Summary: Discipleship was not simply a program through which Jesus ran the disciples. Discipleship was life.
Concentration on a Small Group
Jesus selected twelve disciples and concentrated on building them up. This does not mean that others were excluded from becoming his disciples. There were other disciples like the seventy (Lk.10:1) and the women disciples (Lk.8:1-3). But Jesus spent most of His time with the twelve disciples who were to serve as apostles. And out of the twelve, He had a deeper relationship with the three: Peter, James and John. What Jesus did illustrate a fundamental principle of teaching: that other things being equal, the more concentrated the size of the group being taught, the greater the opportunity for effective instruction.
Jesus kept the size of His group small enough to able to work effectively with them. It is impossible to disciple more that a small group if those disciples are to grow into true spiritual maturity. For effective discipling, we must follow Jesus’ example. We must concentrate out time with a small group of committed Christians.
As mentioned earlier, the goal of discipleship is conformity to Christ. For this to happen, proximity and intimacy is necessary. Thus, Jesus stayed with His disciples. Coleman comments: “amazing as it may seem all Jesus did to teach those men His way was to draw them close to Himself. He saw His own school and curriculum.” Jesus used the principle of life-to-life transference. This requires that He spent an enormous amount of time with His disciples. Jesus poured out His life into the lives of His disciples. He invested His life in them.
Learning occurs in structured situations but more so informal situations during normal everyday living. Most people learn more effectively when they both hear and see a particular truth applied in real life-situation. The principle of life transference is based on the concept of “modeling”. Jesus taught and lived truth before His disciples. He used the principle of teaching by example. Jesus practiced with them what He expected from them to learn, like witnessing and praying. As the disciples watched Him, they learned what He was teaching them. Jesus did not ask anyone to do or be anything which He had not first demonstrated in His own life.
Jesus’ approach to discipleship was life-oriented. He took the disciples with Him in the various circumstance of life that He encountered on a daily basis. He provided an example for the disciples in all of the activities of life. The disciples walked with Jesus in the real world.
Another method used by Jesus in building up His disciples is fellowship or community life. The process of discipleship did not only take place between Jesus and each disciple, it also occurred between one disciple and another. Jesus applied the principle of group learning. The disciples not only learn from Jesus but also from one another. They learn from one another’s insight, experience and understanding. The disciples develop their relationships with others in the group and not only with the disciple maker.
From this method used by Jesus, we see the importance of relationships in our discipleship process. As Watson says: “Christianity is all about relationships: our relationship with God and our relationships with others.” It implies the necessity of having other disciples walk with us. Wilkins emphasizes that growth in our developing walk with Jesus will be, in part, proportional to our accountability to others.
Jesus recognized the importance of preaching and teaching. In formal teaching, Jesus used a variety of methods, often starting with one experience or incident, or using vivid and familiar pictures in the parables. Jesus had insight into human needs in terms of learning. His approach to people varied, bearing some relationship to who they were, what they did or the culture in which they lived. Jesus spent considerable time teaching His disciples as evidence by His sermons on the Mount, His discourse during the Last Supper, and His teaching about the Kingdom of God after His resurrection.
The disciples had to put into actual practice what they had seen and learned from their master. So Jesus called the Twelve and sent them forth. He first gave them some briefing instructions on their mission (Mk. 6:7-11; Mt. 10:5-42; Lk. 9:1-6). He also sent out the “Seventy Others” and gave them the same instructions (Lk.10:1-16). When the disciples got back they reported to Jesus all that they had done and taught (Mk. 6:30; Lk. 9:10; 10:17).
Jesus trained the disciples to take over the tasks that He was doing. He gave them opportunities to take on responsibilities for themselves such as getting food and arranging accommodation for the group. He let them baptized people (Jn. 4:2). Their responsibilities grew as their maturity developed. He sent them out on their own, they gently correcting them, instructing them still more (e.g. Mk. 9:17-79), until the time when He could leave them altogether.