Kingdom Life

Questioning one-on-one discipleship

One-on-one is a preferred method of discipleship within evangelicalism. I have no doubt as to its effectiveness (wish someone had been there to disciple me as a young believer). However, recently I’ve been questioning this.

Presumably we all believe that the way Jesus worked with his disciples is the best pattern to use. So I’ve been fascinated by a study I’ve recently done.

There were only two occasions I could find in the gospels where Jesus had a conversation with one of the disciples alone. One was with Peter over the paying of taxes (go and catch a fish) and the other, also with Peter, was about forgiving people seventy times seven times. As far as I can see, every other interaction that is recorded involves a group of them–of at least two or three.

There was one occasion where it specifically states Jesus was alone for a conversation with someone–the woman at the well. And we assume (although it doesn’t say so) that he was alone with Nicodemus in John 3.

Other than that, once he had chosen the twelve, Jesus worked with groups–groups of his disciples, the crowds, challenged groups of Pharisees and Sadducees. Other conversations where it appears he was talking to individuals, if you examine the context, were all within a group situation.

What does that say about one-on-one discipleship? What are the advantages of group discipleship?

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9 replies on “Questioning one-on-one discipleship”

I like the idea of group discipleship. I can see how it protect hearts and minds of individuals from becoming prideful of having their “own” disciples. How important it is that we be introducing people to Jesus, to become His disciples. Seems to me that a group of followers would embody Christ in a much clearer way for others to experience and learn from.

Never thought of it, you are right! Of course Jesus did it more or less the way the Rabbis did it, and they did a group, not individuals.

I’ve been part of groups of three or four doing discipleship, and they have been very productive. It offers protection in many ways.

I agree with Mary, it doesn’t have to be one or the other (which I don’t think you were implying). A few thoughts to add:

– The disciples didn’t have the indwelling Spirit until Pentecost. Until then Jesus was reliant on verbal communication and physical “signs”, so groups make sense.

– It would make sense for Jesus to teach the twelve in a group/community for logistical reasons, but also so they could form community and discuss what he taught them further.

– I imagine there were many private one-on-one conversations not recorded.

– After Pentecost, the best discipling comes through the Spirit in communities that are pursuing Christ. At least that’s my opinion and experience. The NT was primarily written to groups/churches. The Spirit of Christ working in and through the community adds a richness and depth, confirmation as the Spirit reveals Christ through “a multitude of witnesses”, and breaks down hierarchical issues and potential for pride, arrogance, and abuse since all contribute to discipling and all remain a disciple to Christ as He leads through the group. All who have Christ have something of Him to share, whether they are younger or older in the faith.

– Some one-on-one guidance can also be shared through the community life of the group outside of meeting together as the ekklesia lives life as a family. Just like older siblings taking care of their younger brothers and sisters.

I would question a practice of ‘intentionally exclusive’ one on one discipleship since we do not have specific command to do so. Like one of the previous comments I have benefited the most from being in ‘small group’ studies, team discipleship/men’s groups and prayer groups w/ a core of regular attenders. So like other aspects of building God’s kingdom, Jesus did not give us a program or specific plan. I think He wanted us to learn to listen to & follow His Spirit’s leading. Maybe He wanted us to continually be dependent on Him….????? We have times w/ individuals & we have times w/ groups. Should we not be building each other up in both????? 😉

Thanks for some great comments, everyone. I have to admit, I was surprised by the discovery. But everything you all say makes sense. As I read through the gospels, I found myself wondering how Jesus coped with so little time alone (except for the prayer times recorded in Luke) or just with one or two. The gospels constantly refer to Jesus and his disciples. But as jmlake commented, I’m sure there were many individual interactions, it’s just that they weren’t recorded.

One of my next projects will be to go through the Book of Acts and see if the same is true for the apostles.

Although I am sure there were some private conversations, I think you are right that it would not add up to one-on-one discipleship the way we think of it now, so I think it is a valid discovery and insight. I was surprised to think of it too. I think it would be good protection against the creepy kind of ‘discipleship’ that was abused during the ‘shepherding’ movement. Which was wrong on many different levels, but particularly in the idea of one believer having ‘authority’ over another. The Lord obviously had ALL authority, but forbids us to exercise authority over each other, but to be servants. Modern discipleship trends seem to be all about authority and position rather than just being available to encourage and serve new believers.
Logistically, obviously most private conversations wouldn’t end up in the gospels unless it was being written by the one in the conversation. Makes me wonder about how John found out about all those private conversations Jesus had with people in his gospel. Jesus must have shared the gist of the conversations with the gang later, or perhaps John was actually present for some of them, just listening, like with Nicodemus, in which case it wasn’t really private after all!

I’m sure there were one-on-one conversations too but it seems Jesus primary pattern was with a group. The reason I didn’t add Nicodemus to my list of conversations is that there’s no way to know who else was there–just that Nicodemus was alone. And I agree that it would be a good safeguard against some of the abuses of discipleship of the past.

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