Jesus’ own pattern of disciple-making was to be intimately involved with a few so that His life and theirs would develop such traction that transformation would occur organically. The disciples comprised the first Christian small group, and their close contact with Jesus provided not only learning experiences but the opportunity to view appropriate application in daily cultural settings. Observing Jesus not only as teacher but as a fellow sojourner in life offered the disciples the insight required to make incremental changes in their own lives to conform to His. Jesus taught the crowds, but He discipled a few in a small group.
Alexander B. Bruce, in his book, The Training of the Twelve, provides considerable clarity as to the methods Jesus used to develop His disciples and deploy them in the ministry of spreading His message to others. Bruce observes, “From the evangelic records it appears that Jesus began at a very early period of His ministry to gather round Him a company of disciples, with a view to the preparation of an agency for carrying on the work of the divine Kingdom.” Bruce goes on to unfold the three stages in the history of the disciples’ fellowship with Jesus that would insure that they were committed to continuing His ministry beyond Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension. What becomes apparent is that Jesus desired not only to have disciples, but to have about Him those whom He might train to reproduce their discipleship in others. By limiting His discipling efforts to a few, who would then reproduce themselves in others, Jesus was capable of reaching men and women on an extensive scale.
Effective discipling today must imitate the model of Jesus: selecting a few, pouring one’s life into them, and asking that they reproduce themselves in a similar manner with others. This model, equipping disciples through a small group, provides intimacy and the value of shared spiritual gifts exercised within the group, without the intimidation of a larger group setting. The high level of interaction between Jesus as discipler and those being discipled teaches well, provides a high level of accountability, and can be a center for shared missional activity that further promotes maturity in Christlikeness, the ultimate goal of the Christian journey.