This is part of The False Promise of Discipleship blog series from The Bonhoeffer Project. Read the blog that came right before this one by clicking here.
Discipleship groups will not thrive or reproduce if they’re based solely on reading Scripture and sharing in some sort of openness and accountability. As great as those things are, if they lack the intentionality of challenging people to focus their love— expressed in action—on others, there will be no movement. In fact, groups that are built on such principles often become exclusionary. Discipleship groups should include Bible study, vulnerability and accountability, but the context—the container in which these things make sense and find their bearing—has to be clearly set. Our goal as disciples is to learn to love others. If what we’re doing doesn’t result in that, and if we aren’t explicitly committed to others-centeredness as our end point, then we aren’t following in Jesus’ way of making disciples.
The trickiness in this is, again, how we do it. Most people have vague notions of mission as going down to the soup kitchen or looking for an opportunity to tell someone about Jesus. There’s a lot of demystifying that has to happen, and the key to making discipleship work is to make it concrete and practical, as Jesus always did. Notice how often Jesus gets really concrete with His disciples: Give the people something to eat. Sell what you have and give to the poor. Go to your brother who is offended with you. Love expressed as action—not just sweeping theological statements—is where Jesus usually lands.
How do we form discipleship processes based on practical ways of loving and serving others?
As an example, in my (Brandon’s) community, we have launched discipleship groups of three to six people that meet weekly, at least, and journey together for more than a year. Each meeting has a basic, though very flexible, outline:
1. We start each group by asking the third question: “How’s it going with loving the people Jesus has given you to love?” We have very specific categories for these groups, including Intimates (family and friends), Spiritual Family (our brothers and sisters in Christ), and our Neighbors. We also use the “Person of Peace” concept (our friend Alex Absalom explores this concept in his free eBook The Viral Gospel) to help clarify how we can be aware of where Jesus is clearly at work among our neighbors who don’t identify with Jesus. By asking that question, we interrupt the gravitational pull back toward living only in the, “How am I doing?” question. In fact, more specifically, we focus our discipleship on what it looks like to love our neighbors and persons of peace because there’s always a gravitational pull in human hearts just to focus on loving our family and spiritual family—those people who are often most like us—and avoid our neighbors or neglect to reorient our lives to be with, and for, them.
I find that asking the question—“How’s it going with loving your persons of peace?”—tends to surface any discipleship issue that needs to be addressed. If, for example, someone is running around working 80 hours a week with no time to be with their neighbors or the persons of peace in his life, that will immediately surface. If someone is struggling with hidden sin, they won’t have a lot of energy left over to be with others. Asking the question, “How are you doing loving others?” is the best question for spiritual transformation that lines us up with the mission and heart of Jesus.
2. Our second question and the question we end our time together with is simply,
“What is Jesus speaking to you, and how will you respond this week?” By asking this, we place a value on action beyond mere reflection. We coach people towards specificity so that responding in the week ahead is clear and specific, not vague and ambiguous.
Our goal in our discipleship process, then, is to deconstruct The Human Paradigm, with its focus on arriving, and to replace it with three discipleship pictures:
Illustration 1: Christ-like Disciples are grounded in their ADOPTION. In response to grace of God , they ask, “How can You be this good, God?”
Illustration 2: Disciples lives as AMBASSADORS of the Kingdom of Heaven. They focus on those that Jesus has given them to love, asking, “How am I doing with loving the people that Jesus has given me to love?”)
Illustration 3: Disciples live the ABUNDANT LIFE by listening and responding to Jesus, asking “Jesus, what are you speaking to me?” and then responding. This last question comes closest to the question, “How am I doing?” but now it has been placed in a different context, which changes everything. My response to Jesus has nothing to do with earning anything or trying to get somewhere. Rather, it has everything to do with responding to His goodness. These three pictures are about growing awareness and abiding in Jesus.
In between these two questions, we use materials that center on spiritual practices in three categories (The Slow Life, The Grounded Life, the Generous Life), which are meant to develop awareness of Jesus’ nearness and goodness and our adoption in Him. But we are very clear that the curriculum is not the materials; rather, the curriculum is the actual act of responding to the questions. In fact, we like to call it the “Big Curriculum” because the “Big Curriculum” is life itself that comes at you every day. Discipleship comes when we reorient our lives around being present with others. And in our experience, asking these two questions creates the best crucible for transformation and discipleship that we have found.
These three steps forward are steps among many, but they are significant. The important thing is that you, as a leader, can change the way people approach discipleship, and you can help catalyze a new movement of disciple making in your context.
But wait! You, dear reader, will need to do this yourself! Start by asking yourself these questions.
*Stay tuned by coming back to our blog for the next blog in this series, which will be coming soon!
This is an excerpt from the free eBook written Bill Hull and Brandon Cook of The Bonhoeffer Project. You can download the full eBook on their homepage here.
Bill Hull is a Co-Founder of The Bonhoeffer Project. Bill’s passion is to help the church return to its disciple making roots and he considers himself a discipleship evangelist. This God-given desire has manifested itself in 20 of pastoring and the authorship of many books. Two of his more important books, Jesus Christ Disciple Maker, and The Disciple Making Pastor, have both celebrated 20 years in print. Add his third in the popular trilogy, The Disciple Making Church, and you have a new paradigm for disciple making.
Brandon Cook is the lead pastor at Long Beach Christian Fellowship and a co-founder of The Bonhoeffer Project. Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, he studied at Wheaton College (IL), Jerusalem University College, Brandeis University, and The Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies. He worked as a professional storyteller before joining a transformational training organization and moving to SoCal in 2006, becoming a pastor three years later. Over the course of five years of pastoring, he became convinced that his work—and the work of the church—is to become fully committed to discipleship and making disciple-makers. The Bonhoeffer Project is for him a quest to live into the question “How are people transformed to live and love like Jesus?”
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