I once sat in on a small group gathering that blindsided me. I had been invited to what I had been told was a group of Christ followers truly on a discipleship journey. This was the flagship group for a church supposedly desperately involved in disciple-making. I anticipated the quoting of memorized Scripture, the celebrating of prayer requests that had been answered, reports from those who had witnessed to a friend or neighbor, and maybe some sin confession. Instead, I experienced a small group of men discussing a chapter of a book they’d been reading. To say the least . . . I was stunned.
They had a super conversation, even some debate. There was talk of the author’s motive for writing the book, discussion concerning some of the principles the author was espousing, and a couple of guys even mentioned that they wished someone would have told them about this book years ago. The author got kudos, Jesus was never mentioned. There was a closing prayer and everyone was off to work.
I’d love to say that most groups haven’t diminished to being book clubs. But I think some of our groups struggle with this. I must be honest and say that some I’ve led were no more than a discussion based on a study or book. Why is this so? This is so because we misunderstand the discipleship process as well as the role of books and studies in the disciple-making process.
Discipleship is a “come follow me” relationship, not a come study with me relationship. Jesus didn’t ask those He chose to be His disciples to come do a study with Him. He invited them to be with Him. They saw what He did then did what He had done. They watched His lifestyle then chose to live that lifestyle. Sometimes their curiosity led them to ask Jesus to teach them to do what He had done. An illustration . . . Jesus prayed then the disciples asked Him to teach them to pray. It is at this point that we hear what we call, “The Lord’s Prayer.” They were within close enough proximity to see Him, be with Him, and long to become like Him.
Books and studies are vital in the discipleship process but we must remember this as we utilize them. They are a tool in the disciple-making toolbox, not the tool. Believing that the completion of a study makes a disciple is like believing a football player knowing the playbook makes them an all American football player. It just ain’t so. Players need knowledge and coaches. So do disciples. Knowledge is gained by doing a study or reading a book together. But, in order for someone to become a mature disciple they need a person who is a model, a mentor, and who challenges them to go into uncomfortable places to carry out biblical expectations. And they need to know that that person has been with and is being like Jesus.
Rick Howerton believes the world will know the gospel when there is “a biblical small group within walking distance of every person on the planet.” He lives to see this goal accomplished. Follow him on Twitter @RickHowerton.
CC Image • TheRevSteve on Flickr