The very last thing Jesus said to His followers on Earth was for them to go and make disciples of all nations. That’s what the church has been doing around the world for the last two millennia since then.
But when you ask many church leaders what ‘making disciples’ looks like in their churches, you’ll likely be met with lots of silence, or maybe a list of what a disciple looks like that they read on a blog somewhere. And we’re not faulting leaders for that lack of clarity — it’s a huge challenge that church leaders are trying to tackle.
That’s why we were so excited to learn that our friend Alex Absalom of Dandelion Resourcing, along with his co-author Bobby Harrington, has written a tremendous book around how to create a discipleship model that works for your church, your people, and today’s world.
Discipleship that Fits walks readers through the five different contexts where God disciples us and calls us to disciple others:
- The Public Context: A group of more than 100 people, gathered around a shared resource, like a Sunday worship service.
- The Social Context: Groups of 20–70 people sharing snapshots of what it would be like to know them better. Think of the ‘backyard barbeque’ kind of setting. Sociologists tell us that this size often becomes people’s primary place of affinity.
- The Personal Context: Groups of 4–12 people, or what we consider the traditional ‘small group’ kind of setting.
- The Transparent Context: A group of 2–4, where people can be completely candid and open about who they really are and what they’re really going through. Often, this group is made up of your closest friends, your spouse, or a few family members.
- The Divine Context: A person alone with his or her Creator, engaged in one-on-one communion and connection.
Most churches, Alex believes, understand the importance of four of these contexts but could be missing the boat on one key area.
“In most churches, the ‘black hole’ is the social context — those groups of 20 to 70 people. Even though churches may have groups of that size, it’s rather accidental that they’re in existence,” Alex says. “It could be a small group that’s grown larger, which means it’s not functioning very effectively as a small group right now. Or it could be that it’s a smaller church where they’re gathering on Sunday, but they’re operating by the rules of the public context — people sitting in rows watching someone behind a microphone. They’re missing the bridge that could take people from sitting in receiving mode to truly engaging with each other.”
As Alex and his co-author looked at these contexts, they started thinking about how God disciples us and how we disciple others. That led them to doing a deeper dive into how we understand discipleship, and how we’re transferring that understanding to each other.
“Discipleship is very information-driven for us today, which means we want to fill our heads with more and more knowledge and then I’m a disciple,” Alex said. “Or I can’t go on missions until I’m full of all this knowledge — which is the complete opposite of how Jesus discipled people. His was very much an ‘apprenticeship’ picture, which valued imitation over information.”
In the book, Alex and Bobby break down each of the five contexts (which are based on some fascinating sociological research) and look at how Jesus operated in these models in Scripture, how the church throughout history has implemented them, and how churches today can get better at each one of these models.
It’s a tremendous read for church leaders who want a better understanding of what discipleship really looks like, how disciples grow in each context, and how your church can build a dynamic disciple-making process.
We at Church Community Builder are so excited to share this resource with you, as we believe that helping people move through the discipleship process and tracking how they do that leads to truly transformed lives. We love hearing from thought leaders like Alex on how churches can better measure the outcomes of disciple-making to help make ministry better in every context.We’ll be doing a deeper dive into each of these contexts in the coming weeks, and inviting Alex to share some of his thoughts and experiences from his work with Dandelion Resourcing on how churches get discipleship right and how they’re missing the mark. To get a copy of Discipleship That Fits for yourself, just click on over to Amazon. To get a high-level view of 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.