When Jesus was walking around on this earth, he didn’t build a building or write a book to carry on his legacy or mission, he started a community of people. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the Bible and think buildings are important if used for Kingdom purposes. But what Jesus focused his time on was 12 guys as well as a handful of women that he called disciples. For 3 years these were people that would live with, follow, watch, eat, sleep, listen, absorb, mimic, learn from, and love Jesus. The end result would be a handful of individuals that became like their teacher. They would go on and make new disciples who would go on and make new disciples who would go out and make new disciples. What do we mean by discipleship? We are trying to accomplish today with each other what Jesus did with his disciples. The end goal is for us to become like our teacher.
We face at least two problems: 1) Most of us don’t have time to give every waking hour to this kind of relationship. 2) We don’t have Jesus walking around in the flesh.
To overcome the first problem, we need to seek out relationships with other Christians.
To overcome the second problem, we need to seek out relationships with other Christians.
First, while joining a commune or monastery is not realistic (or recommended), we can carve out space/time throughout our week for vital interactions with other people.
Jesus had a group of 12-15, but within that group he had 3 with whom he was closest (Peter, James, and John). He also spoke to crowds of 100s and 1,000s. I believe that every individual has relational/spiritual needs that fit best in each of these sized groups. We see Jesus modeling what I call “levels of relationships.” The levels reflect not only size, but also levels of intimacy, appropriate vulnerability, and unique possibilities. As I’ve experienced life, I’ve discovered…
A group of 3-4 is ideal for doing relationships at the deepest level, setting goals, and therefore growing through accountability. Right now I have this with the senior staff for an hour every week, but used to do this with 2 other guys over breakfast at Panera.
A group of 10-15 is ideal for discussion, learning, socializing, serving together, and more generally “doing life together.” This is my small group that meets weekly.
A group of 50+ is ideal for worshiping corporately and celebrating communion together because it more fully reflects the diversity of Jesus and his body (the church). It is also an ideal size for developing kid’s ministries, recovery ministries, and a public place for people to come to receive prayer and meet God. It’s also a sustainable group to support a pastor (or pastors) that can lead and preach. This describes Heartland Vineyard Church.
The smaller the group, the more intimate…and most likely the more time the relationships will take. But the smaller groups can also produce the most fruit in our life. In talking about these relationships, we butt up against the time problem. Many of us are in seasons where time is a scarce commodity. It’s hard for me to say any of these levels of relationships are optional. And if structured, the total time investment could be as little 3-4 hours a week. But I will say that if necessary, a relationally driven small group can create space for groups of 3-4 to break off for a few minutes.
Not having Jesus present to us in the flesh could take a long time to unpack, but let me address it in a few sentences: We have connection to Jesus because of the Holy Spirit. Further, while every single person on earth is made in the image of God, but if you are a follower of Jesus, you are also carriers of the presence of God. When we come together in Jesus name, we believe Jesus is in our midst and works to transform us into his likeness.
When Paul is trying to describe what it is to have relationship with God, he describes it as being “rooted.” Deeply and intimately connected.
In Ephesians 3:16-19, he says “For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
Spiritual health and happiness is measured by the depth and breadth of those roots. Not just true of relationship with God, also true of our relationship with others. When we strive for both, we are discipled by Jesus.