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Discipleship in Community

For the past two weeks we’ve been looking at our mission as followers of Jesus Christ to be and to make disciples. And I know this isn’t the first time most of us have looked at this issue of discipleship. I think most of us understand that one of our main goals as his followers, is to help people trust and follow Jesus. I mean, Jesus’ command to his original followers makes our objective pretty clear. Matthew 28:18 says…

Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20

So the objective is pretty clear, but what’s not as clear, is exactly how we are supposed to do that. The end goal is pretty obvious – the “how to get there” is not so specific.

And so to find the “how”, we’ve been looking at the Biblical patterns and the models for discipleship. How did Jesus do it? How did the early church do it? How did Paul & Timothy and all those guys do it? How did they do it back in the Old Testament? And how can we do it today?

How do we help people trust and follow Jesus?

Well, we’ve found that discipleship happens in five different contexts. There are five types of relationships that all contribute to the disciple-making process.

We’ve identified these contexts as the public context, the social context, the personal context, the transparent context, and the divine context. And of course, we’re not going to find a verse that lists these five contexts for making disciple – but throughout the Bible we can see that God uses these 5 different contexts to help people trust and follow Him.

And so our goal for these next few weeks is to understand how God works in these contexts so that we can maximize our efforts in our own discipleship and in the discipleship of others.

Last week we looked at the public context. And the public context is defined as 100s of people gathering together around a shared resource – this could be thousands of fans at football game or a hundred people on a flight to Edmonton, or a youtube video seen by millions or what the church is most commonly known for – a bunch of people gathering for the Sunday morning worship service.

And we discovered that the public context really isn’t well suited for building personal relationships, but it is well suited to conveying information and sharing stories with large groups of people. Jesus certainly made use of this context as he preached to the crowds and did miracles and told parables. That was all done in groups of 100s or 1000s and it was certainly significant in helping people trust and follow Jesus.

And so following that pattern, we determined that the Sunday morning service can be a place where people experience inspiration to keep serving Jesus – We are motivated, persuaded, encouraged, influenced, moved, stirred, spurred on, energized, and awakened. We also get a sense of movementum (That’s movement and momentum jammed together) as we see that God is at work all around us. And then, through preaching and teaching, we are reminded that everything revolves around God – this is ultimately His story and we get to be a part of it.

And so certainly the public context can be very significant in helping people trust and follow Jesus. But of course, that can’t be the only context. We would miss out on so much if that was the only place where we were discipled. And as we are going to discover today, we would have a really hard time making new disciples if that was the only context where we contributed to the discipleship of others.

And so on that note, today we are going to look at the social context.

Now as I mentioned last week, our church is in the unique position where we operate in both the public context and the social context simultaneously. If we were a church of 500, our Sunday morning services would feel very different and I think we’d be able to see and experience a lot more of the limitations that the public context has. But because we are a smaller group, we get the additional benefit of the social context at the same time as we operate in the public context. Not every church has that advantage, and it’s certainly something that we need to keep in mind as we grow, because this social context is critical to a healthy growing church.

But before we get to far ahead of ourselves, let’s back it up and ask the first question: what is the social context?

The social context is defined by about 20-70 people who have connected with each other through social interactions such as small talk, neighbourly interactions, eating together, playing together, or working together. Some examples of this might be your homeroom class at school or maybe a sports team (or the sport team’s parents). It could be the group of staff out at camp. Depending on the size of the company you work for, if you’re in that 20-70 range, your workplace could fit in this context. It could be a mom’s group that meets in the library or if you live out in the country, it could be the entire community that gets together at the community hall for potlucks and Christmas programs and such. And of course, it could be a small church just like ours that not only gets together weekly for the Sunday morning worship service, but we connect with each other in different ways through the week.

But its in this context that we experience community. That 20-70 number is still small enough that we get to know everyone at least a little bit – we know their names and some of their more obvious strengths and weaknesses, and their role in this community. But at the same time, it’s still large enough to have diversity. There will be some people in the group that we really connect with and others that we don’t so much. And that’s ok. Together, we recognize that the sum of us is greater than the individual parts and our diversity makes us strong.

And that gives us a real sense of belonging. We self-identify with that group – whatever that may be – This is my class or my team or my church. In a way, this is our extended family – our network of friends and co-workers – and its in this group we gain a sense of shared identity.

We are the “Penhold Church of Hope” or we are “Penhold Volunteer Fire Department” – whatever the case may be. And we share that identity together.

So how does the discipleship process work best in this context? Well, you can think of it this way:

If the public context is where Christianity is taught –

the social context is where Christianity is caught.

Discipleship is apprenticeship. We’ve talked about that before. The public context is the classroom, the social context is the hands-on practical application of what we learned.

A great Old Testament example of this is David and his mighty men. This group of about 30 of David’s best men spent years together – first of all, running from Saul as he tried to kill David. But they remained together for the majority of their lives. They trained for battle together – they fought together – they wept together in defeat – they celebrated together in their victories. They went through the best times and the worst times together. And while the Bible doesn’t record many sermons or classes that David gave to his men, you can certainly see how David discipled these guys through all of that. Let me give you one example in 1 Samuel 24 – verse 1 to 7.

After Saul returned from fighting the Philistines, he was told that David had gone into the wilderness of En-gedi. 2 So Saul chose 3,000 elite troops from all Israel and went to search for David and his men near the rocks of the wild goats.

3 At the place where the road passes some sheepfolds, Saul went into a cave to relieve himself. But as it happened, David and his men were hiding farther back in that very cave!

4 “Now’s your opportunity!” David’s men whispered to him. “Today the Lord is telling you, ‘I will certainly put your enemy into your power, to do with as you wish.’” So David crept forward and cut off a piece of the hem of Saul’s robe.

5 But then David’s conscience began bothering him because he had cut Saul’s robe. 6 He said to his men, “The Lord forbid that I should do this to my lord the king. I shouldn’t attack the Lord’s anointed one, for the Lord himself has chosen him.” 7 So David restrained his men and did not let them kill Saul. 1 Samuel 24:1-7

Notice that none of that happened in a classroom setting. This was on the job training. Through this little incident of David cutting off the king’s robe and realizing that he had done wrong – David was able to use that to teach his men to trust and follow God. He wasn’t just telling them theory – he was living it out in front of them and having them participate with him. That’s discipleship in the social context.

In a similar manner, we also see Jesus often discipling people in the social context as well. How many stories are there where Jesus is at a party or eating at someone’s house and there’s these moments that come up where Jesus lives out in front of everyone the lesson that is to be learned?

  • Think of Jesus calling Zacheaus and going to his house for dinner.
  • Think of Jesus eating with Levi the tax collector and all of his ‘disreputable tax collector friends’
  • Or when Jesus eats with Simon the Pharisse and the sinful woman comes in and washes Jesus’ feet with her tears and her hair. In fact, let’s read that one.

It’s a little bit longer, but it’s a perfect example of intentional discipleship in the social context. It’s Luke chapter 7, starting at verse 36.

 One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to have dinner with him, so Jesus went to his home and sat down to eat. 37 When a certain immoral woman from that city heard he was eating there, she brought a beautiful alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume. 38 Then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair. Then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them.

39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. She’s a sinner!”

40 Then Jesus answered his thoughts. “Simon,” he said to the Pharisee, “I have something to say to you.”

“Go ahead, Teacher,” Simon replied.

41 Then Jesus told him this story: “A man loaned money to two people—500 pieces of silver to one and 50 pieces to the other. 42 But neither of them could repay him, so he kindly forgave them both, canceling their debts. Who do you suppose loved him more after that?”

43 Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the larger debt.”

“That’s right,” Jesus said. 44 Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Look at this woman kneeling here. When I entered your home, you didn’t offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but from the time I first came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You neglected the courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she has anointed my feet with rare perfume.

47 “I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.” 48 Then Jesus said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.”

49 The men at the table said among themselves, “Who is this man, that he goes around forgiving sins?”

50 And Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Luke 7:36-50

Think of the impact that this little incident over dinner had on all the guests – on Simon the Pharisee, on the sinful woman who was loved and forgiven, and on all the other guest at the table who saw all this go down.

Do you think that helped each of those people trust and follow Jesus? You bet!

Those moments all had tremendous impact not simply from what Jesus said – but from what Jesus did – how he reacted to life as it happened. They were lessons that were caught – not just taught. It’s one thing to hear the lesson, it’s another thing to see the lesson right in front of you. And it’s yet another thing to participate in the lesson.

What’s the famous quote? “What I hear, I forget. What I see, I remember. What I do, I understand.”

That’s what makes the social context such a powerful place for discipleship. We’re not just observers – we’re participants.

That’s exactly what we see in the early church. For them, the idea of church being a building that you go to each Sunday – that was a totally foreign concept. Sure, they worshipped at the temple regularly, but that wasn’t what they thought of when they thought of ‘church’. Church to them, was the time they spent with those friends and family and close acquaintances – working, eating, playing, worshipping, learning – just living life together as followers of Jesus.

That’s why you get so many of those “one another” commands in the new testament. I think there are about 100 of those ‘one another commands’ like.…

  • Be at peace with one another (Mark 9:50)
  • Forgive one another (Col 3:13)
  • Confess your sins to one another (James 5:16)
  • Serve one another (Gal 5:13)
  • Do not judge one another (Rom 14:13)
  • Bear one another’s burdens (Gal 6:2)
  • Speak the truth to one another (Eph 4:25)
  • Encourage and build up one another (1 Thes 5:11)

 

That’s just a small sampling. And if the church was primarily operating in the public context, many of those commands wouldn’t seem to be very applicable. How will we bear each other’s burdens in a public worship service? What sins would we commit and must we ask for forgiveness for if we’re just sitting in a large room listening to some songs and a speaker for a couple hours each week? If church only happened in the public context, many of those commands seem high irrelevant.

But on the other hand, if church happens as people live life together – they’re working together, playing together, rubbing shoulders with each other all the time – there are going to be times where we need to ask for forgiveness! We’re going to have ample opportunity to serve one another and bear each other’s burdens. There will be times when we need to speak the truth to each other and to encourage one another.

These commands tell us how to interact with one another as we work, play, eat, worship, learn – and simply live life together.

In the book, Discipleship that Fits, it says.

“The Social Context provides a natural place for people to experience authentic community, join in a common mission, and share their gifts as everyone contributes and lives out their faith.”

So this is clearly how the early church experienced ‘church life’ – church life was just life. And I think in a lot of ways, that’s an important but missing element in many people’s church experience. They go to the public service, maybe even attend a Bible study, and have their own personal devotions – but if you miss out on this aspect of living life together in community – that’s a major part of the discipleship process that you’re missing out on.

But at the same time I should clarify that simply hanging out with Christians a lot doesn’t necessarily fill this gap. Just because you’re being social, doesn’t mean you’re making disciples in the social context. I mean, that’s probably still more effective than being a hermit, but if we are intentional about using this context for discipleship, this context can be incredibly effective in making disciples – perhaps even more so than any of the other contexts.

Perhaps the best way to explain is to show you what the social context can do best. Just like the public context, there are some things that social context does really well – and some things that it does not.

So here’s what that the social context can do really well. Or you could title this section of the message…

“Why You Need to be Involved with Your Church Family Outside of the Public Worship Service”

And I could probable sum it up in one word: Community

People hunger for community. That’s why Facebook has become so popular – I’m not sure how many total users there are, but there are over 2 billion people who log on at least monthly – and 1.3 Billion people who log onto facebook daily. People hunger for community. People long to know and be known. Even the most shy and timid person still has that longing to belong.

And the church should be the prime place for people to find authentic community. Of all the places in the world, the church community should be the place where people can know that they are loved and valued – that they belong.  I think that’s why Jesus often ate with “the disreputable sinners” like Zacheeus and Levi and all their ‘tax collector’ buddies. This was a way to welcome them into community and show that He actually cared about them.

Caring for people and loving people is the hallmark trait of those who are disciples of Jesus.

Jesus said to his disciples in John 13:35:

35 Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” John 13:35

Loving people is what disciples of Jesus should be known for. And there is no better context for us to welcome and love people than in the social context. That 20-70 range is just right for people to come in and find at least a few people right off the bat that they connect with. They’re not just an anonymous face in a crowd of 1000 and they don’t become an awkward focal point like they would in gathering of 5 or 6. It’s low risk for newcomers, and they can build relationships as quickly or as slowly as they’d like.

And so for our church, our Sunday morning worship services is still small enough that we can offer a bit of that social context. And that’s why we do things like shaking hands with one another during the service, taking that coffee break just before the sermon – you normally can’t do that sort of stuff in a public context, but we can do that in our social context. It provides some opportunity for those social interactions and building those relationships.

But really, most of our community building doesn’t happen during the service. It happens all through out the week – from kids clubs to ladies Bible study to helping with the fall festival to setting up all the chairs and sound equipment every week to throwing parties and potlucks – flying kites in the park or going on group bike rides.

I love the sense of community our church has right now as we live life together. I think what Jesus said will happen is indeed happening – “Our love for one another will prove to the world that we are his disciples.” There’s something attractive about this community both for those who are already a committed part of our group – as well as to newcomers who are just discovering us. They are seeing Jesus in us as we interact with each other and with them in these social contexts.

And I think that’s super important because it’s not likely going to be our public services that convince them to follow Jesus.

The author of “Discipleship that Fits” writes this:

“Here in the West, the church is not so much being persecuted to death but ignored into irrelevance. Many of your and my family, relatives, friends, neighbors, colleagues, and business associates are simply not interested in coming along to a public worship service, however wonderful the services might be, and however unfair their prejudice against them might feel to us. The public context alone is simply not going to facilitate us fulfilling the command of Jesus to go into the world and make disciples.” ~ Alex Absalom

Most people are not going to enter a relationship with Christ because of our public services. Some will, for sure – but most won’t. For most people, it’s not going to be our preaching and teaching that draws them to Christ, it’ll be our community.

It’ll be when they see us live out those ‘one another’ commandments as we work together, play together, eat together, cry together, celebrate together. It’ll be when they see Jesus in us in our every day life.

This social context is such a critical part of making disciples. And I am so glad to see that this is becoming part of the culture of our church.

This is usually the part of the message where I say, because of what we’ve just learned – here’s what we need to do.

But I don’t know that I have to do that with this one. You guys are already doing a fantastic job of living life together and drawing in others to be part of this community.

All I can do is to encourage you to keep it up. We have to continue to nurture this culture of life together – especially as we grow – because otherwise we will lose it. Most bigger churches have a great public context, they may even have small groups – but most of them miss this wider 20-70 social context. They don’t have this sense of community. And so we really need to work hard to maintain that as we grow.

So I just want to encourage you guys today – keep it up. Keep filling your homes with people for meals and board games and survivor parties and UFC nights. Keep meeting together at the parks and the library and the toboggan hills and at all the town events.

Because as you do that, you’re modelling Jesus for all the people that show up. You might not have a lesson plan but they’re still going to learn from you. They’re going to see how you respond to whiny kids or disobedient teenagers. They’re going to see how you forgive one another or bear each other’s burdens. They’re going to see how you care about the people on the fringe and how you encourage everyone. They’re going to see Jesus in you.

So keep it up. Keep using the social context to make disciples. And next week, we’ll see how to take it one step further in the personal context.

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