Making disciples involves both instruction and experience. If you reflect on the accounts of the disciples of Jesus, you will find both of these dimensions. The common factor between these two dimensions, however, is some sort of teaching-training community in which the disciples develop. That community is a critical factor in making disciples.
If you will reflect on your own experience and the experiences of others you know, I think you will find some kind of special group of people who became a community of love, grace, and learning for you. For most of us that community was and is within a church setting. Traditionally that community has been a Sunday School class or some kind of intentional study group; but others find their way into the community through fellowship opportunities, sports teams, work projects, mission trips, musical groups, or even through an extended family. In reality, discipleship is fostered best when individuals find a comfortable community of supportive people who genuinely are interested in its members and are living, learning, and working together for their mutual benefit and for some larger vision.
In the “Making Disciples” Chart, I have called this community the “Family of God.” Just as a human family is the initial setting into which a child is born and nurtured, discipleship has its roots in a small group that guides the “child of God” in discovering how the basic needs for identity, love, acceptance, achievement, and legacy can be met in the grace of God. The Old Testament provides a biblical context in which we can understand this family of God idea. The individual finds a sense of personal identity in the account of creation. The individual senses God’s love in identifying with a people whom God has chosen to represent and serve among all the people in the world. The bond to God and community is sealed with a covenant, which itself is set within the instruction of the community’s teaching (Torah or Law). The family of God blesses those who are part of the community and empowers its members to share that blessing with others.
Sometimes we are born into a family. Sometimes we choose a family. Sometimes a family chooses us. It is within that family, however, where we begin to discover and experience the grace of who we are and who we were intended to be. In that family we discover the power of genuine love that embraces us in our best and in our worst. In that family a bond of mutual covenant is formed where we find our special place in the community and embrace the unique contributions of others in the family. In that family we are instructed, guided, and trained for living in the family, for maintaining the integrity of the mutual covenant, and for communicating the family’s grace to others who need it. As we draw others into the family, into the love and covenant that binds it together, and into its instruction and life, we are blessed and we bless others through our family.
Historically, God initiated that community of grace. Creation and the call of Abraham formed the initial parameters, but God still invites us into a community where we can experience grace and find our place in the family of God. This is the first step in making disciples. We invite people into a grace community where they can find their identity as a beloved member of the faith family.