This is the fourth part in a series of blog posts that outlines my philosophy and practice of discipleship, a distillation and condensation of the stuff I’ve learned over the past few years from 3DM and others, a (somewhat) coherent “manifesto” on discipleship, if you will. Here are links to the first three posts in the series.
- Part 1: Discipleship is Character and Competency
- Part 2: Discipleship is Relational and Directive
- Part 3: Discipleship – Who to Invite
In this post and the next one I’ll discuss how you actually do it – the “atmosphere” or environment that discipleship takes place in, and a few of the concrete practices I use to in the process.
We know that discipleship is the process of becoming like Jesus in both character and competency, and that this occurs in a relational and directive context, where the discipler offers his or her life as a embodied example to imitate. We’ve discussed who to invite into this kind of relationship, but how do you actually do it? I use two BOTH/AND lenses to help me create an environment of discipleship.
Structured and Spontaneous
A BOTH/AND lens is a way of taking things that typically function as mutual exclusives and bringing them together in the same system. Fruitful discipling relationships exist on a continuum that we have to keep in tension, a BOTH/AND reality that we need to embrace: They need to be both structured and spontaneous, both organized and organic, both formal and informal. This means we need to offer those we are discipling both the structure of a regular huddle gathering and access to our everyday life.
Since we know that imitation is a key ingredient of discipleship, there needs to be a significant amount of informal time together with those we are discipling. We cannot simply invite people into groups to learn information and expect that they will grow as disciples of Jesus. We need to give them access to our lives, so they can observe how we interact with our spouse and kids, how we spend our free time, how we take a day off, how we resolve conflict, how we budget money and structure our days.
This is the spontaneous/organic side of the relationship. For example, there have been several occasions where a big breakthrough was unlocked by someone simply observing an interaction I had with one of my kids. I wasn’t specifically thinking about discipling them in those moments, but because they had access to my life, they can observe my life and pick things up that they would have never thought to ask about (and that I would never have thought to talk about).
But the relationship also needs some structure if it’s going to bear fruit. Discipling relationships that are all spontaneity with no structure usually bear some fruit, but most of the potential is wasted, and it ends up feeling a lot like “hanging out.” It’s like a garden: you can bear some fruit by simply throwing some seeds out there and seeing what happens, but you’re going to bear a lot more fruit if you thoughtfully put some structure into it: a fence here, plenty of room for the melons to grow, a trellis for the cucumbers, etc.
So the organized/structured side of the relationship is the regular (weekly or bi-weekly) huddle gathering. I tell those I disciple that I expect they will take this commitment seriously by prioritizing the huddle gathering in their schedule. In these huddle gatherings, we always come back to two questions:
- What is God saying to me?
- What am I going to do about it?
The simple pattern of coming back to these two questions every week (and the accountability that entails) is what gives people traction in discipleship. And it doesn’t happen if people attend huddle only occasionally. Consistent participation in a huddle gathering, along with plenty of access to your life, will give those you disciple the best chance of bearing “much fruit.”
Now, as is true of most BOTH/AND realities, I’m sure all of us have a tendency toward one or the other. Either we are more comfortable with structured/formal meetings, or we are more comfortable with the spontaneous/informal feel of living life together. If you want to make disciples, you’ll have to lean into that which you’re less comfortable with. Those who prefer structure will need to learn to invite others into their life. Those who prefer spontaneity will need to learn to take the consistency of huddle seriously.
That which does not come naturally must be practiced intentionally, and none of us are “natural” disciple-makers. We all have to grow into it by leaning into stuff that makes us uncomfortable.
Next post: Another BOTH/AND lens – Invitation and Challenge.
Excellent article! I'm just learning about missional communities so this really helps me understand a bit better. Thanks!
Ben Sternke says