about discipleship if you mean helping people come to faith in Christ (“make disciples of all nations”) and grow in applying the teachings to all of life (“teaching them to observe all things I have commanded”). Meetings that are for other purposes and not aimed toward these high purposes for the church probably should be evaluated and sometimes cut.
• I have found in 55 years of church work that some groups called discipleship are really ice cream socials.

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Must the staff take the lead in discipleship?

Jeff Bogue

• The staff needs to lead, but they need to lead by modeling what it means to be in a spiritual relationship with the people around them.
• Ideally every staff person should be discipling about three people at a minimum or have three environments in which they are discipling.

Jim Brown

• Yes, for you should never ask or require of someone else what you aren’t willing to do yourself. Servant leadership is key for leading the way in discipleship.
• Your actions will speak louder than your words.
• Every staff member should be mentoring/discipling others. The gospel was never meant to stop with us, but to be passed on!
• We are plan A, and there is no Plan B for the gospel.

Knute Larson

• And not just on paper. And not by having announcements made about joining a group “where you get challenged to be candid about marriage, weaknesses, secret habits, witnessing, money stewardship, and more”! No one would volunteer for that!Rather, staff must quietly invite 4-6 men or women into a regular discipleship/accountability group for at least two times a month and for two years. (Over Internet if necessary during Covid.)A good plan is to meet for two years and then reproduce two or three new groups led by some of these men and covering the same questions, if they are good about character and the church. (Care to see a sample?)

Yes, also in the sense that the staff does not just craft vision statements and discipleship philosophy, but clearly train leaders of small groups on how to get to life-application questions and even how to sometimes divide groups of 8-15 into men and women groups for more personal application.No question that small mixed groups can do much good for community and love and Bible application. But try asking five couples in a group how their marriages are and you will likely get eight or nine smiles. But if the men and women meet separately for a while, you will probably get more candor and accountability. Ask a mixed group if anybody’s tempted by pornography or bad stuff on their screen, and you’ll get no volunteers. But five men who begin to trust each other might have one or two talk about it and get help.

Is discipleship harder for the pastor of a small church?

Jeff Bogue

• In some ways it’s easier because your discipleship and your ministry training will overlap, if you use them correctly, because of the size of your church.
• The advantage the pastor of a small church has is that he can know the people on a more personal level. So when it comes to the opportunity to truly press into their lives, being around them and living more life with them is only an advantage when it comes to helping them grow spiritually.

Jim Brown

• I have pastored every size of churches, and all present the same kind of challenges. Yet there is great benefit in knowing each person in smaller churches and shaping ministries to narrow in on the specific needs.
• My philosophy remains the same: minister to those that show up!
• The personal interaction in smaller churches is powerful!
• Regardless of size, find a path that spurs your church on to good works!

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Knute Larson

• I do not think so. I have walked beside over 100 pastors in coaching and many of them are in small churches – the issue of whether they lead their own discipleship group or ask it of others seems to have nothing to do with size of the church. (I think it is a blind spot.)Actually there probably should be some advantage to knowing most of the people in the church and even to figure out who would be interested in and benefit from Scripture applied to life in a very personal setting.
• As you can tell, I think it is hard for every pastor, given schedule or the blind spot or sometimes nerve. Real discipleship is hard work. Especially the first step toward asking somebody to be in such a group. We should have ways of getting to know the people of our church, and always be on the lookout for those who have strong potential to help serve and lead. In regular non-shutdown times, I advocate a “open breakfast” type meeting regularly, and always thinking and praying about the potential of people.
• A simplistic formula for a good group: TLC—Time together, Love shown and Content of the Bible that meets and challenges the heart!

Time together: twice a month at minimum, all year long, for at least two years. Usually at least 70 to 90 minutes a session.

Love shown: As a leader you show a lot of interest in each one in the group, you listen as they speak. You are kind to them. You help the group to meet their needs that arise.

Content of Scripture that challenges the heart: Not just facts like one question in a guide for discipleship I have, “What did Jesus say to call the storm at sea?” But instead, “When do you feel like your spirit is in a storm, and you needed the presence of our Lord? How do you seek his help?”

Watch more videos from Pastorpedia »

Jeff Bogue, of Grace Church, in several locations in the Bath-Norton-Medina areas of Ohio; Jim Brown, of Grace Community Church in Goshen, Indiana, a church known for its strong growth, family and men’s ministries, and community response teams; and Knute Larson, a coach of pastors, who previously led The Chapel in Akron for 26 years.

CENational.org/pastorpedia
Vol. 7, Issue 12 | December 2020

Pastorpedia is a resource produced by CE National, a church effectiveness ministry. Here’s how CE National helps to equip pastors and church leaders. Please contact us at [email protected] or 574.267.6622 if we may be of any help to you or your ministry.