Here we are at the brink of summer. This is the point, at least for me, of greatest potential. All those sunny, warm days are out in front of me, and I feel a small bit of pressure not to blow it. One of the activities I plan to complete with my youngest daughter is a Century Ride — an organized 100-mile bicycle tour, and one of the items on my bucket list.
The whole idea of a bucket list is a relatively new phenomenon. But to limit our lives to a series of single events in order to call it complete might not be the healthiest approach to life, and this mentality is certainly antithetical to discipleship. In fact, discipleship may come closer to establishing your life as a bucket list in and of itself. Discipleship and making disciples are not linear processes, in which we check off items one by one. Discipleship is simultaneous and concurrent. Within the many models of discipleship, we must keep in mind the constant nature of growing disciples. While a linear model of life growth may work on paper, it is not reality. And in my own life I’ve learned that my formation is always in motion—I tend to either spiral one way or another. We are always being spiritually formed, because discipleship is not a static condition.
Second Corinthians 3:18 tells us that we are being transformed in Christ’s image from “glory to glory.” At my church we have identified 4 areas of discipleship in which we are challenging our worshipers to grow: ministry/service, knowledge, devotion, community. We acknowledge that most of the time people will likely not be running on all proverbial “cylinders” in all these areas at the same time. But it’s exactly because of this reality that we want to keep these areas top-of-mind for each person.
So where does this intersect with groups and your groups ministry? Given the concurrent and overlapping nature of life, we are beginning to create disciple-making environments with greater intentionality. And, frankly, we’re moving away from recent trends, in that we plan to ask more of our disciples, not less. Here are 3 disciple-making environments we’ve identified for maximizing discipleship within your groups effort:
1. Life on Life. This environment is comprised of 3-4 growing disciples that meet every other week wherever it is convenient. Actually, the frequency of the meetings isn’t as important as the need to have a plan and be committed. We call them Fight Clubs and have made this a very organic, grassroots movement that would defy any attempt to call it a program. We want this to be off the grid, so to speak. This is a time of encouragement in the areas identified above, where group members can get into the details of life. But it’s not accountability. Jonathan Dodson’s Gospel-Centered Discipleship suggests that these triads begin with a text, move to the theology of the text, and conclude with an application of the theology.
2. Life in Community. This environment is the core of your groups ministry. At our church we call these groups Life Groups. Some say Sunday School. Others call them Community Groups. Your Life in Community space is highly organized and serves as one of your primary vehicles for assimilation, biblical truth, and disciple-making. Discussion and sharing is crucial, but Bible study is the objective, whether you advocate Sunday morning groups, home groups, or a hybrid model.
Also, curriculum choices for Life in Community should not be taken lightly. Life application, theology, and Scripture are imperatives in this disciple-making space. Different from Life on Life, this environment uses community as its chief means for facilitating disciple-making. Whereas Life on Life elevates mentoring and practice, Life in Community elevates knowledge and relationship — although all four elements should be present in both environments.
3. Life on Mission. Both Life on Life and Life in Community foster a sense of posture. The proper posture inclines a disciple more toward the work of the Holy Spirit. This means that Life on Life and Life in Community advance disciple-making by affecting a disciple’s heart, mind, and soul. Life on Mission, it could be said, asks a disciple to activate his strength. Life on Mission requires action. Obviously, creating environments that best allow for the Holy Spirit to work is significant in disciple-making. But let’s face it, “posture” alone doesn’t necessarily do anything. Rather, posture puts a disciple in a willing position for mission, ministry, and service. Still, Life on Life and Life in Community serve very effectively as conduits for Life on Mission. After all, these groups very often contribute to missionality in their local communities as well as mission opportunities requiring greater commitments.
Life on Mission is the natural and logical culmination of group life, and it is very tempting to measure success in disciple-making through Life on Mission in some way. Truthfully, it isn’t a bad idea. I would just caution against an over-emphasis in this regard that might result in a deficiency in a disciple’s rightful posture.
What you call these environments and different levels isn’t important. However, thinking in terms of disciple-making environments as a means for organizing groups and understanding the interpersonal dynamic represent a good way — certainly not the only way — to make disciples. This is also a great way to combat the programmatic, single-event, “bucket list” mentality that tends to elbow its way into effective disciple-making ministry.
Brian Daniel leads the discipleship publishing team within Groups Ministry at LifeWay. He has written multiple small-group Bible studies and contributes to several blogs, including Walt Disney World News Today. He also co-hosts the Groups Matter Podcast Show with Rick Howerton and the SEC Spin Radio Show during football season. He and his wife Karen live in Hendersonville, TN, where he heads up discipleship at Grace Church. He has two daughters, Ashton and Schuyler. You can follow Brian on Twitter: @BCDaniel.