Flashback Friday: Jesus’ Model for Discipleship

Flashback Friday: Jesus’ Model for Discipleship

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Group Size 

What was Jesus’s preferred discipleship group size?
He ministered in 3 different group sizes. Do you know what they are?

The Bible records that Jesus ministered to 3 distinct groups: large groups, small groups, and a group of three.

Jesus’s Large group ministry consisted of speaking to crowds as recorded in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and the multitudes of 5,000 and 4,000 who were fed on the hillside. Additionally, A group of 120 believers claimed allegiance to Jesus after his death (Acts 1), and we know of seventy-two whom were sent out during His earthly ministry (Luke 10).

Jesus called a group of twelve men to leave their families, friends, and careers to follow him. Subsequently, he invested the remainder of his ministry mentoring this group of twelve disciples. Eugene Peterson, author and pastor, said, “Jesus, it must be remembered, restricted nine-tenths of his ministry to twelve Jews.”

Jesus consistently took 3 disciples with him for intensive times of equipping: Peter, James, and John (Mark 3:16, 17; Luke 6:14). All three of them were fishermen (Luke 5:10). All three appear together 5 times in the Gospels:

  • At the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law (Mark 1:29-31)
  • At the raising of Jairus’ daughter from the dead (Mark 5:37)
  • On the mount of transfiguration with Jesus (Mark 9:2)
  • At the Olivet Discourse, when Jesus explained end-time events (Mark 13:3)
  • With Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, just prior to his trial and crucifixion (Matthew 26:37)

The Bible does not present any evidence of Jesus engaging in an ongoing one-on-one discipling relationship with anyone. Jesus definitely met with individuals, such as Nicodemus (John 3) and the woman at the well (John 4). But these were isolated meetings. The Bible also highlights Jesus’ intimate relationship with John and His restoration of Peter on the shore of the Sea of Galilee (John 21). But the Gospels clearly distinguish that Jesus discipled Peter, James, and John as a group.

Please don’t hear what I’m not saying. I am not suggesting that one-on-one discipling is unscriptural or ineffective. But if you have a choice, I encourage you to meet with two or three others rather than one. You may be thinking, “What’s wrong with a one-on-one mentoring relationship? After all, didn’t Jesus pair His disciples?’

Yes, He did, but for an entirely different purpose. Again, notice the wisdom of Solomon: “Two are better than one…And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:9, 12).

Two are good, but three are better, according to the world’s wisest man.

Have you ever been discipled in a one-on-one context? If so, describe your experience?
Have you ever been in a discipleship group of 3 to 5? If so, describe your experience?

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Robby Gallaty is the Senior Pastor of Long Hollow Baptist Church in Hendersonville, TN. He was radically saved out of a life of drug addiction on November 12, 2002. In 2008, he began Replicate Ministries to equip and train men and women to be disciples who make disciples. He is also the author of Growing Up: How to Be a Disciple Who Makes Disciples (2013), Firmly Planted: How to Cultivate a Faith Rooted in Christ (2015), Rediscovering Discipleship: Making Jesus’ Final Words Our First Work (2015), Foundations: A 260-Day Bible Reading Plan for Busy Believers (2015), and The Forgotten Jesus: How Western Christians Should Follow an Eastern Rabbi (2017).