Discipleship That Fits: The Five Kinds of Relationships God Uses to Help Us Grow

What do you get when you combine a book focused on the goals of Sunday service, with a book on missional communities, with a book on small groups, with a book on life-on-life apprenticeship, with a book on private spiritual disciplines?

Discipleship is a word that has lost it’s proper meaning in our modern day context. This book does well at not just redefining the word but redefining its role in various contexts. I found this to be a very effective book on understanding discipleship especially as the process and goals of it relates to what the authors define as 5 separate relational contexts. The book is good at clarifying not only how each of these contexts differ but also how discipleship in each of these spaces differ as well. An organization that is committed to pursuing developing a framework that integrates all 5 of these contexts well will be setup for lasting impact.

As a pastor who currently is designing and developing a system of discipleship, I have found this book well timed and very helpful in confirming much of where God is challenging us on organizationally. There is alot of practical and helpful advice that is immediately applicable. What I loved most is this book creates a helpful framework for discipleship to occur in organizations of all sizes. I have read other “discipleship” books and they are written with a clear bias and will advocate life-on-life apprenticeship at the cost of all else. This book does well at giving proper goals for each context that fits them well. It is like reading 5 books in one with a clear focus on the goal of the Sunday service, goals of a missional community, goals of a small group system, goals of life-on-life mentoring, and spiritual formation where we are learning from God personally. It is one that will serve the followers of Jesus well for years to come.


Being a disciple of Jesus simply means that you are modeling your life-your thoughts, your words, your actions, your everything-after the example and teaching Jesus has given us. (p.15)

A disciple is the kind of person who becomes the kind of person Jesus would be

What we want you to see is that being a disciple is all about becoming like Jesus, and then helping others become like Jesus

Discipleship seeks to respond to two questions:

  1. What is Jesus saying?
  2. What am I doing in response?

It is a myth that you can be discipled solely in one size of gathering. The way Jesus does discipleship is through 3 broad elements:

  1. relationships
  2. experiences
  3. and information

We have a tendency to focus on information alone but good discipleship is a balance of relationships, experiences, and information. Relationships should be the highest priority, the context in which we disciple others life on life, combining love and invitation with vision and challenge. The goal is to become increasing more like Jesus in our character as we reflect the attractiveness of his personality. It is a lifestyle far more than it is an event. God uses people to disciple us differently in different relational contexts.

The Five Contexts of Discipleship:

  1. Public
  2. Social
  3. Personal
  4. Transparent
  5. Divine

Defining the 5 Contexts

  • Public Context is where people gather in their 100s, around outside resources (example a crowd watching a game of football)
    • “Sunday Service” is the most common size of church gathering and experience in this context
    • This context also includes social media. Though social media sometimes feels personal it is really a public context.
    • The 3 specific measurable outcomes for the public context is: “Inspiration” “Movementum” & “Preaching”
      • Inspiration– Handled well, the public context has the ability to communicate that we are a big family of families and that people can come home and meet God in this open yet sacred space.
      • Movementum– This made up word combines the sense of both movement and momentum to describe an organic, rapidly reproducing expression of God’s kingdom.
      • Preaching– Through these times we receive teaching that will fuel our discipleship journey as we go back out to our places of mission.
  • Social Context is 20 to 70 people, sharing snapshots of who they are, thus building affinity (example a backyard party)
    • A good expression of this context is the “missional community” though some churches can be this size they don’t operate out of this context they still operate out of the public context.
    • The 3 specific measurable outcomes for the social context is: “Community” “Mission” & “Practice”
      • Community– The social context is the best size for building a healthy yet growing expression of life together.
      • Mission– It is much easier to invite your neighbor to a backyard barbecue of 25 people than it is a dinner of 6-10.
      • Practice– This is the best context for people to experiment and learn how to use their spiritual gifts.
  • Personal Context is a group of 4 to 12, revealing private information (example good friends sitting and sharing freely)
    • Jesus focused on the small group more than the public group gatherings (12 disciples)
    • The 3 specific measurable outcomes of the personal context are “Closeness” “Support” & “Challenge”
      • Closeness– Authentic friendships develop in this context. Sharing life with others in a small group develops a depth and closeness that builds over time as we navigate the joys and sorrows of life together.
      • Support– Having a support net with which we share our hopes, fears, and concerns gives us the safety to risk, to dream, and to grow.
      • Challenge– In a kind and loving way your small group can help you process what Jesus is saying to you and what you are going to do in response.

When your small groups are structured for discipleship, the following is typically in place:

  • The small group leader is responsible for making sure that everyone in the group is being appropriately discipled to their point of willingness.
  • The small group leader is discipling an apprentice leader who is preparing to make disciples (typically in the Transparent Context).
  • The small group leader is also being discipled by a coach or another leader in a relational context (typically in the Transparent Context).
  • Transparent Context is complete candor, 2-4 people in the closest of relationships (example best friends being accountable)
    • There is no hiding here; it is raw, life-on-life interaction. The transparent context is the closest of the discipling relationships that we experience with other people. At this level we see the real person- warts and all- because our sin, selfishness, and shallowness cannot be hidden.
    • Marriage also fit into this context.
    • We see Peter, James and John in a transparent relationship with Jesus at key times in the Gospels.
    • The 3 specific measurable outcomes of the transparent context are “Intimacy” “Openness” & “Impact”
      • Intimacy– The word is used by sociologists to describe the closest of human relationships in a way that means “up close and personal” or “heart to heart”. It means that we live with vulnerability.
      • Openness– As disciples of Jesus we are called to confess our sins to each other and live in true vulnerability-not with everyone but with a few (James 5:16).
      • Impact– A major part of discipleship is getting people into the Bible and helping them to study it in a way that leads to action.

Every relationship that matters includes times when we are serious, times when we learn and grow, and times when we have fun and play (p.179)

  • Divine Context is being alone with God, to learn from Him and allow Him to shape you for leading others (intentionally sitting and enjoying His presence through spiritual disciplines)
    • In the Divine Context, we are alone with God, and through the Holy Spirit we learn about our identity and destiny and are immersed in the truth. God uses people, yes. But he often does his work apart from direct interaction with other people.
    • The 3 specific measurable outcomes of the divine context are “Identity” “Destiny” & “Truth”
      • Identity– God forms our identity in our aloneness more than in any other relational context, it seems, because when we are alone we can filter out all the identities the world puts on us and truly listen to God.
      • Destiny– Destiny is about God’s call on your life. It is about following God’s guidance into the destiny or ministry work to which he has called you. The dream is not about you, it is about your following Jesus and changing the world, one person at a time, in the name of Jesus.
      • Truth– Knowing the truth means having a relational knowledge of truth-knowing truth in such a way that it shapes who you are. It forms your character, defines your desires, and influences your choices.
    • There are 4 core practices for growing as a disciple in the Divine Context:
      • Practice 1- Prayer
      • Practice 2- Fasting
      • Practice 3- Giving to the Poor
      • Practice 4- Personal Bible Reading

The single most important thing a church can do to help people grow is to help them to engage with God in the Bible on a daily basis. (p.212)

The book ends with some practical steps and answers to questions the reader may have.

Discipleship That Fits: The Five Kinds of Relationships God Uses to Help Us Grow

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