July 2018 Blog Theme: How to Make Disciples Who Make Disciples
After you’ve had individual conversations with potential disciples (see more about this in Week Three of Investing in a Few), it’s time to gather these new disciples into a group. Years ago, there was quite a bit of discussion among disciple-makers as to whether discipleship should take place one on one, or within the context of a group. There are strong arguments on both sides, and quite honestly, either one is fine. I have discipled men one on one, and I have used a group. What matters most is that you are investing in another person’s life. That being said, I do think that the optimal environment for making disciples is a small group of three to four people.
Looking through Scripture, it is clear that God does amazing things in groups. Even God Himself exist in the context of a group, the Trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Genesis 1.26 ESV). When God made man, He created him not for isolation but community: boldly declaring that it is “not good for man to be alone,” (Genesis 2.18 ESV). Then God placed him in the first group, a family, where he could grow and develop. Surveying the landscape of the Old Testament, you see God often working through groups. When God called Abraham to travel from his hometown to the land of Canaan, he chose a small group to surround him, comprised of his wife Sarah and his nephew, Lot, along with his many servants. When God chose Moses to lead the Israelites out of bondage, He chose a small group of three leaders, namely his brother Aaron and his sister Miriam. When God chose to conquer the land promised to Israel, He called out Joshua and Caleb to lead the way. God surrounded Noah with three sons. God surrounded King David with his mighty men.
This is an excerpt from the book Invest in a Few by Craig Etheredge, which you can purchase here.
When you begin to look at Scripture through the lens of groups, you begin to see them everywhere. The same is true in the life of Jesus. When Christ came to ignite a movement, He did it through a group. He chose three in His core – Peter, James and John, but He personally invested in 12. These men later became the leadership team for the early church, forming a group by which decisions could be made (Acts 15.6 ESV), just as Jesus instructed them (Matthew 18.16 ESV). The Apostle Paul often traveled in groups as he planted churches. His inner circle seemed to be comprised of men like Luke, Timothy, Titus, Barnabas, Silas and Mark. Often Paul, when establishing a church, would appoint elders to give oversight to the church (Acts 14.23; Titus 1.5 ESV), and the church regularly gathered in groups (Acts 2.46 ESV).
If you look at the metanarrative of the Gospel, you see the overarching principle that God does big things through small groups. This has also been the case throughout church history. Men like Saint Patrick of Ireland and John Wesley of England used small groups to transform people and cultures. Today, the largest churches in the world are structured around small groups. Greg Ogden, in his article, “The Power of Threes” writes, “Over 20 years ago I stumbled onto groups of three or four (triads/quads) as the most effective way to create a transparent, reproducing, relational environment for transformation into Christlikeness.” [Website gregogden.com]
Why are groups so important to disciple making? King Solomon, the wise King of Israel and son of King David, answers that question. In (Ecclesiastes 4.9-12 ESV), he makes it clear that “two are better than one.” In other words, life is better when it’s lived together. Why? He gives four reasons.
First, we work better together. “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil,” (Ecclesiastes 4.9 ESV). Just as teams tackle a project better when they work together, we serve God better in small groups. As your group begins to meet, you will be working together to learn how to walk with God, reach your world and invest in a few. And you will soon discover that there is a powerful synergy found in a group versus serving God alone.
Second, we learn better together. Solomon continues, “if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up,” (Ecclesiastes 4.10 ESV). In ancient times, shepherds who worked together could help one another, especially if one of them fell down a steep wadi, or stepped into a concealed well. He would definitely need someone to help him out. In the same way, we help each other learn and grow in a group. The people in your group may not physically fall into a hole, but they might fall into discouragement. They might fall into bad decisions. They might stumble into sin. They might fall prey to an unhealthy relationship. And it is in those times, we need people around us to help us. We learn better through other’s insight into the Scriptures. We learn better through mutual accountability and encouragement. We learn better through collective wisdom and prayer.
Third, Solomon says we experience community together, “if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone?”, (Ecclesiastes 4.11 ESV). Shepherds in the field could freeze separately in the cold desert night, but two could keep each other warm. In your group, you will find that there is a warmth of community, a bond that is forged during your time together that will last for years to come. When I see men whom I discipled years ago, we still have a close bond of friendship, all because we experienced community together in our “Grow Group”.
Lastly, we are stronger together. Solomon says, “though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken,” (Ecclesiastes 4.12 ESV) As you begin to invest in other people, Satan isn’t going to like it. The Apostle Paul warns us that we don’t struggle against flesh and blood but against ”…the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness…,” (Ephesians 6.12 ESV). As you seek to follow Jesus and grow to become like Him, your group will experience spiritual warfare. Temptations will assault you. Conflict will rise up. Schedules will become overwhelming. All of these are designed to distract you from doing the one thing Jesus commanded you to do, make disciples. How will you fight through that battle and come out stronger? You do it together. When you pray together, confess your sins together and encourage each other, you become stronger. Just as Roman soldiers covered each other with their shields and worked together to defeat their enemy, your group will see God respond in powerful ways as you fight back to back for each other.
Now, let me say a quick word about gender-specific groups. While churches will often use groups of men and women together for mutual encouragement and community, I strongly believe that “Grow Groups” should be men with men and women with women for the purpose of spiritual multiplication. Why? This clearly was Jesus’ model. While Jesus had both men and women followers, those He invested in personally were all men. Also as you look at Paul’s instruction to Titus, he specifically instructed women to train women and men to train men (Titus 2.1-6 ESV). Gender-specific groups allow you to have an environment of openness and transparency, accountability and understanding that would not be present with a mixed group. Gender-specific groups also allow you to address common challenges that men and women uniquely face. For these reasons, it’s important to keep your “Grow Groups” men with men and women with women.
Written by Craig Etheredge
This blog is an excerpt that comes from our book Invest in a Few, which you can purchase here.