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  • Writer's pictureW. Austin Gardner

Training men in a small group, life on life

Jesus focused on the small group more than the public group gatherings.

Jesus ministered in all of the different contexts we are looking at in this book, but he prioritized his time with the small group. Jesus proclaimed the kingdom to large crowds and met with groups of twenty to seventy people in homes, but he spent considerable time with his special group of twelve. Each of these forms of ministry was crucial to his mission. Yet the group of twelve received Jesus’ best in terms of his time, energy, and attention. Jesus was with his disciples all the time, as they walked along the road and as they met in different homes and different contexts. As Jesus’ crucifixion drew closer, he spent more and more time with his social group and small group, and less time with the great crowds who sought him out.

Jesus’ method of discipleship focused on relationships, not organization.

Jesus invited people, first and foremost, into relationships. The real-life context of these relationships—including the dynamics of selfishness (James and John), impulsive actions (Peter), and misunderstanding (the Twelve)—was the context out of which Jesus made disciples. He easily could have remained aloof from any relationships that entangled and inconvenienced him with human needs and suffering. Yet as a practical demonstration of the gospel, he chose to spend time with people—caring, healing, listening, forgiving, teaching, celebrating, coaching.

Jesus used the small group context to teach and model.

Jesus modeled the life of the kingdom for his disciples in a small group exactly the way that God taught the Israelites to lead their children in Deuteronomy 6. It was not an educational or academically focused experience; the small group members just did life with him wherever he went. The small group of twelve was like a large nuclear family or tight-knit group of friends in which Jesus taught them about his kingdom using a life-on-life model.

Jesus used the small group as his forum for leadership development.

Jesus called the future leaders of the church into a small group relationship with himself. He gave his life to these men as he trained and discipled them and then entrusted the future of his whole ministry to them. Jesus gave both this relational model and his message of salvation that the world would come to believe.

Bobby Harrington, Discipleship That Fits

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