Have you ever wondered why Jesus only had 12 disciples? Why so few? We know Jesus spoke to thousands of people at a time. It seems as if crowds followed Jesus everywhere He went. Why didn't He have hundreds of disciples or even thousands? Jesus intentionally invested himself in the lives of a few men. He ministered to large crowds but went deep with a small group. This idea goes against our Western philosophy that everything bigger is better. Jesus understood the exponential impact of twelve men on the world. Limited on earth by time, Jesus could not train crowds of people, but He could impact the lives of a few who would then disciple others.
Would it work? Did He get it right? After all, He's starting with an eclectic group of men who were not educated and were not likely to be influential. Would this grand discipleship experiment actually work?
As we know, Jesus' plan for discipleship was extremely effective. The gospel message has been taken to the nations, and every day people are coming into the kingdom.
But let's go back to Jesus' three-year discipleship approach and look at how He made disciples. As I read the gospels, five words come to mind: intimacy, community, investment, release, and accountability.
Intimacy: What does Jesus give these 12 men? He gives them access to Himself. This group travels with Jesus; they stay in the same homes, eat the same meals, and share life with Him. These men have a front-row seat to the life and character of Jesus. They observed his lifestyle, his attitude, his words, and his actions.
Community: As a small group, these men not only had access to Jesus; they shared life with one another. In this environment, they learned from one another, and their character had opportunities to grow and be transformed. We understand that the process of discipleship cannot be formed in isolation; it requires community.
Investment: This 12 man discipleship experiment wasn't merely about sharing life; it was about intentional growth. Jesus took every opportunity to teach these men about the Kingdom of God and their role in it. Much of their education was about unlearning what they had been taught. Jesus would often say to them, "You have heard it said, but I say...." Jesus served as a rabbi to his disciples.
Release - As Jesus sends his disciples out for ministry, they received "on-the-job" training. In Matthew chapter ten, we see Jesus sending out his disciples for ministry. Verses 7-8 say, "As you go, proclaim this message: 'The kingdom of heaven has come near.' Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give."
Accountability: Jesus spoke freely to his disciples, and in addition to teaching, he also corrected them, providing much-needed accountability. We see Jesus confronting their jealousy, their selfish-ambition, their pride, and their self-righteousness. This accountability enabled these men to see their blind spots and to grow in character and wisdom.
As we contrast Jesus' intentional, small group focus with our modern-day, large scale approaches, we may learn why our discipleship strategies have lacked effectiveness. Imagine with me. What could happen if we followed the example of Jesus? Imagine the impact of a small group of Christ-followers with whom we invested not only our knowledge but our very lives. I believe the result would be exponential.
Think of those who have, or are, investing in your spiritual growth. Be sure to express your gratitude for their influence in your life. Begin praying about who God is calling you to help grow spiritually. Discipleship is about the continual investment in others. Let's make disciples who make other disciples.
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