Home Small Group Leaders Articles for Small Group Leaders Making Disciples Out of Your Small Group Members

Making Disciples Out of Your Small Group Members

Over the last few months I have become deeply focused on what it means to make disciples. Due to the fact that Christianity is declining in the western world, I believe we have to take a serious look at what might be the causes. I believe one of those causes may be small groups neglecting to make disciples. It seems we’ve concluded that, if we get people in a group that they are going to grow to spiritual maturity. But, is there more to it than this?

What does the term disciple mean? It means to be a pupil, a learner; a disciple, a follower of Christ who learns the doctrines of Scripture and the lifestyle they require.

Researching the relationship between a Rabbi and his disciples aided greatly in understanding the discipleship process. Jesus was the ultimate Rabbi so, considering the role and lifestyle of a Rabbi in Jesus’ time is vital to understanding how He discipled. Below you’ll find a few important facts.
About Jesus the Rabbi and Rabbi’s in Jesus’ day:
·      No less than 10 times in the gospels Jesus is called Rabbi.
·      Rabbis interpreted scripture, taught scripture, and told parables. Some went from village to village teaching in the synagogues as did Jesus.
·      Rabbis were never paid and relied on the hospitality of others to survive.
·      Rabbis often took disciples who would study under their tutelage, traveling with the Rabbi for years.
The Disciples’ Lifestyle:
·      A disciple was under the tutelage of, not just learning the teachings of, a Rabbi.
·      “Following” a rabbi meant a literal following. Disciples traveled with, watched the rabbi, then imitated what the rabbi did.
·      The disciple would see how a rabbi taught but watched the rabbi’s reactions in certain life situations and well as the manner in which the rabbi lived his life.
·      The disciple followed the rabbi everywhere and the disciple’s hearts were challenged and changed.
·      The disciple often shared in the homelessness of the rabbi which helped the disciple to understand and live a life of holiness.
(Much thanks to the authors of Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus for what you see in the list above.)
As you look over these two lists it’s much easier to understand some of the statements of Jesus concerning the costs of being a disciple.
Jesus wasn’t hesitant when He spoke to those who wanted to be one of His followers. He raised the bar so high that many, maybe most of them turned and went back home. To follow Jesus meant giving up more than most in our culture could even consider. Let’s face it, we find it difficult to get small group members to commit to a group covenant!
So… What does Jesus expect of those who are His disciples? Jesus expects His disciples too…
1. Make our relationship with Jesus more important than the relationship we have with anyone else, even our own their families. Jesus said, If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26)
2. Give up the comforts of home, even be willing to be homeless for His sake.  On one occasion a man said to Jesus,“I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus response was as follows, ““Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”  (Matthew 8:20) If we are unable to give up the comforts of home then we need not consider being one of Jesus’ disciples. Leaving the plush life and warmth of our homes may be a request Jesus makes of us.
3. We must be willing to set aside cultural norms when they contradict God’s norms. Also in Matthew 8… a second man wanted to be a follower/disciple of Christ but then said to Jesus, “first let me bury my father.” Jesus response sounds uncaring and unkind. Jesus said to the man, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” Many Jews regarded the commandment to honor father and mother as the supreme commandment. Jesus is telling this man that no matter what it is that seems to be more important than following Him, even if the culture sees that thing as supreme above all other expectations, that following Him trumps even that thing.
4. A Disciple of Jesus cannot love money. A rich young man once approached Jesus and asked Jesus what he needed to do to have eternal life. Jesus didn’t see salvation apart from being a disciple. In fact, when Jesus responded to the young man He said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” (Matt. 19:21 – 22) Jesus is telling the young man that he must be willing to give up all his treasure if he’s going to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Loving and living for money and following Jesus cannot co-exist. You know why? Because, as Jesus reminds us, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Matthew 6:24)
5. A true disciple cannot remain silent about Jesus, their rabbi. In the book of Mark when Jesus speaks of following Him, He includes this convicting statement… “whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:38) Jesus is telling those who would choose to follow Him that, if you’re going to follow Him, no matter what your friends, co-workers, or family members think of you or says about you, if you’re going to be one of Jesus’ disciples, you will speak of Him to those in the generation in which He has placed you, no matter what the cost… embarrassment, ridicule, loss of relationship, no matter what it costs you.
6. A disciple of Jesus Christ must be willing to die for Him. Jesus said, “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:28)  Every person within earshot of this statement had most likely seen a crucifixion. They were fully aware that anyone who was crucified had to carry his own cross beam through the streets where crucifixion would take place. They were from Galilee. Less than 20 years before Jesus made this statement a group of Jews tried to throw the Romans out. The Romans won the battle and lined the streets with crosses and hanging on those crosses were the bodies of more than 2,000 Jews. These people realized that Jesus was speaking of dying for the sake of Christ.
And then, as if Jesus wanted to be certain we knew that NOTHING should come before Him, He declared, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:33)
So… Here’s the question… At what point, if ever, do we make small group members aware of these expectations?
Maybe a better question is this one… In our longing to “get people to join the church and stick,” have we purposefully ignored these expectations of Jesus?
Maybe an even better question than that one is this one… Has our paradigm of discipleship devolved so much that, when we read these, we perceive them as being out of touch, out of sync with reality, and no longer valid? 
Over the Christmas break I began reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s, The Cost of Discipleship. Some of the quotes from that book have deeply convicted me. Maybe you’ll find yourself with whispers from the Holy Spirit as you read them too.
“Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ… In such a religion there is trust in God, but no following of Christ.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
“We are disciples of Christ, or we are not Christians at all.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
“The only man who has the right to say He is justified by grace alone is the man who has left all to follow Christ. Such a man knows that the call to discipleship is a gift of grace, and that the call is inseparable from the grace.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
“The followers of Jesus for His sake renounce every personal right… If after giving up everything else for his sake they still wanted to cling to their own rights, they would then have ceased to follow Him.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
“Just as Christ is Christ only in virtue of His suffering and rejection, so the disciple is a disciple only in so far as He shares his Lord’s suffering and rejection and crucifixion.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
 “Fellowship with Jesus and obedience to His commandments come first, and all else follows. Worldly cares are not a part of our discipleship, but distinct and subordinate concerns.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
“Christ’s followers always have His image before their eyes, and in its light all other images are screened from their sight.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
“Only the man who follows the command of Jesus single-mindedly, and unresistingly lets His yoke rest upon Him, finds His burden is easy, and under its gentle pressure receives the power to persevere in the right way.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
“When Christ calls a man He bids him come and die.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
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Toni Ridgaway is a content editor for the Outreach Web Network, including churchleaders.com and SermonCentral.com.