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  • Micah Lang

Small discipleship matters greatly

Two men studying the bible in a coffee shop

Where does discipleship happen most effectively?

In a world that values the big and flashy, it might be tempting to say that the most effective way to disciple people is when you have the biggest audience. After all, if you are talking to a lot of people, you have a greater opportunity to impact the most people. It can become easy to get discouraged when you see other get honored and celebrated for how many they are impacting for Jesus or the big opportunities they get. The small and deep moments seem trivial to our fickle hearts. 

I believe this is misguided. Let me make it more personal. Where have you been discipled most deeply? Was it while attending big events or even listening to sermons? There is nothing wrong with these but is that where the deepest impact on your walk with Jesus occurred? Or was it when a Christian friend (or two) poured themselves into you, walked with you, knew you deeply, and helped you follow Jesus?

How did Jesus disciple people?

Jesus had a ministry to the crowds. He also had a large group of followers. However, the bulk of his time was not spent with the many but with the few. He selected twelve disciples to go deeper with. Even then, he selected three of them (Peter, James, and John) and decided to go really deep with them. Robert Coleman remarked on Jesus’ strategy here:

Peter, James, and John seem to enjoy a more special relationship to the Master than did the other nine. Only these privileged few are invited into the sick room of Jairus’s daughter (Mark 5:37; Luke 8:51); they alone go up with the Master and behold his glory on the Mount of Transfiguration (Mark 9:2; Matt. 17:1; Luke 9:28); and amid the olive trees of Gethsemane, these members of the Inner Circle waited nearest to their Lord while he prayed (Mark 14:33; Matt. 26:37)... This illustrated the consistent, fundamental principle of Jesus’ teaching: the more concentrated the size of the group, the greater the opportunity for [effective discipleship].

Robert Coleman, The Master’s Plan of Evangelism

Jesus, God in the flesh (the most effective disciple-maker), ministered to large groups and small groups; however, he also had a deep ministry with just three. Effective discipleship doesn’t have to be big and flashy. In fact, the way that yeast works its way through dough–the way that the Kingdom of God advances and grows–is often in the small and deep moments.

Scripture is full of examples of small discipleship

Aside from Jesus’ example, we also find all kinds of intentional, small, and deep discipling relationships throughout scripture. Here’s a short-list:

1. Moses and Joshua (Deut. 31, 34)

2. Elijah and Elisha (1 Kgs. 19, 2 Kgs. 2)

3. Naomi and Ruth (Ruth 1-4)

4. Elizabeth and Mary (Luke 1)

5. Barnabus and Paul (Acts 4, 9, 11)

6. Paul and many individuals (John Mark, Silas, Timothy, Titus, Erastus, Aristarchus, Gaius, Luke, Trophimus, Tychicus, etc.)

7. Euodia and Syntyche (Phil. 3)

8. Lois and Eunice (2 Tim. 1:5)

When you study these relationships, you find some striking themes. First, the groups were very small. They were often just two or three individuals. Second, the relationships were spiritually-focused. There was an intentional pursuit of spiritual growth focused on knowledge of God, love for God, and obedience to God. Third, the relationships were very close. There was a deep knowledge of the other person, a care for their well-being, and a personal enjoyment of their fellowship.

It is natural then for Paul to commend Titus, his “true child in the common faith” (Tit. 1:4), to implement a discipleship structure where men disciple men and women disciple women in close, intentional relationships (Titus 2:1-10). It is natural then for Paul to commend Timothy, his “own son in the faith” (1 Tim. 1:2), to find a few men to entrust the good deposit of faith to, who then will do the same with others (2 Tim. 2:2). 

Small discipleship matters greatly to God

It is clear from the teaching and example of Jesus and Paul, that God cares greatly about the small and deep relationships where we pour our lives into a few, teach them to observe all Jesus commanded (Matt. 28:18-20), equip them for the work of ministry (Eph. 4:12), and present them mature in Christ on that final day (Col. 1:28).

Christian, do not despise the small moments. Don’t set your heart on grand and flashy opportunities. God cares greatly about those times you meet with just one or two people in your church, show them Christ, and care for their souls. God cares greatly when you minister to the broken, hurt, and suffering friend late into the night. God cares greatly when you pray fervently for that one person he has laid on your heart. God cares greatly about the small acts of obedience, the unseen moments of discipleship, the unimpressive conversations, the faithful nurturing of a new believer, and the persevering patience in helping a few follow Jesus better. God cares greatly about these things. We should too.

Labor and linger in those small moments of discipleship, hoping in the day when Jesus says:

Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master. Matt. 25:21

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