Our friend Alex Absalom of Dandelion Resourcing, along with his co-author Bobby Harrington, has written a tremendous new book — Discipleship that Fits — that helps church leaders create a discipleship model that works for your church, your people, and today’s world. They do this by taking a deeper dive into the five different contexts where God disciples us and calls us to disciple others.
Today, we’ll be looking at an area of discipleship opportunity that many churches spend huge amounts of time and resources on — the Personal Context.
According to Discipleship that Fits, the Personal Context is where people share private thoughts and feelings — in other words, information that they wouldn’t otherwise reveal more broadly. Think of what happens when friends get together, in groups of 4–12 people, to talk over dinner or drinks, and share with each other their deeper feelings around their lives and relationships. People are within touching distance (usually 18 inches to 4 feet apart) and experience a genuine depth of friendship and relationship that typically doesn’t happen in larger groups. Most traditional church ‘small groups’ are examples of discipleship happening in the Personal Context.
The Personal Context is where some of the most memorable moments of Jesus’ recorded ministry happened. Whether washing the disciples’ feet (John 13), calming the storm (Matthew 8), or delivering some hard truths to Peter about how Jesus knew His earthly ministry would end (Mark 8), Jesus spent tremendous amounts of time in the Personal Context with these 12 men. It was in the Personal Context that Jesus taught His most important lessons, and where He took the teaching He’d shared in the Public or Social Contexts and expanded on the points. Everything He did in the Personal Context showed just how important that Context is for those who truly want to follow Jesus and grow disciples like He did.
The small groups that traditionally demonstrate the Personal Context in churches are fantastic chances for people to grow in their faith. But too often, these groups are allowed to grow too large and consequently lose the deeper connections that were the key to that group’s vitality. (The solution to this is to keep small groups small, and to locate them as subsets of larger Social Context missional communities — see our previous post for more on this!) And because many churches are so used to small groups, these gatherings can often get overloaded with purposes and goals that distract from the real reason Jesus spent so much time in the Personal Context: making disciples.
The good news is that there are simple ways to make sure your small groups are set up for discipleship, and Alex and Bobby outline them for you in Discipleship that Fits. They share some great strategies for strengthening your Personal Context gatherings, and some questions to ask yourself and your leaders. Questions like…
- How can you help your existing small groups become more focused on discipleship? What would this really look like, week in and week out?
- Are your existing programs (like adult Sunday School gatherings) set up in ways that encourage the sharing of private thoughts and feelings? If not, how can you modify them to encourage deeper connection?
- Do you (or your fellow leaders) ever expect to experience a deeper level of closeness or connection in a Personal Context than is realistic? Does that disappointment make you a bit disenchanted with Personal Context gatherings?
To get a copy of Discipleship That Fits for yourself, just click on over to Amazon. Or you can connect with co-author Alex on Twitter. For another look at the five contexts, check out this infographic.
Alex Absalom leads Dandelion Resourcing, which empowers leaders, churches, and denominations to build more effective disciple-making cultures. He is also the leader of missional innovation at Grace Church Long Beach, CA, an avid tea drinker with his wife, and, with their three sons, a huge fan of Liverpool FC. You can connect with Alex on Twitter at @alexabsalom.