Spiritual Life

Changing the World Through Small Group Discipleship

By July 19, 2019 No Comments
discipleship and small groups
Image: Jesus Discourses with His Disciples, James Tissot [Public Domain]

Changing the World

It all began with a question “What do you seek?” and an invitation “Come and See.” With these words, Jesus initiated his plan to change the world through a handful of disciples. They did not seem a likely band of brothers let alone potential leaders of a global movement—several fishermen, a tax collector, a zealot and others somewhere near the lower rungs of the social ladder. Yet Jesus chose twelve men to transform history. And they did. Jesus calls us to the same in our own time and place.

The Life and Ministry of Christ

Reading the Gospels, at first glance, it may seem that Jesus was always surrounded by crowds. Certainly, large gatherings of people did hear him preach and witness his miracles. At the height of his popularity we have the account of the miracle of the loaves and fishes—he not only physically nourished the crowd but spiritually fed them with his teaching. There are also accounts of his one-on-one conversations with sinners. For example, the Gospel of John recounts Jesus’ nighttime meeting with Nicodemus and the noonday encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. Notwithstanding Jesus’ very public ministry of preaching and healing, a careful reading of the Gospels reveals that the majority of those three years was spent with his twelve disciples. During this time, he lived, talked, prayed and walked with them through the Holy Land.

When the apostles committed to accompanying the Rabbi from Nazareth they likely did not know where the journey would ultimately lead. Yet they followed him. Alongside the crowds, they were present to behold incredible miracles and to hear inspiring teaching from the Lord. As you read the Gospels, though, you begin to realize that not all of Jesus’ words and deeds from his public ministry were recorded. We are invited to imagine all the conversations and discussions that would have taken place as the apostles walked the dusty paths with their Teacher.  We can envision the disciples asking questions as they and Christ recline beneath the starry sky before drifting off to sleep. With silent meditation we revere the times they saw him pray to his Father in the Spirit and even prayed with him.  There is so much more that is hidden from us than revealed—moments to be treasured between Christ and his friends.

These experiences and countless others, which might seem mundane to an outside observer without faith, must necessarily have been part of his plan to transform these disciples into apostles—from mere followers to evangelists of the Kingdom. He intentionally spent time with his apostles praying and discussing the things of God and deliberately taught them through his life. He knew this intensive time-consuming focus would bear the greatest fruit in their lives and in the lives of those whom they would encounter in their own future ministry.

The Early Church

This simple method of purposely spending time with others to grow in one’s Christian life is one of the keys which made the early Church so effective in changing the world. To be certain, in imitation of their Savior, the apostles boldly preached to the multitudes and spent time with individual sinners. Yet they must have expended most of their time sharing the Christian life within a smaller setting of people.

St. Paul discloses his approach to evangelization and formation to the community of Thessalonica: “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thessalonians 2:8). He recognized that the Christian life is one of apprenticeship. It is learned and strengthened by spending time with other committed disciples in a relationship built on charity. In all his travels, Paul was always accompanied by other Christians so they could regularly converse about the plan of God revealed in Jesus Christ. This is how he believed he could best accomplish spreading the Catholic faith throughout the Roman empire.

[Dr. Akers is currently writing a book on small groups within a Catholic context. This is part one of an article which originally appeared in the winter 2018 edition of Faith & Culture: The Journal of the Augustine Institute. Reprinted with permission.]

Ben Akers

Ben Akers

Dr. Ben Akers currently serves as an Associate Professor of Theology and Associate Dean at the Augustine Institute in Denver, Colorado. He also teaches as an Adjunct Instructor in the Spirituality Year at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary. Previously, he served as Director of the Denver Catholic Biblical School and Catechetical School in the Archdiocese of Denver for six years.

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