Edward F. Lundwall, Jr.
The basic resource for discipling is its teaching relationship between teachers and disciples. Disciples recognize the teacher as having knowledge or skills that they want to acquire. The teaching relationship is a situation whereby the teacher can transmit his knowledge or skill to his disciples. Lecturing is only one of the available means of the learning situation. Because of the teacher’s knowledge the learning situation must be under his authority. This presumes that the teacher knows the maturity of his disciples so that they can integrate the lesson into their frames of reference.
Experiencing fulfillment, then, is like growing leaves and fruit by irrigating the tree. This first question's answer: "I am a disciple." plants the tree. The second response ("As a disciple, I will do ....") draws upon the soil of his relationship to his mentor and his small group.
1 Timothy 3:15 reveals that the organized Church is the pillar and ground of the truth. The Lord choose 12 disciples to train for future leadership (Mark 3:14, 15) and three of them for more intimate relationships. These He trained through continually being with Him. He also used small discipling groups that He only occasionally met with and others that were discipled by working with Him and the Twelve (Mark 15:41). These were some of the first illustrations of group discipling for the Church.
After Pentecost, while the disciples often worshiped in the Temple, they instructed thousands by meeting in homes. Since the homes only had room for relatively small groups, this demonstrated that small groups are a biblical method of discipling. In Acts, seven different small groups with different functions can be identified. In most of them there is a leader who trains disciples that assist in training less mature disciples. Examples include the Apostle Paul with Timothy, Mark, Luke, Titus, Philemon, Aquila and Priscilla.
Further, Paul directed Timothy to continue the practice as seen in his team relationships. In 2 Timothy 2:2, Paul suggests that there are to be different teaching roles within the small groups. This is also seen in 1 Corinthians 14 and Hebrews 10:24, 25. So, when organized properly, small groups function as primary resources for growth.
Small groups are a contributing part of the self-edifying Church. They should never be independent and competing factions. One of the best ways, is to have the leadership of the Church to have master plans for spiritual education using the small groups to meet specific phases. In the New Testament, a disciple found a part of his identity, his self concept, in the group known as ‘His disciples” (John 8:31).
Related reading: Principles of Ministry; John Stott on Discipleship; How to Build a Disciple-Making Church; Discipleship and Church Mission Statements