It Takes A Village To Raise A Disciple
Like ‘prayer’, ‘discipleship’ is a subject spoken much about but practiced little. So at risk of continuing the trend, I would like to extend the conversation that I pray may help us move from theory to practice.
Among the casualties of our modern era is a model of discipleship that has grown increasingly individualistic. Many fine books filled with insightful advice consume space on our shelves, yet even a good portion off these are directed at the individual attempt to disciple another. Popular multiplication models often start with the notion that ‘one’ believer disciples ‘two’, who each then commit to discipling two again, thus beginning a catalyst of discipleship with exponential growth capacity. The math is solid, but the premise is flawed.
You see, I don’t have what it takes to make a disciple. But we do.
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16-20 ESV)
“Eleven disciples went to Galilee.” “When they saw him.” “Jesus came and said to them.” This was always about discipleship in the context of community. Even the model by which Jesus discipled was deeply rooted in community. The Great Commission isn’t an eleven-fold individual call to go and make disciples, it was about creating communities of faith that would exist as environments of establishment, development, training, and sending. To attempt otherwise is to invite failure and foster shortcoming.
I’ve heard push-back on this of course, mostly by people who point to Paul and the way he discipled men like Timothy or Titus. “Paul says to ‘follow me as I follow Christ’”, they state, but consider this: Acts 11 records a church plant in Antioch that was breaking new ground. Jews and Gentiles were mixing it up in ways unheard of, so much so that news makes it way back south to Jerusalem. Barnabas is sent off on a fact-finding mission and soon gets swept up in the mission unfolding in the north. The church was exploding, the leaders needed help, so Barnabas heads off to find Paul.
So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians. (Acts 11:25-26 ESV)
At the very least, the ‘they’ mentioned here was both Paul and Barnabas, but probably included others who had begun the work there initially, and could have even included those listed in Acts 13. Fast forward a few years to a young Timothy who joins the planting team. Sure, he was being deeply impacted by Paul’s faith and zeal, after all, Paul would later refer to him as being like a ‘son in the faith’, but Paul wasn’t the only one a part of this team. Timothy was spending time with a band of brothers bigger than Paul. Yes, he was being mentored by a driven leader with a deep faith and mind second to none, but he was also traveling with Joseph, the ‘son of encouragement’, who modelled a leadership and ministry vastly different to Paul’s, and often a team of many more.
Yet even if we were to think of Paul’s leadership and theology as lending itself to a lone-wolf style of ministry and discipleship, we haven’t stopped to consider his own exhortations. Years later his letter to his once young protege is one of the key places we turn to in understanding the significance of a plurality of leadership, as is his other pastoral letter to one of his other young interns, Titus. Much of Paul’s writing is dominated by the ‘one another’ commands of Christian growth, all of which were most certainly intended to be understood and expressed within a community context.
One of the greatest inhibitors of modern discipleship is a hesitancy to invest in another due to feelings of inadequacy. “I don’t think I’ve got what it takes to disciple someone”, has been one of the most repeated responses I’ve heard. My answer to that? “You’re right. You don’t have what it takes. But we do.” It takes a village to raise a disciple. It always has. No matter how gifted I am, how experienced I am, how motivated I am, I will never be able to replicate what a community of God’s redeemed people can achieve.
Village Discipleship Tips
Get together to read the Bible in groups, reminding each other of the sufficiency of Scripture to achieve sanctification beyond anything behavioural modification programs will ever be able to.
Schedule coffee and meals with groups, exposing new believers to groups of Christians who model maturity in varied expressions.
With at least three or four others join a community group, like a sporting team or an hobby group, and then debrief your experiences in starting personal conversations that expose your faith.
Practice hospitality and social activities in groups, modelling how the gospel transforms conversations and entertainment.
Serve your church community in teams, allowing the gifting and experience of multiple people to broaden a new disciple’s view of Christian service.
Where at all possible, encourage groups to take ’mission exposure’ trips, rather than just individuals going away for a ‘mission experience’. This will maximise the community impact on discipleship and will reinforce the premise that the mission of God to make disciples to the ends of the earth was always intended to be a corporate strategy.
Where an individual has a growing relationship with an unbeliever where they are sharing their faith, encourage them to as soon as is possible begin exposing this person to other believers. This allows exposure to the gospel in a community context, which is a broader expression of the gospel at work and one of the means through which God uses the Good News to bring to life dead hearts.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35 ESV)