SIDEBAR: Three Ways to Support Discipleship Preaching

Three pathways can powerfully contribute to the process of discipleship and spiritual formation. As presently practiced, the first is often ineffectual. The second and third need far more frequent use.

Small Groups

The New Testament illustrates the need for authentic spiritual community for growth in discipleship. Because churches increasingly realize that the quality of relationship required occurs primarily in small groups, these have proliferated. Barna, however, concluded that most are not effective in discipleship.1 One reason is that they focus primarily on cognitive learning, which can be better done through qualified teachers. This misplaced emphasis reduces the time available for the four key values of small groups in promoting growth: active participation, personal sharing, personal application, and mutual accountability.

Spiritual Disciplines

Spiritual disciplines fit Paul’s instruction to Timothy, “Train yourself to be godly” (1 Timothy 4:7). Disciplines such as worship, prayer, ministry, and witness are spiritual ends in themselves, as well as means to growth. Others — such as silence, solitude, study, fasting, simplicity, and confession — help remove the distractions of life. This frees our minds and spirits to focus on experiencing God’s presence and to receive His instruction and guidance. As a result, He can empower us to fulfill our mission and to become more like Jesus.

Responding to the Circumstances of Life

While valuing and practicing the traditional means of growth, I realize I have grown as much through the unplanned — and often unwanted — circumstances of life. When we respond appropriately to situations that arise in our lives, they produce spiritual growth. On the contrary, inappropriate responses hinder it. While God does not usually initiate these circumstances, He regularly uses them for our maturing, as we cooperate with Him. They include: daily decisions to obey, difficult life choices, trials, guilt, and negative feelings. Along with specific responses, we can trust in these circumstances that God “is working for good” (Romans 8:28).

Springfield, Missouri


1. George Barna, Growing True Disciples (Colorado Springs: Waterbrook Press, 2001), 92,94.