What would be the ideal discipleship house experience ...
Let say there's this guy, Jared (a cool redhead). He is 23 and just decided to follow Jesus as Lord and Savior of his life. What's next? He then is told about a church who runs a discipleship house that will not challenge him and put him in a place where he will really grow in his relationship with Jesus in big ways. He's excited! He reads about it, fills out the application, and meets with the leader of the house. They let him move in! Soon, Jared is in the thick of things before he can count to three.
It's challenging for sure, but he is loving it. He's never lived in an environment quite like this before! All 6 guys in the house get up early and study the Bible - most of them are even memorizing whole books of the Bible. They also get up early to pray - he's never met a group of guys who believe in prayer like this. Each of the guys has different things they do throughout the day like work or school. Since he doesn't have a job quite yet, he's free to really focus on his discipleship assignments, get to know the guys, and spend extra time with the older guy who will be personally discipling him. This is normal? These guys really believe all this stuff.
The rules at first seemed a bit extreme, but once he agreed to them all, he has begun to see how the really help create this amazing environment. Sure, he's got to be home by 10:30pm, but that allows him to get the sleep he needs to wake up on time. Yeah, doing these chores isn't his favorite thing in the world, but he can see that it's teaching him discipline and helping the other guys in the house. And boy, is he learning a ton! Once he's been in the house for a while and found a job in town, he starts being challenge by his mentor to apply what he's been learning as he's started studying and memorizing the word of God in his work place with his coworkers. Once he's lived there for a few months, someone else new moves in as well. This guy has a crazy background in drugs and alcohol, yet they are all united in Christ. Jared sees this new guys growing a lot and felt honored to have small parts to play in helping him. Sometimes living with these other guys is tough, but he's learning so much from just being around them and getting to know them! That summer, most of the guys from the house got to go on a short term trip to Africa to share the gospel and build up the church.
3 years later when Jared has moved on and lives somewhere else, he looks back and is so thankful for that intense season of learning in his life and feel like so thankful for the strong foundation in Christ that was built there that will sustain him for wherever God has for him to go next. He's got an equivalent of knowledge to a Bible degree and enough ministry experience to really impact others no matter where he goes.
How does a church create a structured, discipleship-focused house?
The process for setting up a structured, discipleship-focused house has two components:
1) Setting up the discipleship component of the house
2) Setting up the structure and leadership of the house
Before we continue it should be noted that the church in America is very good at organizing, planning, and structuring things. Yet, often is the case where a ministry is strategized and structured when hardly a forethought is given to seeking the Lord in prayer and moving forward in the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This is an intensive discipleship ministry and needs the wisdom, guidance, and blessing of God before proceeding.
The discipleship aspect of the house: The Program
This is the part of determining what are the key focus areas of learning and growing in the discipleship house. In order to do this, there should be a "program" of sorts for learning and a personalized, relational aspect of the discipleship well.
During my experience helping to run a discipleship house, it seems to work best when there is one main discipleship teaching (for those in the program) every week or so. This is outside of the normal church service and provides a time to really go deeper into matters that are of utmost importance to young disciples. Topics like:
Scripture (what it is, how to study it, how to apply it)
Prayer (how to pray, what is prayer)
Spiritual Warfare (What is the battle and how to fight it)
The person and work of the Holy Spirit
Who God is (God's character and how to relate to Him)
Who Jesus is
What does it mean to follow Jesus
Surrender to Christ
These are just a spattering of examples that could be what the teaching aspect is all about. This is arguably the most difficult portion the detail out because working with the Refuge Discipleship houses, we have some specific things that are very essential to the learning aspect - yet I cannot expect other ministries to take up all of the same positions. Therefore, instead of presenting arguments for specific ideas that drive the learning aspect of the Refuge Discipleship houses, I will present the following resources to help shape your program:
These are the discipleship goals in terms of knowledge that each person in the houses are aiming at.
These show the recommended books for the Refuge Discipleship program that those who are living in the houses are reading.
This is the structure of our discipleship program. We use "Google Classroom" to facilitate the material and assignments.
It will need to be determined how long "each cycle" of the program goes. This does not mean that disciples need to move out after a certain amount of time - once the cycle is complete. Rather, it allows the same topics to be touched on at some point for a disciple over a certain amount of time. The Refuge Discipleship homes have decided upon a 2 year cycle that can be viewed here:
Other cool components can be added in once the main structure is in place for the program. Things like mission trips and evangelism opportunities. The KEY, the central pillars, need to be Scripture and Prayer. With the disciple coming away having learned and practiced knowing the Word more and more (via memorizing, study, meditating, and reading) and learning to seek the Lord in prayer. With these things strongly in place, the disciple will be strongly rooted wherever he goes and in whatever ministry he is involved.
The discipleship aspect of the house: The Relational
Some have said that the best things gleaned from discipleship are caught not taught. While there is truth to that, we see both at work in the way Jesus did discipleship. However, far too often discipleship programs focus only on the teaching aspect of discipleship. Here is another way that the structured, discipleship-focused house shines. It provides a more immersive environment in which the relational aspect of discipleship can come across in several different ways.
Intentional, regular discipleship from older members of the church
Peer discipleship in the house amongst the members of the house.
This type of approach is where it becomes essential that the discipleship house is part of a local church - not a stand alone ministry. Which then allows mature, proven-character, older members of the church to intentionally invest in personal discipleship or small group discipleship with members. This could look like a weekly meeting or more of a "doing life with" approach. Both of those are very beneficial where the disciple can discuss topics ranging from theological to life difficulties. This also provides a way for the person to really discover their gifts and direction from God for their life. The difficulty often encountered is the lack of men and women who are spiritually willing and able to disciple in such a manner - that topic is outside the scope of this guide. However, if the church collectively raises the bar for what it mean to be a disciple of Jesus, this problem should subside over time.
All of those things can be done outside of a discipleship house - but what the structured discipleship house invaluable adds is the culture aspect in which all of the guys, or girls (if it's a women's house) are all in this together. They are learning similar things together, talking about Biblical truths together, praying together, helping each other out in difficult times, showing each other how these truths live out, holding each other accountable.
Far too often, houses of this nature take and put one man who is spiritually mature into a house to lead five or so men who just gave their lives to Jesus and are still struggling with many things - spiritual babies. This one mature man is out-numbered and the culture of the house will be determined by the weaker Christians. Rather, a better approach is to mostly fill the house with Christians that are stable and have been growing in their faith for a number of years; then have one or two men who have moved in and are just learning and/or coming out of broken lives of sin. Implementing this approach, the culture is set and determined by the Christians who are more mature in Christ and you get a culture of discipleship. Having the right people becomes the difficult part, but it's possible by the power of God - I've experienced this myself!