As a person passionately committed to biblical discipleship, I believe that anyone who intentionally disciples another is doing a great work for God. Whether it is through one-on-one discipleship or in a small group, living the D-Life is our supreme purpose. It is the most important thing we can do with our lives.
This raises an important question: Is it best to disciple others one-on-one or in a small group? Certainly both ways can be effective. However, as one who has used both approaches, I believe there are some important advantages to small group discipleship.
THE MASTER’S EXAMPLE
First and foremost, small group discipleship is the way of our Master. Jesus provided the ultimate example of how to disciples others. In His three years of ministry, Jesus poured His life into twelve disciples. He could have used the one-on-one approach. However, He chose to disciple twelve men, and the case could be made that He invested in three of these men (Peter, James, and John) in an even greater capacity.
Since Jesus modeled small group discipleship, I think it is best to follow His example. His ways are always best. As we live the D-Life, we should follow Jesus’ example of small group discipleship as closely as we can.
THE MULTIGENERATIONAL EFFECT
Another advantage of group discipleship is the multigenerational effect. In his letter to Titus, Paul encouraged multigenerational discipleship (Titus 2:1-8).
By inviting a godly older man or woman into your group you are gaining years of wisdom and spiritual maturity. New Christians or struggling believers in your group will profit greatly from the biblical insights shared by an older and tested follower of Christ who has walked with Jesus for many years.
Sometimes senior adults get lost in our churches. They may feel they are no longer useful in ministry. However, when senior adults are actively involved in intentional discipleship, their hearts begin to beat again for ministry. Their lives take on a new significance as they intentionally invest in others in a D-Group.
THE MINISTRY EVENT
When it comes to living the D-Life, we cannot disciple others through fellowship and Bible study alone. Effective discipleship must involve on-the-job training in ministry and evangelism. This is the way Jesus did it. His twelve disciples learned to do ministry and evangelism by observing Him.
Likewise, we must be willing to go outside the walls of the church and work together in ministry and evangelism. The minimum goal of every D-Group is to work together on one community ministry and evangelism project every two months. This means that every D-Group will participate in a minimum of six ministry events each year.
You can do this in one-on-one discipleship. However, in small group ministry there is more motivation and greater opportunities for ministry and evangelism. Honestly, it’s just more fun to do ministry with a group.
Ministry events may include feeding the homeless, crashing someone’s yard for lawn care, doing a work project at a local school, building a wheelchair ramp, adopting a family for Christmas, prayer walk evangelism, or other creative ideas. The opportunities are endless. D-Groups can even go on mission trips together.
THE MULTIPLICATION ELEMENT
Living the D-Life requires the multiplication of disciples; apart from multiplication there is no real discipleship. When Jesus invited twelve men into His D-Group, He knew that He would not be with them forever. His ultimate goal was not to remain with them, but to send them out. The twelve disciples knew the goal was for each of them to go out and do what Jesus had trained them to do. Likewise, every D-Group must be committed to multiplication.
In one-on-one discipleship, it is certainly possible to multiply. However, for many reasons the person you disciple may not be ready or willing to disciple others. You could spend a year or more discipling someone who will never multiply other disciples.
In small group discipleship, you are much more likely to have at least one in your group who will go out to multiply disciples and start a new D-Group. There may be others in your group who are not yet ready or willing, but you can continue to equip them to lead a new group in the future. As you live the D-Life, you should seek to multiply at least one new D-Group every year and continue to train others to multiply as they become equipped.
THE MOTIVATIONAL ENHANCEMENT
Accountability is a major component in living the D-Life. The twelve disciples who followed Jesus saw their lives radically transformed because Jesus lovingly held them accountable in their commitment to follow His teachings. Loving accountability provides the motivation many need to practice the spiritual disciplines required for spiritual growth.
In a D-Group, we hold one another accountable in three important areas of spiritual commitment: 1) commitment to the Word of God, 2) commitment to our walk with God, and 3) commitment to our work and witness for God. These commitments are life changing. It is also through the mutual and loving accountability of a D-Group, that strongholds such as alcoholism, drug abuse, adultery, pornography, homosexuality, and lesbianism can be overcome.
One-on-one discipleship offers accountability. However, the accountability of a group enhances the motivational factor. It’s like group “peer pressure,” but it’s for the right reasons and in the right direction. No one in the group wants to be the only one who has not read the Bible daily or who is not able to participate in a ministry event. Likewise, if one is struggling in a certain area of his or her spiritual life, it’s likely that someone in the group can identify with that struggle and provide needed encouragement.
In one-one-one discipleship, there may be times when conflicts arise and you must cancel the meeting. This weakens accountability and motivation. However, when an individual in a D-Group has a conflict, the group can continue to meet and keep motivation and accountability high. Even when the leader has a conflict, the group can continue to meet with others assuming leadership and there will be no lapse of motivation within the group.
THE MAXIMIZED EFFORT
Finally, a sixth advantage of small group discipleship is that it maximizes the time and effort you give to living the D-Life. We all have only a certain amount of time to give to discipleship. We want to maximize our effort. We want to make as many disciples and multiply as many D-Groups as possible in the short span of our lives. An old Irish proverb says, “Only one life ’twill soon be passed, only what’s done for God will last.”
For these six reasons, I feel that investing our lives in small group discipleship may be the single greatest investment we can make with our time. For the rest of my time on earth I am committed to living the D-Life. I pray that you will join me in this commitment and that together we will give our maximum effort to living the D-Life.