Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”
We were discussing the fact that Jesus discipled people in many group sizes from one-on-one to the masses. So why am I so big on one-on-one discipleship? It has everything to do with effect. My goal is to help someone become like Jesus. Eloquent speakers may be able to help people know what they ought to do but I find a sermon will usually fall short of application. Modern American Christianity is filled with Christians who know a lot. But that is not the objective in becoming a follower of Christ, knowledge is not enough. Jesus expresses this in his Parable of the Foundation (Lk 6.46-49). The man who builds his house on the rock is like a man who hears the word and applies it. James, the brother of Jesus, expresses the same principle. He says that we should “not be merely hearers who were but doers of the word” (Jm 1.22). Jesus, in His Great Commission, instructs His apostles to teach in such a way that the would be disciple will apply, obey, observe, all that He has commanded (Mt 28.18-20). Teaching about Jesus is not enough. We must help people become like Jesus by doing the things He did.
In the diagram you see four levels of ministry; congregational, sub congregational, small groups, one-on-one. The top part of the triangle represents the number of people that you can teach at each level. Although at the congregational level has the highest attendance and is most expedient, it generally produces the least amount of application. But as we move down the triangle to small groups and one-on-one, the likelihood of application increases significantly. I believe there is greater application at the bottom for several different reasons. One is accountability. It’s hard to hide when you are nose to nose, looking someone in the eyes and ask an application question. But in the congregation setting, for a pastor to point someone out and ask “Hey Bob! How are you doing with that lust problem?” is totally inappropriate. Another reason why one-on-one is so effective, is because it’s highly relational and the curriculum can be adapted to the individual’s needs. As I enter into a one-on-one relationship one of my first questions is “How can I help you?” In the congregational and sub congregational settings I have to make assumptions on what’s most helpful to the people that I’m addressing. Finally, I practice one-on-one discipleship because almost anyone can do it and it is highly reproducible. I do not need to be a gifted speaker or preacher. I simply need to be relational and know enough of the Scriptures to encourage another to follow Jesus.
So my preference for a discipleship method is one-on-one but this does not mean that people cannot be discipled at the other levels of ministry. Jesus discipled people at all four levels. I have personally experienced discipleship at all four levels. But after seeing the results of any particular technique, it would stand to reason that a person would use the method that would cause the most effect. And unless a person is called to a particular ministry, it would seem both biblical and logical to use the methods that are most effective. At times the techniques are dictated by gifting or individual preference, but I think we ought to take our cues from Jesus ministry. When you evaluate Jesus ministry, you also see a greater effect in the 12 apostles and the one-on-one encounters that He has. This argument is not to make the case that one-on-one discipleship is the only way to disciple men and women. That is exactly what I am trying to avoid. I believe we greatly benefit from all four levels of ministry. But if you’re not seeing the results of people following Jesus zealously in your own personal ministry, I would consider changing your technique. The goal is not the method, the goal is to help people become like Jesus and restore the original image.
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