Wednesday, 10 October 2012



'Discipling' is a buzzword in the church at the moment. That shouldn't make us dismissive of it. Buzzwords are buzzwords because they have that buzz of God's energy in them and a 'now' prophetic edge to them that is being picked up across the church.

I am fundamentally convinced that disipling should be at the heart of every local church. I am equally convinced that it isn't, certainly not in Jesus' style. Admittedly we do have a lot of:
  1. meetings where a leader teaches - a very one directional flow of information.
  2. structured and programmed get-togethers of a group of potential leaders where no.1 occurs.
  3. mentoring/coaching one on one.
You might think, 'What's wrong with that?'

What's missing is the lion's share of what Jesus did in discipling. I would like to do this blog series exploring this.

Looking at the gospels we can learn a lot about Jesus-style discipling. Mark says,

'And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons' (Mk 3:13-15 ESV).

 Jesus wanted them to 'do life' with Him. Their ministry and their authority would flow out of that. He wanted them to see everyday things in Him, not just arrive at appointed times and listen to a teaching and then go away. Certainly Jesus taught them, but that comprised only (a small?) part of what He did with them. They learnt as much from what they saw as from what they heard. Paul reminded the people he was discipling to do the things they had heard and seen in him (Phil 4:9).

We have got to find ways to 'do life' with the people we are discipling. As leaders, we have to break the lectern style, professional leadership style of Christendom in the Western church. It's barren. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians and reminded them that he had not only shared the gospel with them but his own life as well. How much of the inner workings of my life do those I am discipling know? How vulnerable and honest am I with them? Do they see the polished, presentable me, or the real me?

When I set out on this journey of changing my leadership style from one of being a professional service provider to being a disciple and a maker of disciples (and it certainly is a BIG change and quite a journey), I discovered just how much I had held the church at arms length from the reality of my life. It's one thing to talk about 'doing life' with a bunch of disciples, quite another thing to actually begin to be vulnerable and honest. I felt quite uncomfortable at first, a bit like I had started down a slide that I suddenly thought I might like to reverse out of!

'Speaking the truth in love' (Ephesians 4:15), is a core value of discipling. Those we are discipling must know that we love them, deeply, genuinely and sacrificially. They must know that we are covenanted to them. Jesus certainly modelled this! From this relational base, they must also know we are willing to speak the bald truth to them about their lives, addressing their 'un-Kingdom' and therefore unhelpful words, attitudes and behaviours. Jesus definitely modelled this. Some of the Gospel records of Him speaking the truth to His disciples are eye-watering. And mostly He did it in front of all the others!

This is probably the greatest insight into discipling that I have stumbled across. Discipling does not work well in a one on one coaching/mentoring model. It works best in a group context. That's how Jesus did it. Very seldom do we come across Him instructing or challenging any disciple one on one. Just go through the Gospels if you don't believe me. There is something indefinable and yet powerful that happens when we do life together as a group of disciples, when we are committed to each other in love and honest in truth. This is what makes discipleship 'fly'.

Life on life as a group - in our modern context that would mean eating together, going to the pub together, going to movies together, just hanging out in each other's homes, regular phone calls, Skyping, texting, emails and so on.

Without really being aware of it, I think we may be talking here of one of the most fundamental changes to how we 'do' church since the time of Constantine in the early 300's AD.

Let discipleship fly!


  1. I really resonate to the "breaking the lectern style" comment – although I would say that, as a style of leadership, it is already 'broken' because we know that it no longer works (did it ever?).

    I disagree that coaching individuals is ineffective. I believe it is very effective WHEN using a specifically coaching methodology which is a little different to getting alongside someone for some encouragement. Some questions can be asked and worked with well in a group context, others need to be put in a safer, individual context. We'll, that's my take on it, anyway.

  2. I really love this Sean - we have been feeling this very thing over the last year - I am amazed how you have managed to adjust the structure in your context - for us we had to step off leadership and move out of what we were in as we were thinking so differently to our leaders. The journey has been exciting and very different for us but we are loving the house to house type meetings we are having with like-minded people and doing life with those in the community has become very important for us too - it's like we are seeing things through lenses that are completely different. Thanks for posting this. Caroline