A Band Aid for the Church

A Band Aid for the Church

Here is the article of John Wesley’s process for making disciples in its entirety.

On the Pressing Need for Discipleship Conversations

Even casual conversations with fellow pastors inevitably turn to the increasingly crucial topic of discipleship. While engaged in one of these with a fellow pastor of a larger church, he spoke about how he was indeed personally discipling a group of men in his church, but beyond that, church wide disciple-making was non-existent. His executive pastor then added his understanding of how to go about making disciples as well: “Discipleship should be organic and not intentional. It should not be planned or prepared.” The executive pastor served previously at a church where the pastor adopted the concrete stance: “If you get people to church, then I will disciple them.”

“Unfortunately, Jesus never left discipleship to chance,” was my simple reply. “He was intentional and calculative from the beginning.” Moreover, Jesus’s disciple-making ministry was five things: Intentional, Size-Specific, Transparent, Accountable, and Reproducible.

This pastor’s point in stating, “I will disciple them” was not one of arrogance, but one founded on Church precedent that the Word disciples the people. However, this mentality infects believers with laziness and serves to widen the chasm between the clergy and the laity. Perhaps more frighteningly, it cripples believers from taking responsibility for their relationship with Christ. Discipleship empowers the saints to partake in the work of the ministry, the most crucial step in aptly carrying out the Great Commission.

As Jesus discipled the twelve men who would change the world, He gradually released them into ministry through a definitive four-step process:

First, Jesus ministered while the disciples watched. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught God’s truths while the disciples observed, listened, and learned as part of the crowd (Matthew 5–7). When Jesus went into the synagogue and healed the lame, cleansed the lepers, and gave hearing to the deaf, the disciples were simply to watch (Mark 1).

Second, Jesus allowed the disciples to assist him in ministry. When Jesus fed the multitude, it was He who broke the bread and performed the miracle, but it was the disciples who distributed the supernatural meal to the hungry crowd and collected the surplus (John 6:1–13).

Third, the disciples ministered with Jesus’ assistance. After His glorious transfiguration, Jesus came down from the mountain and walked into an uproar (Mark 9). The disciples were attempting to cast out a demon from a possessed boy, and they were failing miserably. In utter frustration and desperation, the boy’s father turned to Jesus and asked Him to intervene. “I brought my son to your disciples, but they could do nothing!” the despondent man cried. Jesus stepped in, cast out the demon, and made the boy whole. Later, Jesus rebuked the disciples, powerless on their own, instructing them that “this kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” (Mark 9:29).

Finally, Jesus observed as the disciples ministered to others. Jesus sent them out with the instruction to go into the world, cast out demons, and preach the gospel. And they came back saying, “Jesus, it was just like you said. We cast out demons and we preached the good news. God miraculously worked through us” (Luke 10:1–17).

This was Jesus’s model for discipleship then and it continues to be His plan for discipleship still. Since Jesus had a model, shouldn’t the Church?

A Man with a Mission

The Morningstar of discipleship in the First Great Awakening was John Wesley, which is surprising to those who only recognize him for his revolutionary preaching. Many are unaware of his pursuit of a prescriptive process for making disciples out of believers (See Note 1 at the bottom). In fact, he embodies the rare combination of preacher/evangelist for the masses and organizer of spiritual development for the individual. Wesley was entirely convinced that growth in holiness was difficult, if not impossible, outside of a community. Early Methodist James Hall, in his autobiography, identified Wesley’s method as the factor that “greatly helped me [move] forward in the ways of God.”

While Wesley’s ideas on spiritual doctrine have the propensity to divide, his method for making disciples is almost invariably unifying. Simply put, he was an organizational genius who initiated a movement that garnered the status of the largest denomination in America at one time. The fruits of his labor, however, would come after his death. “From 1776 to 1850 American Methodist grew like a weed. In 1776, Methodists accounted for 2.5 percent of religious adherents in the colonies, the second smallest of the major denominations of that time. By 1850, Methodists comprised 34.2 percent of religious adherents in the United States, which was 14 percent more than the next largest group.”

Through a quick survey of Wesley’s pedagogical years, the need for and usefulness of his method will become apparent. Wesley, founder of the modern Methodist denomination, had a zeal for the lost and desired nothing more than to preach the gospel. Preaching more than 44,000 times, Wesley averaged an incredible three sermons a day for fifty-four years. In doing this, he traveled more than 200,000 miles by horseback and carriage, which amounts to about 5,000 miles a year. He was devoted to the Lord his entire life, even repeating the words of Isaac Watts’ hymn, “I’ll praise my maker, while I’ve breath,” before he died.

John Wesley was the fifteenth child in a family of nineteen children. His family was far from ordinary in England. Both parents, Samuel and Susannah, were held in high esteem, which afforded him the opportunity to attend both the Charter House School and Oxford University, regarded as two of the finest institutions of his day.

At the age of 10, Wesley entered the Charter House School in London. Even at a young age, he felt deeply convicted about his inward Spiritual life and even recalls these years at the Charter House as his “rebellious phase.” Stephen Tompkins comments on this stage in his biography: “He still read the Bible and said his prayers evening and morning, and his behavior seemed to exemplar. Nevertheless, in the light of his evangelical conversion, he remembered this time as a fall from grace.” Wesley felt that he had slacked in his commitment to the Lord during his school years, so at the age of 16, he left London to attend Oxford University.

The Holy Club

It was at Oxford that Wesley immersed himself in the readings of spiritual writings and that he felt his life changed dramatically. His own words provide insight into this new perspective on ministry:

In the year of 1725, being in the twenty-third year of my age, I met with Bishop Taylor’s, Rules and Exercises of Holy Living and Dying. In reading several parts of this book, I was exceedingly affected by that part in particular, which related to ‘purity and intention.’ Instantly, I resolved to dedicate all my life to God, all my thoughts, and all my words, being thoroughly convinced there was no medium but that every part of my life must either be a sacrifice to God or to me.

The Cambridge Platonists, who point to an experience whereby the inward world of spirituality rather than the outward world became one’s authentic habit, influenced him as well. This period of life change inspired him to start the “Holy Club” at Oxford with his brother Charles and good friend George Whitefield. The club was quite fond of Thomas a Kempis, Jeremy Taylor, and William Law’s writings. In addition to reading the classics, members of the Holy Club engaged in long periods of prayers, seasons of fasting, daily time for Bible reading, confession of sins, and routine observance of the sacraments.

Club members were expected to adhere strictly and methodically to religious precepts and practices, such as visiting prisons, evangelizing the lost, comforting the sick, and serving others in order to shield themselves from Pharisaical comparison and to keep the inward and outward experiences of their spirituality consistent. In essence, to this Holy Club, faith without works was lifeless. The disciplined nature of the club garnered scorn from outsiders who began referring to the group as “Methodists” because of their methodical approach to the Christian life. However, the pejorative “Methodist” label stuck and eventually became embraced by Wesley and other members. They felt the club defined the common principles of Christianity and, in turn, exemplified what the Christian life should look like.

From Georgia State to Aldersgate

In July of 1735, Dr. John Burton, Trustee of the Georgia Colony in the United States and patron of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, invited him to transfer the Holy Club to Georgia to assist local missionaries in reaching the Indians. Wesley accepted the offer in September. Unfortunately, only four members of the Holy Club were able to make the trip to Georgia. Wesley and his brother Charles, Benjamin Ingham, and Charles Delamotte sailed from Gravesend to Georgia in October of 1735. George Whitefield stayed behind with the intention of joining the group later.

“Wesley’s motive for going to Georgia,” says Tompkins, “was simple: to save his soul. In the back-to-basics society of the settlement, away from the demands of modern life and the distraction of womankind, he would have a chance to pursue the goal that eluded him in Oxford—the unhampered practice of holiness and the holy molding of others.” The team, while in Georgia, fasted often and spent long seasons in concentrated prayer. Unexpectedly, however, Wesley fell in love with a woman named Sophie Hopkey. This relationship, which was something Wesley intended to avoid, failed and greatly affected his focus. Finally, after three long years in Georgia, he sailed back to England.

Wesley, on the voyage back to England, was downcast because of his seemingly unsuccessful attempt at ministry. His ambition to convert Indians had resulted merely in conversations with them, which caused him to question his own purpose and calling in life. After returning to England in February, he encountered a surprised George Whitefield, who was preparing to join Wesley’s team in America. Wesley declined Whitefield’s offer to return to the States.

After Whitfield left to continue ministry in the Colonies, Wesley began to struggle with not only his calling, but also his salvation. Peter Bohler, someone he met on the trip to Georgia, identified faults in Wesley’s faith, insisting that a works-based salvation was insufficient for attaining eternal life. Conversations like these opened the door for Wesley’s true salvation experience on May 24, 1738. Wesley listened to the reading of Luther’s preface to the Epistle of Romans at St. Paul’s Cathedral located on Aldersgate Street. All it took was hearing the words “the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ” for Wesley to experience Holy conviction and put his complete trust in Christ as Savior. Wesley himself believes he was assured of his salvation at St. Paul’s Cathedral on Aldersgate Street, although he was converted years before.

“Judged by the products of Wesley’s life,” comments Basil Miller, “Aldersgate stands by far as the brightest spot in his life or in the life of anyone of his century. Before Aldersgate, he was a bungler; after Aldersgate, he was a lion in God’s kingdom who knew no defeat.” Until that moment in St. Paul’s Cathedral, his preaching was uninspired and unsuccessful. All points afterwards, however, were reflections of Wesley’s fire lit by his profession of faith in Christ.

Unity in the Community

Wesley eventually became a founder of a prescriptive approach to disciple-making, though this process itself has a rather storied past. Beginning with Martin Luther, Phillip Jacob Spener, August Hermann Francke, and Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf, the impact of transformational small groups started being understood. Spener, the Father of Pietism, was known for establishing what he called “collegia pietatis” or “gatherings for piety.” He insisted on individual Bible study and personal development: a practice counter-cultural at the time and strongly discouraged by the Papacy, for truths learned from Scripture were meant to be lived out in a community. Spener despised individualism, “claiming that it acted like a medicine which was more dangerous than the disease it was supposed to cure.” In his classic contribution, Pia Desideria, He outlined six actions for enacting reform in the church, all of which focused on developing more mature and devoted members of the church through intensive, deep individual growth.

Another little known contributor to the pietistic movement was a German theologian named August Hermann Francke. While he differed from Spener in his “lifelong concern for evangelism and missions,” Francke expanded on Spener’s Pietism, believing that a passion for the lost was the fruit of one’s spiritual growth. A student of Franke’s at Halle was Nikolaus von Zinzendorf. Zinzendorf experienced a spiritual awakening while participating in Spener’s “collegia pietatis.”

Count Zinzendorf, as he was known to the Moravian community at Herrnhut, taught that “the way to restore and revitalize ecclesiastical organization was the proliferation of independent renewal groups within the official framework of the larger organization. This was known among the most pious as the ’ecclesiae in the ecclesia.’” He became a crucial player in the mobilization of believers. Sixty years before William Carey went to India and one hundred and fifty years before Hudson Taylor ministered in China, Zinzendorf began sending out missionaries to St. Thomas Island in the West Indies. Over the next one hundred and fifty years, the Moravian Brethren sent out more than 2,000 missionaries.

Wesley caught wind of Zinzendorf’s incredibly successful missionary mobilization, which struck a chord in his spirit because of his own failed missionary expedition years before. He traveled to meet the Count shortly after coming to faith in Christ at Aldersgate with the sole purpose of evaluating the community operation, which at the time had been active for almost eleven years. He was struck particularly by the certainty of the Moravians on the sovereignty of God, specifically in how they composed themselves in the midst of a storm at sea. He recorded the incident in his journal:

In the midst of the psalm wherewith their service began the sea broke over, split the mainsail in pieces, covered the ship, and poured in between the decks, as if the great deep had already swallowed us up. A terrible screaming began among the English. The Germans [Moravians] calmly sung on. I asked on of them afterwards, “Was you not afraid?” He answered, “I thank God, no.” I asked, “But were your women and children afraid?” He replied mildly, “No; our women and children are not afraid to die.”

The trip to Hernhutt opened Wesley’s eyes to what Biblical community looked like. Wesley documented the different groups represented in the Moravians: “The people of Herrnhut are divided…

  1. Into five male classes and five female classes
  2. Into eleven classes, according to the houses where they live. And in each class is a helper, and overseer, a monitor, an almoner, and a servant.
  3. Into about ninety bands, each of which meets twice a week at least, but most of them three times a week, to “confess their faults one to another, and pray for one another, that they may be healed.”

The Moravians inspired Wesley to be involved in a group dynamic that moved people closer to Christ; hence the creation of what became Wesley’s three-step disciple-making process, to be explored momentarily. Leaving nothing to chance, he constantly evaluated and tweaked the process over the following years. He worked so passionately at it that one biographer described him as the “master of minutia.” Indeed, the Moravian community prompted what would become part of Wesley’s legacy, which is overshadowed only by his prolific preaching.

The Organizational Genius of John Wesley

Former Harvard and Stanford chaplain Elton Trueblood, a noted 20th-century theologian, when faced with the dilemma of growing numbers of members of the Christian Church, touched on one of the central problems plaguing the rapidly increasing numbers:
Perhaps the greatest single weakness of the contemporary Christian Church is that millions of supposed members are not really involved at all and, what is worse, do not think it strange that they are not. As soon as we recognize Christ’s intention to make His Church a militant company we understand at once that the conventional arrangement cannot suffice. There is no real chance of victory in a campaign if ninety percent of the soldiers are untrained and uninvolved, but that is exactly where we stand now.

The problems Trueblood was mentioning were not part of a new struggle in the Church, in fact it’s as old as the organizational body itself. Especially in is encounters with the Morovians, Wesley also recognized how crucial organization of Christ-followers was, lest they be as Jesus put it in Matthew, “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” He separated the people joining his movement into “‘connection’ [groups], and a number of societies [were separated] into a ‘circuit’ under the leadership of a ‘superintendent.’” He was asked during the early years of the formation of the Methodist church why he didn’t focus his attention on preaching and allow God to look after the converts. Wesley responded, “We have made the trial in various places…but in all [of them] the seed has fallen by the highwayside. There is scarce any fruit remaining.”

Wesley progressed new believers through a three-fold process for spiritual growth, each structure bearing a name: Societies progressed to Classes, and Classes to Bands. Two other related groups, although not as prominent, were created for specific needs: Select Societies for training individuals in specialized areas, and Penitent Bands for dealing with cases of addiction and behavior issues The Penitent Bands functioned as a sort of precursor to Alcoholics Anonymous and Celebrate Recovery.

The classes were based on certain non-negotiable behavioral criteria. One worth noting is that Class membership required regular attendance and active participation. An individual could not attend the Class meetings and not contribute. Wesley kept track of members in good standing by issuing tickets, which were small cards bearing the member’s name. New tickets were issued periodically so that members couldn’t continue attending without a quarterly evaluation.

Societies and Classes moved people toward the Band, or affective group. D. Michael Henderson correctly summarized the process: “It could be said metaphorically that the society aimed for the head, the class meeting for the hands, and the band for the heart.” The three phases in the new members’ spiritual development were specifically tailored for the steps of the Christian journey: deliverance from sin and cognition of Jesus as Lord, equipping the Christian for being the hands and feet of the Gospel, and anchoring his heart with other believers who may sharpen one another.

Wesley pushed against the normal approach to character development. Educational and philosophical research suggested pursuing personal, affective change before social, noting that belief drives behavior. When the will is changed, the behavior will follow. Wesley believed that when a person changes their behavior or actions, it would produce character improvement. The popular saying “Fake it ’til you make it” may have found its roots in this line of thinking.

Wesley preferred the Classes to be between seven and twelve members, although the groups tended to be much larger when put in practice. Both men and women of various ages attended this gathering for growing in holiness. The purpose was not to gather more information through a transactional model of a teacher/student; rather, members met for applying and reflecting on the messages they heard in the public Society meetings. Attendance in the community group was not an option if one wanted to continue in the Society, and participation through honest and open sharing was expected.

Accelerated Growth Groups

Bands were where the “message moved from print to voice, from individualism to community, from cognition to emotion, and from private to public.” The group focused on ensuring each participant was attuned to the heart of Christ. Although the demands of the group were rigorous, attendance was voluntary. These gender specific groups met at least once a week, though most groups gathered multiple times a week for personal accountability and encouragement.

The questions proposed to every potential member before he or she was admitted clearly prove this:

  1. Have you the forgiveness of your sins?
  2. Have you peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ?
  3. Have you the witness of God’s Spirit with your spirit, that you are a child of God?
  4. Is the love of God shed abroad in your heart?
  5. Has no sin, inward or outward, dominion over you?
  6. Do you desire to be told your faults?
  7. Do you desire to be told of all your faults, and that plain and home?
  8. Do you desire that every one of us should tell you, from time to time, whatsoever is in his heart concerning you?
  9. Consider! Do you desire we should tell you whatsoever we think, whatsoever we fear, whatsoever we hear, concerning you?
  10. Do you desire that, in doing this, we should come as close as possible, that we should cut to the quick, and search your heart to the bottom?
  11. Is it your desire and design to be on this, and all other occasions, entirely open, so as to speak everything that is in your heart without exception, without disguise, and without reserve?

Confidentiality and trust were stressed often as crucial elements to uphold. In addition to the periodic reiteration of these somewhat foundational questions, four questions were asked weekly: What known sins have you committed since our last meeting? What temptations have you met with? How were you delivered? What have you thought, said, or done, of which you doubt whether it be sin or not?

Bands were exclusive, closed groups. An unbeliever was excluded from participating in a Band, hence its position at the end of Wesley’s discipleship process. Kevin Watson, a historian well versed in Wesley’s theology of discipleship, elaborated on the stringent prerequisites for joining: “Prospective members were expected to have previously experienced justification by faith and to have assurance of their adoption as children of God.” Participation was available only to born again believers. Why? The purpose of the band was to pursue social holiness, something an unbeliever was incapable of doing. Wesley made sure to foster individual commitment, issuing a warning to those who viewed the gatherings nonchalantly: “Never omit meeting your Class or Band; never absent yourself from any public meeting. These are the very sinews of our Society; and whatever weakens, or tends to weaken, our regard for these, or our exactness in attending them, strikes at the very root of our community.”

Core Discipleship Ministry has taken Wesley’s model and renamed the stages, which will further aid a modern audience in understanding how he laid them out: Crowd (Societies), Cell (Classes), and Core (Bands)—see the image below. At The church I pastor, we have tweaked the model slightly by labeling the groups: Crowd, Community, and Core.

The Crowd (50+ people) is a typical weekly worship gathering on Sunday morning. The purpose is to bring about a change in knowledge through prayer, singing, study of the Scriptures, and love for one another. The Community group (5–16 people), similar to a Bible study or small group, meets for behavioral change. The Core group, or D-Group, consists of gender specific groups of 3 to 5 for the purpose of commitment and accountability.

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Discipleship Convictions

What made Wesley’s three-fold model effective was its inherently practical nature. In addition to cognitive learning, Wesley emphasized learning through experience. He lived by 4 basic discipleship convictions:

  1. The necessity of discipleship: “I am more convinced that the devil himself desires nothing more than this, that the people of any place (any church) should be half-awakened and then left to themselves to fall asleep again.” (See Note 2 at the bottom)
  2. The necessity of small groups for discipleship: his three-strand process of Societies, Classes, and Bands.
  3. The necessity of leadership in discipleship: Wesley trained and mobilized a massive army of leaders, putting as many as 10 of his members, who were from all walks of life into leadership roles.
  4. Holiness and Service as the goals of discipleship: the people produced through Wesley’s system reformed both the church and the society in which they lived.

What set Wesley and his followers apart from the other religious groups surrounding them was that “many church leaders were telling people what they ought to do, but the Methodists were telling each other what they were doing.” Band members asked each other the same question each week: “How does your soul prosper?” Francis Asbury encapsulates the purpose of the Band, writing, “We have no doubt, but meetings of Christian brethren for the exposition of scripture-texts, may be attended with their advantages. But the most profitable exercise of any is a free inquiry into the state of the heart.”

Alfred North Whitehead described a model for growth which is strikingly similar to Wesley’s in his book, The Aims of Education. He writes, “Experience is first of all doing something; then doing something that makes a difference; and finally knowing what difference it makes.” Even though Wesley and contemporary George Whitefield united for spiritual renewal at Oxford, it was doctrine that polarized the longtime relationship with his once close friend. Additionally, the two men differed on a method for following up with men and women who responded to the preaching of the Word. Henderson explains, “Whitefield hoped that those who had been ‘awakened’ would follow through on their own initiative; Wesley left nothing to chance. He made sure that those who were serious about leading a new life were channeled into small groups for growth in discipleship.”

Although Whitefield agreed with Wesley on the need for assimilating new converts into the church, he failed to implement the Wesleyan discipleship model, and thus historically proved less effective in assimilation than Wesley. Nineteenth century historian Holland McTyeire addressed their different approaches:

It was by this means (the formation of Societies) that we have been enabled to establish permanent and holy churches over the world. Mr. Wesley saw the necessity of this from the beginning. Mr. Whitefield, when he separated from Mr. Wesley, did not follow it. What was the consequence? The fruit of Mr. Whitefield died with himself. Mr. Wesley’s fruit remains, grows, increases, and multiplies exceedingly.

Whitefield later mourned dissipation of his efforts because of his failure to form bands with those responding to the gospel message. John Pool recalls a conversation with Whitefield about this oversight:

Whitefield: Well, John, art thou still a Wesleyan?

Pool: Yes, sir. I thank God I have the privilege of being in connection with Mr. Wesley, and one of his preachers.
Whitefield: John, thou art in thy right place. My brother Wesley acted wisely; the souls that were awakened under his ministry he joined in class, and thus preserved the fruits of his labor. This I neglected, and my people are a rope of sand.

The Master’s Model
Wesley formulated his model superficially from the success of Count Zinzendorf’s community of believers, but the true root of this model is in the ministry of Jesus. The Bible records that Jesus ministered to five distinct groups: the crowd, the committed (the 72 in Luke 10 or the 120 in Acts 1), the community (twelve Disciples), the core (John, James, and Peter), and the close (one-on-one encounters). Jesus’s large group ministry (crowd) consisted of speaking to large gatherings, 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 (committed) believers claimed allegiance to Jesus after his death (Acts 1), and we know of 72 or 70 who were sent out during His earthly ministry (Luke 10).

Jesus also called a (community) 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 three disciples (core group) 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 five 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, where 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)

Scripture records multiple one-on-one encounters with Jesus; however, it 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 an outflow from the larger group not in place of the group.

Don’t Leave Disciplemaking to Chance

Salvation is a gift, but discipleship is a process. If Jesus’s death, burial, and resurrection are all believers should focus on in the Christian life, why did He wait 33 years to go to the cross? He could have simply marched toward Jerusalem, claimed Divinity, ticked off the leaders, and expected imminent death; after all, would-be messiahs leading insurrections against the government resulting in execution were commonplace. However, Jesus didn’t do that. The reason He invested in 12 disciples for three years and so much of the firsthand accounts of His life are dedicated to describing these relationships is that the life He lived was as important as the death He died.

Are small groups are indispensable for life change? Ed Stetzer and Eric Geiger think so. In their book Transformational Groups, the authors revealed evidence to support meeting in small groups. They found that people in a group [small group or discipleship group] read the Bible more attentively, pray more regularly, confess sins more frequently, share the Gospel more freely, give more generously, and serve more faithfully than those not involved in groups.

Discipleship, according to Stetzer and Geiger, cannot happen outside of a community. They write, “The two are inseparable, and this must be communicated clearly and consistently by leadership. If you wonder why the people lack any sense of investment in community, it may be because the leaders lack it as well. When the pastor sends the wrong message, you should not be surprised when it results in the wrong outcome.” Leaders should lead by example, a truth foundational in the Master’s model of discipleship.
Many pastors are praying for revival in our country and around the world, the most appropriate action to take since God is the only one who can breathe His breath of renewal upon us. However, it is crucial that there also be a plan in place to appropriately handle the inevitable revival brought about by the Spirit. Do churches have a system in place if 3000 people respond after one message like they did at the conception of the church in the book of Acts? Do they have a prescriptive, repeatable, and effective process for spiritual growth to handle an overwhelming Spirit-led response?

Tossing a baby a bottle and insisting that it feed itself is both neglectful and dangerous, just as it would be to do spiritually with newborn believers. Whether we in the Church adopt Wesley’s system or some adaptation of it is not the point; the non-negotiable is having a plan for spiritual growth in our churches or ministries so that we may adequately work the harvest God provides. Every church should be able to answer two questions: Do we have a disciplemaking strategy and Is it working?

Notes

  1. Dissertations dealing specifically with Wesley’s preaching are scarce. There are, however, numerous papers dealing with his doctrine, theology, and ecclesiology.
  2. I would differ with Wesley on his perspective of man’s depravity, the responsibility of man, and sinless perfectionism, to name a few points of contention.
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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).