by Abe Huber
Many times we see God urging His church to go in the opposite direction of the culture when the culture is deficient in a given area. (For example: the early church had a liberating message for women, who were many times seen as second class citizens, Galatians 3: 28.) Every culture has positive and negative aspects.
In the Western cultures we see an exaggerated emphasis on individualism. No one can deny the Biblical emphasis on community living and the “church in the home.” In the Middle- eastern and Oriental cultures the tendency is to go in the opposite direction: everything is done collectively. Once again the early church, I believe, practiced a balance and gave very much attention to the individual also.
The text in Colossians 1:28 can be translated like this: “Him we announce, warning every person individually and teaching every person individually in all wisdom, that we may present every person individually perfect in Christ Jesus.”
The fact that we as individuals are important to God and that He uses His Body to give us individual attention was a revolutionary principle to the Eastern mind set. Let’s not “throw out the baby with the bath water” as we stress the importance of community living!
I am convinced from the Bible and from decades of ministry experience that there is just no substitute for the individual attention we should give to the disciples entrusted to our care. There is an illustration I like to use: Suppose I had a hose and I wanted to fill 5 empty Coke bottles with water. Someone might think that it would be easier to fill those bottles if we put them together and sprayed the hose at them. Of course we know that besides wasting a lot of water it would actually take longer to fill those bottles as a group. It would be more efficient to put the mouth of the hose on the opening of each bottle, one on one.
I believe this helps to illustrate that even though we should disciple in small groups, there are certain deep issues where the discipleship will be more efficient if it’s also done one on one.
When a disciplee really wants to open up about sin issues and other deep struggles it is so hard to really feel comfortable in a group. Every single person that is added to the discipleship group increases the risk of his most profound secrets leaking out. What if Jesus had said to Nicodemus: “Sorry, can’t meet with you at night, and surely not just us two!” No, Jesus gave him individual attention.
I believe it was on purpose that when Jesus gave the Great Commission he didn’t go into certain details. He didn’t say: “Go and make 12 disciples” because there isn’t any magical number. He didn’t say the discipleship should just be practiced one on one or in group. I believe that He expects us to care for His disciples in a group setting and on an individual basis.