Discipleship in a Group Context

“…you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (NIV) -I Peter 2:5

1. Growth is Normal

We believers, when healthy, experience an ongoing growth process of abandoning ourselves to God against the tide of our own flesh and the world system. Being led by, filled with, and walking in the Holy Spirit, we often find ourselves spiritually exercised in the midst of personal and public trials from these forces. In the soil of such a life, the fruits of the Spirit grow and we are maturing. Those described in this way are disciples. (Rom 12:1-2 this response to Him is only reasonable.)

2. Carnality is Abnormal

Instead of maturing by way of discipleship, we believers can and do experience our new life as carnal believers, quenching and grieving the Spirit within us (I Cor 1:2, 3:3-5). Carnality is different from the continuing struggle with our flesh, it is a life where struggle is a mere whimpering before we yield consistently to the flesh till we appear void of the fruits of the Spirit as demonstrated by our actions. When this carnal state is observed in a brother or sister among us, we are responsible to lovingly confront them (Gal 6:1-2), knowing that we have experienced our new life in that way too, and could easily enough slip back into that fleshly tyranny.

3. Growth Brings a New Frame of Reference

Discipleship is a difficult journey with a very high cost to our natural self, with its desires, values, and determined self-preservation in this temporal world. God is ever at work for our eternal, spiritual good: destroying our pride, stretching our faith in circumstance, and revealing our true desire and estate to us through trial. As we learn to yield to Him with growing consistency, our minds are renewed, replacing the values of the world with the values of heaven, values that are always in opposing contention.

4. Growth Leads Away from the World’s Values

We grow out of sync with the people and the world around us. From the world, we experience loss of respect and acceptance, and eventually, opposition. More difficult to endure, we sometimes receive the same from believers who remain blinded by the world and operate in the flesh. As we all know, during these times we can find ourselves in desperate need of comfort and encouragement from those who are likewise in the press of following Him. Only those enduring the rigors of following Christ themselves might understand us, while all others reject us by misunderstanding, misrepresenting, and misconstruing us, using as they do the world system’s values, all the while convinced they are doing God service.

5. Growth is a Group Process

The church is comprised of all believers in a locality who have received the new birth by the Spirit into the family of God, also being baptized by the Spirit into the Body of Christ. These relationships are the two great metaphors in scripture for the church: Family; Christ’s Body. Our resulting relationship to Father and to Jesus as Head of the church also establishes our relationship with one another, a community of growing disciples. That community provides a supportive, nurturing resource for our survival in the midst of this present world system. The church gathers—saints assembling together—to share in their journey, finding and giving mutual encouragement in the race, and provoking one another to continue in two things: love and good works (Heb 10:24-25). These normal, fallible, stumbling but enduring disciples who love brother, sister and enemy, doing good to all, provide a natural model and example to each other and to carnal believers (Heb 5:12; I Peter 2:1-25).

“In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” (NIV) -Ephesians 2:21-22

6. Growth Changes our Foundational Motivations

Normal, healthy disciples reach out in familial fashion to freely give and gladly receive help from others in the family. A mutuality of ministry among peers is natural for we slaves, servants, and saints who are continually being humbled, and who are learning to hold others in higher esteem than ourselves. A selfless love, an other-centered love in action, reaction, and interaction becomes the glue, replacing hierarchy, organizational structure and/or rules (II Cor 3:6, 4:5). This loving bond is God’s great apologetic for those presently without Him in these days (Jn 17:17-21).

7. Growth Requires Interaction

Discipleship cannot be accomplished in the classroom through lecture and bible studies. In discipling one another, we must pour our lives into each other on the blackboard of real life ministry and struggles written with the ink of tears and sweat that reveal us enduring despite faltering. The Teacher is Christ in and through us, in and through others. (II Tim 2:2, 3:10-14). The very Father that advised dads: “And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy child” where? when? “shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up,” teaches us the same way. (Deut 6:4-9) All the time. Every day. Enduring these circumstances together transparently, we teach about our doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, long-suffering, charity, and patience. Together we learn firsthand that through all struggles and trials the Lord delivers us. (I Cor 2:3-5.)

8. Growth Entwines our Lives Together

This is church, this intertwining of lives under the leadership of Jesus Christ in the trenches of shared everyday life. As saints walk and work together united in a common faith under Jesus Christ as Head of the church (the gathered and enfolded lives of saints), other-centered-love abounds in good works. This is church, where interwoven disciples dare not forsake gathering together, not for some well-constructed, learned Sunday lecture, but for every opportunity they can find to be together:

“Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; and having an high priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) and let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” -Heb 10:19-25

9. Growth Calls us to Ministry

Such disciples dare not forsake assembling together even when other believers demand they do in God’s name as separate local churches, denominations, and parachurch ministries. The life of these intertwined disciples were never meant to be divided by these human structures. There is only one “local church” in a locality- that being all those who are believers in that locality. As disciples grow and mature, the other-centered love welling within them will be a unifying force under the Headship of Christ in spite of human divisions. Disciples will be open to interaction with all members of the local church, as well as caring for churches in other regions and countries. (Matt 18:17; Acts 11:22, 13:1, 15:4, 20:17; Rom 16:4; I Cor 16:19; Gal 1:2, 22)

10. The Abnormal Church and Christian is our Common, Current Experience

For the most part, our model of church today has become a nursing ward to provide life support for carnal believers (Heb 5:11-13). We accept carnal believers as the norm, rather than confront them and help them deal with unrepentant sin and self-rule as our Lord gave instruction (Matt 18:14-22). We mold ourselves around the lowest saint’s level en masse, dooming the whole body of saints to feebleness, requiring a professional clergy. The carnal believers, inexperienced themselves in the difficulty and cost of discipleship, then hold these clergymen to unreal expectations and ask them to fulfill an impossible role. This breeds a whole cycle of unhealthiness and codependency in both themselves and in those they ask to lead them in the way worldly organizations are led–by authority of position, that which Jesus denied His followers. A growing number of believers are no longer satisfied with the constraints of churches that offer such a poor example of radical commitment and little opportunity for genuine discipleship. It would have been easier to walk around the mud-pit, but we have en masse marched into it, and now we are faced with climbing out that slippery hole, and it is near impossible to get the mud off of us now. The whole local church will rarely be able to gather together in one group, nor (unfortunately) would they want to do so. Even from the beginning, the church met in smaller groups, the number limited by their typical venue: a home. As we try to recover from carnality and rebellion, we are to invest out time and energy wisely. Paul advised Timothy to invest his time with those who would be faithful in passing that on, disciples who will make disciples who will make disciples. II Tim 2:2