John Wesley was passionate about discipleship. Wesley steadfastly refused to allow the word of God to be confined to the church sanctuary. He took every opportunity and used every means available to proclaim the ministry of Jesus Christ. Founded on Jesus’ blueprint for discipleship, he developed a simple plan for maturing and equipping the saints. Wesley said, “The Church changes the world not by making converts but by making disciples.” Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19,20)
Growing Authentic Disciples of Jesus
Discipleship is a common term in churches, but how well are we developing Christ-like people? With millions of born again Christians suffering from biblical illiteracy and culture-accommodating lifestyles, perhaps we should evaluate how we train people to be true followers of our Lord Jesus.
How Jesus Taught
Jesus ministered to the multitudes at least 17 times according to the Bible. However, there are approximately 46 mentions in the Bible where He spent His time in private with His disciples. In those smaller group settings He trained His committed followers for their own ministries.
“Go And Make Disciples…Teaching Them To Obey”
The great commission has two parts. The first is for us to go and make disciples. The second is of no less significance, but most often set aside to secondary importance if used at all. It is to teach them (apprentice disciples) to obey. In fact, there cannot be a disciple without this training. And there cannot be training without accountability.
The primary objective of the Church today as outlined by Jesus is for disciples of Jesus to develop other men and women into disciples. Discipleship should be at the forefront of our efforts. Everything we do, say and teach should be considered as we ask, “How will this help us make disciples?”
The most effective manner to train and equip people for any skill is by providing effective models and opportunities to practice the skill itself. Jesus used a show, tell, release, and supervise model of training. After calling the disciples, He took them along with Him, teaching and healing the sick as He went. Then, after He thought the disciples had seen and learned enough to try for themselves, He commissioned, empowered, instructed, and sent them out to do the same things. This model of training should be no different for those desiring to bring others into a complete understanding and walk in Christ-likeness.
Wesley’s Four Basic Convictions for Discipleship
1. The Necessity of Discipleship
John Wesley wrote, “I am more and more convinced that the devil himself desires nothing more than this, that the people of any place should be half-awakened and then left to themselves to fall asleep again.”
2. The Necessity of Small Groups for Discipleship
In 1743 John Wesley organized a society. “Such a society is no other than a company of men having the form and seeking the power of godliness, united in order to pray together, to receive the word of exhortation, and to watch over one another in love, that they may help each other to work out their own salvation.” Discipline was the key to this level of holy living. Wesley created 3 strands of discipleship: Societies, Classes, and Bands.
Strand 1: Crowd
Size: 50+ people – typically large gathering
Population: Mixed gender
Purpose: To bring about a change in knowledge
Focus: celebration – worship.
This meeting included those in a geographical area, much like a typical, congregational meeting in today’s church. These large groups of people met once a week to pray, sing, study scripture, and to watch over one another in love. There was little or no provision made at this level for personal response or feedback. Wesley described a society as “a company of people having the Form, and seeking the Power of Godliness.”
Strand 2: Cells, Life or Home/Small Groups
Size: 5-16 people – typically in homes or Sunday school classrooms
Population: Mixed gender usually
Purpose: To bring about behavioral change; conduct
Focus: community – fellowship.
A class was the most basic group structure of the society. The class was composed of 12-20 members, both sexes, mixed by age, social standing and spiritual readiness, under the direction of a trained leader. It was not a gathering for academic learning. They met weekly in the evening for mutual confession of sin and accountability for growing in holiness. This group provided the structure to more closely inspect the condition of the flock, to help them through trials and temptations, and to bring further understanding in practical terms to the messages they had heard preached in the public society meeting.
Membership in a class meeting was non-negotiable. If you wanted to continue in the society you had to be in a class. In 1742 in one society in London there were 426 members, divided into 65 classes. Eighteen months later that same society had 2200 members, all of whom were in classes. Every week each class member was expected to speak openly and honestly on the true state of his or her soul.
Strand 3: CORE Groups
Size: 3 or 4 people
Population: Same gender
Purpose: To bring about a change of direction, heart and position; knowledge, character and conduct
Focus: commitment – discipleship.
A Band was composed of 4 members, all the same sex, age, and marital status. They were voluntary cells of people who professed clear Christian commitment, who desired to grow in love, holiness, and purity of motive. The environment was one of ruthless honesty and frank openness. There were specific rules about punctuality and order within the meeting. He introduced accountability questions, which everyone answered openly and honestly in the meeting each week: 1) What known sins have you committed since our last meeting? 2) What temptations have you met with? 3) How were you delivered? 4) What have you thought, said, or done, of which you doubt whether it be sin or not? 5) Have you nothing you desire to keep secret? You can see from these questions that there was no place to hide in a Band. Bands became the training ground for future leaders. This group held to extreme confidentiality in a “safe place”, mutual submission where matters of indifference were yielded to the released leader, and godly stewardship. This was the group that could intensively pursue goals and vision together.
3. The Necessity of Leadership in Discipleship
A small army was needed to provide the leadership for Wesley’s 3-Strand Discipleship Model, and, just as is true today, professionally paid staff simply was not available. Wesley trained and mobilized a massive army of leaders, putting as many as 1 in 10 of his members into leadership roles – barbers, blacksmiths, bakers, men and women. The job description of those who looked after societies and classes was: “preach, teach, study, travel, meet with bands, classes, exercise daily and eat sparingly.”
4. Holiness and Service as the Goals of Discipleship
Wesley’s goals for this entire process were godliness and goodwill – spirituality and service to others. This system and process produced a new kind of citizen at a period of history when crime and every form of public sin were rampant. These men and women reformed both the church and the society in which they lived.
Though I fully realize that each local church must determine God’s specific directives for that body, I pray that you and your church will consider the 3-Strand CORE Discipleship process for such a time as this.
1. Make small groups – Cells and CORE – a priority for making disciples.
2. Be constantly involved in training others to do the work of making disciples.
3. Consider some adaptation of the 3-Strand CORE Discipleship Church Model: Crowd + Cell + CORE = Church.
4. Renew a thrust for evangelism by focusing attention on disciple-making.