It takes a community to make a disciple

Jesus now present in his body, the christian communityBurden of solo discipling

A burden of expectation lurks somewhere at the back of the minds of many Christians. It insinuates that they have neglected a key responsibility. This idea that a believer who is a good disciple will make other disciples who makes other disciples is one that has been embraced by many. The solo Christian is to take a new convert, teach him the basics of Christian living and help him grow mature in Christ, and for him while growing, to make another disciple. By and large, he is on his own in this difficult task, and by and large, he usually fails in multiplication. It is wearisome for anyone to carry the memory of such a discouraging, erosive experience.

Redressing a bias

Perhaps too much have been made of solo discipling. The Scripture may have been made to say more than what it may have said. A re-examination and a re-interpretation of the same texts may reveal an additional perspective that shouts for greater emphasis and weight to redress a Western driven bias towards individual responsibility and action. There is in Scripture a community aspect of disciple making that we have failed to give sufficient weight to. We missed it because our lens are too Western.

It takes a community

An Eastern, and more balanced perspective is this: it takes a whole community to make a disciple. Just as it takes a whole village to raise a child it takes a church to make a disciple. The Gospels  seem to show that Jesus made disciples solo, and discipling actions emanated from him and the disciples’ learning was centered around Jesus. The rabbi of Jesus’ time would have followers and learners whose lives revolved around learning and imitating their leader, despite his imperfections. Jesus however was God incarnate, perfect and sinless, and filled with the Spirit without measure. The Twelve had a perfect model.

Discipling by the Spirit

With the ascension of Jesus and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit a new way of discipling has been opened up. Jesus was no longer around. He said, It is to your advantage that I go away. Now I am limited by my physical body. When I am gone the Spirit will come on you and where a community is gathered in my name, there I am in their midst; there is the body of Christ. In effect, the discipling that was centered around Jesus when he was physically present, has now shifted to the community, the body indwelt by Christ. Now it is the Christian community, together reflecting the fruit of the Spirit, and releasing the gifts of the Spirit, that makes a disciple. Discipling is still “centered around Jesus”, but Jesus is now present to us as a body, a community of believers not a solo disciple. This insight was developed most thoroughly and clearly in a book titled “Making Disciples” by Sylvia Collinson. Obviously no one person have all the strengths of character and gifts we see in Jesus. It takes the Spirit working through a whole community to get anywhere close to that. It takes a community to make a disciple!

Revival community

Let me give an example of what it means for a community to make a disciple. I became a Christian in a revival that began in Dunearn Tech Sec School. It happened around the same time as the ACS clock-tower revival but it developed differently: it became a church. It was a  revival of tears, love and joy: one where the deep moving of the Spirit resulted in hundreds turning to Christ and being baptized, filled with the Spirit and having their lives transformed. I was one of them. As I reflected on my experience, I noticed I did not have a solo Christian who discipled me. There were key encouragers who told stories, shared experiences and life. There were the values of the revival community: intense prayer, enthusiastic evangelism and missions, love for the Word, desire for spiritual gifts, great love for one another, that I saw lived out in the lives, activities and ministry of the people of the revival. It was a community and its values that discipled me, a socialization for citizenship in the kingdom. I learned behaviors, values and beliefs just by being deeply enmeshed in the social interaction, and involved in the community’s life and activites. The Spirit that indwells the community was implementing His curriculum in His time and in His way.

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  • Hi, thanks for touching on this topic which is close to the heart of many and also sometimes needs more clarification and re-examination.

    I really believe in discipleship but I find myself most of the time questioning the processes. Many times I see disciplship processes turning into a form of academia, or just a place to study and download Christian knowledge in order to fulfill a curriculum. On the other hand, I read and heard about discipleship groups turning into a platform where leaders “control” the flock.

    I am not interested in how discipleship groups can be abuse. I think enough have been said about it. Lets look forward!:)

    I like to seek your opinion with regards to discipleship in the Cell group context.
    I would assume that generally most Christians are integrated into a Cell group and should be growing, but it seems not to be the case when we look deeper. If community is vital to the growth of a disciple, won’t a believer be able to benefit in a Cell group context?

    • Hi Pilgrim,
      The cell group is meant to be an ideal discipleship and learning community. The early church communities were as small as most houses were in those days- a max seating of 20 would be luxurious. The “cell groups” in Acts 2:42-47, 1 Cor 12-14 give us an idea of what community life meant for them then. Vibrant communities with strong values and expressions of loving relationships, prayer, Gospel, and every member participation in edification and witness will make better disciples than those that are “controlling”, “networking”, and “administrative units” of the larger church. The failure to grow disciples cannot be summed up in one factor; it is complex. It has to do with life and culture more than organizational inefficiencies. I do not have answers and am still an enquirer. What is your experience of disciple making in the cell group? What do you attribute the lack of spiritual growth in cell members to?

  • But does our discipleship make us aware of our social responsibilities or does it make us immune to injustices!

    • Discipleship will lead us to address social needs and injustice. Thankfully we have some outstanding examples of this, a case in point: the abolition of slavery in England and America.

  • Good stuff, Kenny! These views need to be heard and applied much more broadly if we are going to do justice to ‘the gospel of the Kingdom’ and how we express our lives in God’s special Kingdom community(ies) we’re part of.

    More please.


  • Sorry for the late reply as I was not around at my desk for the past few days.

    Yes, I do agree that the failure to grow as disciples cannot be summed up in one factor.

    To address your questions. I am an enquirer myself too, but allow me to give my humble opinion…

    Individual members has also a part to play in cultivating his/ her walk with God even though it needs the community. What the community can do is to demonstrate love and authenticity with one another. It doesn’t matter if you have messed up or you are super-spiritual. We are all “broken” people on the way to becoming Chirst-like. I think building lives should precede any sort of agenda on the To-Do list of the CG. One way of building the lives of one another is to point one another back to the hope of the Gospel and our inheiritence in Him. Can we incorporate these 2 aspect of the Christian faith into our teaching, ministering and evangelising? I believe they are the essence of who we are and what we do, but it takes constant encouragement. Encouragement should be prime in a discipleship setting. Too many times we want to hurry the growth process and have very little patience and love for people. To be blunt, sometimes we want the people we disciple to conform to our timeline or our expectation of what a disciple should look like. Peter knows deeply of the grace of God because Jesus has met Him in all his flaws and with all his shortcomings. Peter was not changed by participating in a programme but by a Person, which is the very Life(Jesus) of his discipleship.

    I think Life-ly cells and not just lively cells play a part in discipleship. We are looking for Life and not just for something to take part in. Life is found in Christ and ultimately Christ is the builder of lives. The hope is that no one is disqualified to be a disciple and every true believer can be part of the growing journey which is in Christ. So take heart, discipleship is not for the elite or those that have got it all together but for those who know that, “…he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Christ who calls you is faithful and He will do it!

    • Yes Pilgrim, one underestimated power in discipleship is the power of the Gospel to change lives and I am not talking about the four spiritual laws but much more. The more a community experiences the power of the Gospel in their life experience, the more its impact is magnified, made desirable to others, and become a deeply embedded value in the kingdom community. An alive cell is one where people experience in increasing measure the power of the gospel that is both vertical and horizontal in direction.

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