Shifting from Discipleship Programs to Purpose

When Jesus said to go and make disciples, he defined his methodology by his own example. Jesus’s methods were more involved than just standing up in front of people and teaching them biblical truth. He walked alongside people – holding conversations with them through the course of the day. He held them accountable and demonstrated truth to them directly as they went. And history has proven that his methodology worked!

In today’s culture, it can be challenging to be relational the way Jesus was with the people of his day. Most of us lead busy lives. Lives that separate us from others in our offices, cubicles, and homes. We drive alone in our cars to where we need to go – we often eat our meals separately or on the run getting ready to be somewhere. Times have changed from when people used to live and work in a town where the saw their neighbors on a daily basis.

Jim Putman, author of this blog, is one of the speakers at this year’s National Disciple Making Forum. Learn more and register here.

Even so – that doesn’t mean that we have to come up with a new method for making disciples. It just means we need to become more creative and seek out ways to be relational with others. Jesus modeled the point that proximity is essential to the learning process. He walked alongside the disciples and they were able to watch in real time the ways he lived out an example for them to follow. Proximity allows space and time for unplanned, teachable moments. This is also true in the discipleship process where regular interaction with caring, biblical leaders prompts spiritual growth.

Many pastors balk at this idea.

They immediately see the challenge required and feel overwhelmed. After all – gathering all the people together at once and having one person teach them is a way better use of time and resources, right? And it is true – Jesus did spent time teaching the crowds. But every bit of truth he taught to the crowds was explained and modeled with his disciples in a small group format, or one-on-one. And no matter how many times He spoke to the crowds,  Jesus only made 12 disciples.

This is the reason many churches need to make a shift from program to purpose. And that doesn’t mean just adopting the idea of small groups. A small group, in and of itself, can become just another program if it is not designed to promote discipleship.

A small group designed specifically to promote relational discipleship has certain characteristics.

It should be:

  • Bible Centered
  • Intentional directing people to the goal of spiritual maturity.
  • A safe place where people can honestly talk about their lives and work out what it means to follow Jesus.

The group also needs to be more that just a two hour weekly commitment in the lives of the attendee’s. There does need to be a specific weekly time for the group to meet, but the group members should become involved in each others lives outside the group during the other 168 hours of the week. While the meeting time provides structure and regularity, the real goal is relational growth and connection which leads to spiritual growth in following Jesus together.


Written by Jim Putman

This was originally posted on Jim Putman’s blog here. Used with permission.

Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

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