I recently had the privilege of being invited to lead a Huddle (teaching/discipleship vehicle) at 3DM’s DC Mission and Discipleship conference. I found myself face-to-face with a group of senior pastors and missionaries who likely had more experience in ministry than I have years of existence. Nevertheless, they came with such teachable hearts that they even listened to a whippersnapper like me. They came from various places – some were a part of dying churches, others were striving to figure out how to make true disciples, and still others were just exhausted. Although I could write a dissertation on the topics discussed, one has caused me to pause and dwell a bit: the misconception that a one-on-one is the best and only vehicle for discipleship.
Let me define a few terms here. When I say disciple, what I mean is apprentice; that is, a learner who is intimately woven into imitating your life. So if you jump back at the word “disciple,” believe me when I say that I am completely sold on apprenticeship learning, in every aspect of life. When I speak of one-on-one, I am speaking of the idea that to make learner-imitators, you must meet with them semi-privately, face-to-face, in regular intervals. My point to this group of pastors was this – if you rely on one-on-one meetings for apprenticeship, your disciples will be imitating a tired and burned out leader, who will then either quit or reproduce the same tired and burned out culture.
This isn’t the Jesus model of discipleship. If he is the one that commanded us to go and make disciples, don’t you think he would want us to make them like he did? My little sketch below shows what I am talking about:
People circled around Jesus, and each circle had varying degrees of exposure to him. In the closest circle, he let in his three best buds: Peter, James, and John. These guys were around for the most special times (e.g., Matthew 17). Next were the Twelve, who received the bulk of the teaching paired with explanation and increased responsibilities. Further out were the 72, who knew and were on mission with Jesus, but were not always around (Luke 10). Finally were the crowds on the outskirts, who followed Jesus around and received his seminar-style teachings.
Our problem arises because of assumptions that the intimate space is best. Therefore, everyone who you are leading must be in an intimate space with you to receive adequate instruction and accountability… but it’s just not so! What if apprenticeship was done in this mid-sized group like Jesus? Those of you who have been in one-on-ones: how many times have you met with four people individually, all wrestling with similar issues and receiving the same teaching? What if instead of repeating yourself and draining all of your relational capital, these four were discipled together? Yes, that requires them to dive into increased vulnerability, but that could be the challenge needed to actively engage in an apprenticeship relationship! They could learn and wrestle with what God is speaking through each other.
Intimate space is great, but it is better if reserved for a few who get to experience only the most special events in your life. Jesus apprenticed twelve. I’m not Jesus, so I assume I can do 8… but then I remember I’m an introvert, so maybe I can lead 6. And maybe my intimate times are reserved to 2. But those 2 get to experience the fresh, special moments after being a part of the discipleship of the 6.
So, go and make disciples.