Did Jesus Have Discipleship Classes?

After last night’s gathering at our home which we call “Discipleship Group,” I posted the this image of the 2 whiteboards that were used to initiate a discussion on the topic of “Discipleship” vs. “Evangelism.”  Entering into the discussion was simple enough.  The two hours that followed got very interesting.  As is custom in our group meetings we began with prayer and then debriefed from last week’s ministry.  By ministry, I mean all of the towns and villages where we are currently, along with others, making disciples (Matthew 28:18,19,20), being witnesses (Acts 1:8), strengthening and encouraging believers (Acts 14:22) and ministering the word (Colossians 1:25).

The group meetings are always accompanied by coffee, tea, juice, and a delicious assortment of cakes made by my wife.  These group meetings are totally participatory, and often express Paul’s description of the Corinthian church when, “each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation, etc. where all things are done for building one another and those we minister to up.  Visitors have called our weekly discipleship group “Church.”  

From time to time, after sharing  our discipleship group experiences on social media, I get this question, or something similar:

Did Jesus have discipleship classes like that?

A friend made this provoking comment regarding the above picture:

“This exercise struck me as something I saw the other day at a high school biology class. They were dissecting the fetus from a mother seal that had been shot the day before. They learned a lot but it was kind of sad as well.  I wonder if Jesus had these kinds of discipleship classes? 

Rather than constructing a defense why I believe He did, I thought I’d toss the question out to others.

Did Jesus have discipleship “Classes” like that?  Yes or No?

Make a case for your answer from scripture. 

For more on why we call it Discipleship Group, check out this post


0 thoughts on “Did Jesus Have Discipleship Classes?

  1. David Lim says:

    Good question. Jesus just modeled and informally instructed and sent out “with authority”/empowered His disciples to find a “man of peace” (Lk. 10:6, cf. vv.1-21), among the “lost sheep of Israel” (Mt. 10:5-6 = Jews in Galilee). To disciple the whole of Samaria, he just evangelized an immoral woman and upon her conversion, empowered her to gossip about him to the city elders (Jn.4); after 2 days of discipling these leaders, he left them, never to return, nor left any Jewish disciple to pastor these new converts; the Sycharians believers have been discipled to start a self-governing, self-financing, self-propagating and self-theologizing movement to their fellow Samaritans in other villages! To make discipes among Gentiles, Jesus’ “man of peace” in Decapolis (a metropolis of 10 cities) was a teenage demoniac (Mark 5)! After casting out the demons into the pigs (pls. note that the townfolks begged Jesus to depart from them asap, coz their hog industry was in jeopardy!), the teenager ask to be His “Apostle No. 13.” Jesus told him “no”, so he can return to his townmates and gossip about what happened to him (no “evangelism class,” right?). When Jesus returned to Decapolis (Mk. 7:31-8:13), he just taught the 4,000 men (= heads of households), and similarly left them never to return, nor left any Jewish apostle to pastor these new converts! This was how Jesus planned his world transformation movement — through disciple-multiplication by insiders!

    • David Woods says:

      I don’t know what it is about guys named David, but I love your approach here, David Lim. Sounds like something I’d say.

      Jesus really couldn’t HAVE those kind of participatory discipleship groups, because His message was one of change from the norm, and He therefore had to teach the new ways of thinking in the first place. A lot of what He was teaching was things they obviously hadn’t “grasped” from the Bible in their hand, so they couldn’t exactly participate until they learned it in the first place.

      It did, however, as the above David so grandiosely pointed out, set up a scenario where you had lots of people, new to this way of thinking, having to get together, and help encourage one another in this new personal relationship with the Lord that they had never known. It’s kind of obvious that the epistles, and the seven letters to the seven churches were written TO these kinds of groups. They were not written to just one person, but the “church at Ephesus” or the “church at Thessalonica”, etc. The Apostle had planted the church, but these kinds of groups were what was left behind. You can tell by the letters that no church had it just right, and each had strayed a little this way and that, and that the letters were meant to commend for right doctrine, and admonish for wrong. This is obviously not a church pastored by one PHD-holding theologian that has it all right, but a group that is struggling with their individual relationships with the Lord together.

      That’s how it was meant to be. This is our Biblical example. One person cannot have his doctrine perfect, or be closest because he would be above all others. We need our relationship with the Lord, AND our relationship with each other to be complete. And that relationship obviously doesn’t come from 250 people sitting listening to 1 preach. That’s the Old Testament way. The way God did away with when He ripped the veil.

      Thanks again, David Lim for your bold and honest opinion. It’s rare these days.

  2. Jim Wright says:

    David, I agree to some extent, but would not simply rest on that one approach. To the best of my knowledge, there is no evidence of any sustained ekklesia (church) in those communities. It seems like the only viable church after Christ’s ascension was in Jerusalem – and it only had 120 people after three or more years of direct ministry by the Lord.

    The Kingdom and the Body of Christ in the form of other fellowships spread from there only years later – by those who had been discipled by Jesus, or by those who had been discipled by His disciples, when they fled to other towns due to persecution. Even Paul, who used the Luke 10 model, spend many years being prepared before launching forth on his first “missionary” journey. He then established a school in Ephesus at the Hall of Tyrannus for three years to mentor and disciple Timothy, Titus, et al to in turn run the circuit among the new church plants to keep them on track.

    I agree with the Luke 10 model, and we use it with great success, but there is a need for focused discipleship that goes beyond simply finding, converting and planting a few seeds with the person of peace then moving on. Otherwise, there will not be sustainable churches. The balance is between laying a solid foundation, without creating dependence on the church planter.

  3. David Grant says:

    I don’t see in Jesus life or the gospels a plan of discipleship. I think this is what has made for so much speculation as to what one would look like. We know he spent a lot of time with a number of different people interacting with them in the moment. A simple example of this is with him telling the story of the father’s heart aka the prodigal son. This wasn’t a class but rather life unfolding, with him responding to the dynamics of being in a mixed crowd of “sinners” and “religious elites”.

    Did he take the time to hear from those who were the closest to him? I do think was a key element for sure. In that sense interactive models are invaluable while at the same time they sometimes lack the immediacy of events unfolding. Discipleship isn’t something that happens on Thursdays at 7.

    For me, one of the questions I have, which maybe someone here can help me with, is why there was such a deep misunderstanding of reaching out to the gentiles. I know we can see glimpses of this in Jesus ministry, but for some reason which is really confusing to me, those closest either did not hear or perhaps it was not stated clearly that the gospel was not to be limited to the Jews. If we got those results from a discipleship class, we’d likely be considered pretty poor at what we were saying. This is a real mystery to me.

    We then end up with Paul, who having never spent the countless hours that others had with Jesus becoming the main architect for transmitting key elements of the gospel. I love Paul’s writings and find them to be brilliant but if Jesus had wanted a clear plan written down he certainly had ample opportunity to do so.

    This latter part isn’t actually confusing to me but perhaps makes Jesus style of discipleship more than a little breath taking and dynamic, but it’s not something that can be boiled down into “10 steps to being a disciple”. What he did say was that the way the world was to know that we are his disciples isn’t by the words that we can recite but by our love for one another. John 13:35 If his plan had been written down this “key” would be far too easy to bypass. I think we all know that it actually does get bypassed in settings that take a very serious approach to rightly teaching the word. All the right rules or plans don’t have any value unless love is at the core.

    Miguel, I have a feeling that the best part of your group isn’t what information was/is being mastered but the love that is being experienced by each person present.

  4. David Woods says:

    I’d like to take a stab at your question if I could, David Grant. I’m not claiming to know the answer, but maybe this will get us both closer to it.

    You did say we can see glimpses of gentile ministry in Jesus ministry, and there are references that Jesus was come to take away the sins of the world, not just the Israeli nation (and other such references), so I’m sure it was made clear enough. I believe the answer as far as I understand it to be two-fold:

    1. First, The disciples expected Jesus to come into His kingdom here on earth before their very eyes, and His message to spread from there. They didn’t expect His death, and subsequent missionary journeys.

    2. Paul tells the Romans numerous times that the message was to go to the Jews first, then the gentiles. Jesus apparently understood this, and had but three years to change the thought patterns of enough Jews to do the job, and this proved to be pretty tough. The plan was always (since Abraham) for the Jews to take the message to the world, but they had to get it straight first.

    Gotta to to work, but this is the shorter version of my attempt at an answer.

    • David Grant says:

      David W. I appreciate your insights on my question. They point me in the direction of the significant factor of truth being limited to our own boundaries of where we are at a certain point in time. The racist attitudes, that became apparent with the Hellenistic Jews later on, reveals that even with Jesus coming, spending time intimately with “us”, it takes time for us to deal with our stuff. In spite of these glaring realities and shortcomings, that Jesus was more than aware of, he made what I think is a startlingly declaration of his purpose in being with us. It was during the last supper and he called them his friends.

  5. Jailer says:

    My thinking on this question begins here–discipleship is really about two things: relationship and purpose, or perhaps more specifically purpose in relationship. There are many fine strategies and tactics out there, but somehow it always comes back to these two things.

    Relationship: The church is relationship. It is the body of Christ, vitally connected.

    Purpose: The church grows up into the head. Colossians 3:1-4, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your[a] life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

    This gets more practical when we consider its implications. Every Christian relationship ought to be infused with Christian purpose. Those who do not have Christ desperately need him–we call this evangelism. Those who have him need him more fully (we call this discipleship).

    It is when every relationship is infused with Christ’s purposes that I will truly be a maker of disciples. Everything else–classes, books, meetings, campaigns, etc.–flows back to that central idea.

  6. wayne pratt says:

    My first reaction to reading this brief post was the story of Jesus cooking breakfast for the disciples on the lakeshore. In its spontaneity it became an important teaching/discipleship moment. I have often stated that fellowship, real, genuine fellowship, begins around the table, whether that be the communion table, or a table where food is served. In the Bible studies I’ve hosted, or impromptu gatherings with othres, even to simply share a cup of coffee and maybe some dessert, these times have been blessed with not only fellowship, but more importantly, with times of learning, sharing, discussing, debating, and digesting God’s Word for his people. Beautiful teaching/learning discipleship moments.

    Thanks, Miguel, for this beautiful reminder.

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