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Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Why no-one should disciple One to One

The One to One Method
In the history of the church, the idea of one person discipling another has arisen from time to time. Google it and you will find a movement. But is it wise?

There are times when one-to-one discipleship may be essential, for example when discipling someone in prison or in a remote location on earth where there is no church. But in all situations where it is avoidable, it is undesirable: and here is why:

(i) Jesus alone is the perfect model, we aren't. None of us reflects Jesus Christ perfectly, all of reflect him imperfectly. Jesus could disciple the Twelve on his own because he was the perfect man, but we dare not. The apostle Paul says to the Corinthian church "follow my example as I follow the example of Christ" but we find he is always with a team of believers who would be examples as well as himself - and don't forget, he is a (the?) great apostle. Though we ought perhaps to be able to say what he says (follow me...), could you in everything? Would you?

(ii) Discipling one-to-one will deform the one we disciple. What do I mean? They will pick up our weaknesses as well as our strengths, our folly as well as our wisdom. A young believer is like a bird just hatched from the egg - whatever it sees first imprints upon it. So for example, if a Christian was converted in a charismatic setting, lo and behold they will become a charismatic. If they were discipled among the "wee frees" of Scotland they'll think old wooden benches and psalmady are the norm. This is not rocket science folks. If discipled by an argumentative believer they become argumentative, if discipled by someone who never opens the Bible, they too will become a Scriptural Ignoramus. Of course, there are exceptions. Do we really want to make clones of ourselves? Only someone who is completely unaware of their own shortcomings (and sadly there are some!) would want to do this.

(iii) The church is the place to disciple converts. Why? Because it's there alone that a new convert will see something of Christ in this hand, that foot, this ear, that eye. It's only in the church they'll see more than one Body-part - capital B for it is the body of Christ they will see there. It's from Christ's power that the body grows, but it does so as "each part does it's work" (Eph. 4:16).

It is simply poor ecclesiology to disciple on your own when you could disciple in a group: that young believer needs the church, not just you.

Some Implications
Get humble! Don't think "that young believer needs me or he/she won't survive." They'll do mighty fine in the church - even without you. Get Biblical! Though they may need you in a special way at the beginning, they don't need you alone. Don't turn them into a U-clone.

Here is how I try to put all of this into practice.

Example 1 - Each week I run a discipleship class for men, most are young believers.  In that class are at least three older believers - this is deliberate, for these other brothers along with me, together, reflect Christ much better than any one of us on our own does or could.

Example 2 - When I train people in/for full-time ministry, I ensure they are seeing someone else as well as me - and I even delight (sort of delight!) when they tell me that the other person takes a different line than myself.

Our endgame is to see Christ formed in our disciples, and the only way this can be done, the only way sharp edges can wear off and new seen graces put on, is in the community of Christ's people called his body.