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Discipleship Through Community

Even when ministering to individual disciples, Jesus often had the spiritual growth of the larger group in mind. In one instance, Peter took Jesus “aside and began to rebuke him” for teaching “…the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed…” (Mark 8:31-32). Jesus rejected both Peter’s words and his attempt to isolate the discussion from the rest of the disciples. Scripture states, “But turning and seeing his disciples, he [Jesus] rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man’” (Mark 8:33). Immediately, Jesus called the surrounding crowd to him and taught them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:34-35). Jesus took his personal rebuke of Peter and turned it into an opportunity for a public teaching with the disciples and the larger crowd. The disciples learned about Jesus, not in isolation, but through the gathered community.

The disciples did not have to gain a level of personal spiritual growth before they were able to join the larger group of Christ followers. Instead, Jesus gave the disciples opportunity to grow while they walked with him and the other followers.

Importantly, Jesus did not require his disciples to gain a certain level of individual spiritual growth before they could abide with or work alongside the other disciples. The disciples did not have to gain a level of personal spiritual growth before they were able to join the larger group of Christ followers. Instead, Jesus gave the disciples opportunity to grow while they walked with him and the other followers. Jesus modeled a discipleship process that facilitated individual and group development simultaneously. The community’s development was just as important as the individual development of each disciple.

Through his method of discipleship, Jesus taught his followers that individual development and group development should be intertwined in every stage of the discipleship process. Regardless of our individual spiritual maturity, our relationship with God will develop best within the gathered community. We live out and nurture our individual salvation most effectively through abiding in purposeful, connected ways with our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Discipleship, through and with others, is not an optional choice or a secondary step on the journey of spiritual maturity, but a crucial, foundational expression of following Christ.

As we follow Christ in a fellowship of believers, we also grow in our individual identity as disciples of Christ. To have an individual relationship with Christ is to be individually invested in a larger group of believers. In relationship with the body of Christ, we find out who we are and why we exist. To separate discipleship from community is to separate ourselves from a central reason for our salvation. We have been saved so that a disconnected creation can become one in Christ, so that God can form us into one people, his people, a holy nation that will bless all the nations of the earth. We become expressions of this oneness in Christ as we align our purposes with an identity bigger than our own personal spiritual journey.

As we follow Christ in a fellowship of believers, we also grow in our individual identity as disciples of Christ.

Sadly, the western church has often turned discipleship into an individualistic pursuit that may or may not expand into a larger community expression. Many Americans view discipleship as first figuring out the needs of the individual and then establishing more complex relationships. Some see regularly gathering together as an option, rather than a central reality of spiritual development. In profoundly troubling ways we have created a kind of individualistic discipleship that is found nowhere in the Bible. Within this skewed conception of spiritual development, we have bought into the lie that individuals can find spiritual health in isolation or in a controlled form of community where people attach to each other based on their personal needs, wants and desires.

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Category: Ministry, Summer 2019

About the Author: Dr. Douglas S. Bursch co-pastors Evergreen Foursquare Church in Auburn, Washington. He is married to his lifelong sweetheart, Jennifer. They enjoy raising their four children together and ministering as a team. Doug serves on the Doctrine Committee and Education Commission of The Foursquare Church and has taught theology courses as adjunct faculty for Life Pacific College and Life Ministry Institute. Doug received his Master of Divinity at The Assemblies of God Theological Seminary and his Doctor of Ministry at Portland Seminary of George Fox University. Doug has produced and hosted over 1,200 Christian radio broadcasts and currently hosts The Fairly Spiritual Show radio and podcast program. Twitter: @fairlyspiritual

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