In his book The Master Plan of Evangelism Robert Coleman points out the example of Jesus in his ministry as individual instruction, small group instruction and preaching to large congregations. These three are at least helpful in considering how a church should organize the discipleship ministry of the church. Making disciples is a direct command in Scripture (Mt 28:18-19). Jesus’ example of making disciples when working with individuals, small groups, and larger gatherings is strategic for the modern church. This blog post focuses on one to one discipleship.
Richard Baxter (1615-1691) in his book “The Reformed Pastor” describes how he traveled from home to home teaching the catechism. He had a clerk arrange appointments for the members of the parish. Rev. Baxter would visit each family in the parish. The church provided printed catechisms which he left with his congregation members. His approach was to talk with all members of the household but the time spent with the children was by habit short. He focused on teaching the catechism to the fathers who was expected to pass down the information to the rest of the household. Depending on family composition, he may work more with the mother who was head of household or wife of an unbelieving husband. His work with individuals consumed much of his time, and he worked exceedingly hard. He had lasting effects on the congregation many years even after his death.
Fast Forward to the 20th Century when Dawson Trotman (1906 – 1956) worked with individuals in the military. He met with US Navy sailors individually. He taught practices such as daily Bible reading and prayer. He also covered basic teachings such as salvation, Christian growth and inspiration of Scripture, however he focused on instilling practices that would lead the individuals he was mentoring into finding God for themselves in Scripture. This approach has been successful in teaching Biblical literacy and praxis but was light on theology.
I have personally gone through several discipleship programs which used the individual instruction method. In college I was discipled by Don Braem as an older brother in the Lord. (Discipleship period: 1981-82). While stationed in California I went through the Barnabas program (Discipleship period:1986). I was mentored by Steve Martell, who was mentored by Bill Holdridge, who was mentored by Cliff Stabler, who was mentored by Ray Stedman. This program used the book Authentic Christianity by Ray Stedman which directs the Christian away the tendency of seeking salvation by faith but seeking sanctification by works. Sanctification is also a work of God. Later when stationed in Virginia I went through the One-to-One discipleship program mentored by Ron Johnson (Discipleship period: 1989-1996). This was 10 lessons on basic Christian life. I took four other guys through the material. When I moved to Maryland I was mentored by Arthur Ames (Discipleship period: 1996-1999). I had wrestled in embracing the Reformed faith. Arthur was just the right guy to answer my questions and lead me down the right path. All of these and other Christians have been instrumental in my own growth as a Christian.
One on one is best for establishing foundational information, identifying educational gaps and removing them, and developing mature leaders.