Most Christians believe in some sort of discipleship strategy. This is the process of growing in maturity and becoming more like Christ daily. But how is this best accomplished in the church? Christians are supposed to be a family that share life together and live on mission to make more disciples for Jesus. So, although Sunday gatherings are crucial, and must not be neglected in the slightest, engaging regularly in a home group or missional community will provide a level of discipleship for the believer that Sundays alone never could.
First, let us consider how the Church is called to be a close and loving family. Jeff Vanderstelt said, “We have to get close. We have to be seen and known. This is what we call life-on-life discipleship—life that is lived up close so that we are visible and accessible to one another, so that others can gently peel back the layers and join us in our restoration.” Such things could never be achieved by Christians limiting their exposure to other Christians to Sundays alone. We need a context for family life to happen. Believers can be honest, close, real, visible and accessible in that sort of setting. When Christians gather on Sundays it is easy to come and go without ever seeing the uglier side of anyone’s life. It is easy to hide the parts of life that make us human and needy for the Gospel. Home groups and missional community models of discipleship push the church beyond surface level relationships and into a space where closeness and growth can happen.
In addition to helping the church to live as a family, home groups and missional communities promote a life of sharing. Acts 4:32 says that “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.” (NIV). As a family grows in togetherness their willingness to share struggles and practical needs will grow, along with opportunities for those needs to be met. Practically speaking, this could be a car problem one learns about, meals that are needed during a time of sickness, or after a baby is born, or a financial struggle that is hindering a college student. No matter the case, sharing done in the context of a close family is a testimony to the Gospel’s influence. As we learn to share with one another we learn the heart of Jesus more deeply. He shared His life with us. When we share we grow into better disciples.
And that brings me to my final point on this topic. Home groups and missional communities lead to living on mission for the sake of making more disciples through reproducible patterns. That is our commission. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” Discipleship is all about reproducible patterns that bring us closer to Jesus. For example, when a young mom struggles with trusting Jesus through the difficulties of parenting her 2-year-old, how will she best learn principles that build her faith in Jesus? When a married couple wrestles though a season of unbelief as they transition through serious financial difficulty, how will they develop biblical and practical patterns to follow that can later be passed on to others? When unmarried Christians struggle with being alone, who will be an example of purity and patience that helps them guard their heart against sin while pointing them to satisfaction in Jesus? Who will be a family to them? Home groups and missional communities are an excellent place to learn to apply the gospel and to set reproducible patterns of faithfulness that point others to Jesus. When this happens, doors open for relationships to flourish. Reproducible life examples can begin to be seen and imitated by others. As maturity within the group increases, the life on life examples that are set forth and imitated will become an influence for non believers as well.
In conclusion, it is important to remember that home groups and missional communities are not the only way to effectively make disciples and live out our faith as Christians. Other models can succeed as well. But the Church of Jesus Christ is undoubtedly a family. As a family we are called to be vulnerable with one another, to share our lives with each other, and to be close enough with other believers that our faith becomes an example for others to follow and reproduce. Folks who limit Christian fellowship to Sunday gatherings only will be hard pressed to live out any one of these biblical imperatives.