A structured discipleship house doesn't just happen
Because it is a structured environment, it requires a leadership structure that overseas and is there to keep the structure upheld and the focus on discipleship. This can be a parachurch organization (like a campus ministry) but really operates the best in the context of the local church. The leadership of the local church (elders and deacons) are the leadership structure for the house as they are for the church. Generally in the Bible we see elders spiritual guiding the church of God and deacons leading by helping to order and take care of details that would otherwise hinder the elders to be consumed with. Elders, in particular, are already spiritually guiding the church body (discipleship) and handling church discipline cases - so that rolls very nicely into spiritually guiding and directing the discipleship house.
Elders are best suited for determining the discipleship material and spiritual aspects of the discipleship house.
There is still a bunch of practical things that require leadership in the house as well:
Communication about each disciple
Ensuring that each item on the contract is upheld
Making sure disciples have access to all the resources they need for learning.
Handling any issues that don't require getting the elders involved.
Deacons are best suited to take care of all the tedious parts of leading the house such as these. However, there is still a gap in the leadership. A role of a point person in the house who is going through the same discipleship program yet is stable.
Deacons are best suited for helping to run the practical aspects of the house.
The best form of leadership structure in the house is simply just an extension of the Church leadership set up in Scripture. Something not addressed in this resource guide is the process of selecting elders and deacons of high character. That is assumed in these scenarios - elders and deacons that meet the qualifications laid out in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.
Still, this leaves a gap. Discipleship houses operate best when there is a steady, stable, mature Christian living in the house, as a point person in the house for the church leadership to rely on, coordinate with, and communicate with.
A point person in the house that lives in the house and runs the house is the last leadership structure.
This person is selected by the church leadership and helps to set the bar high in the discipleship house. Firstly, by being a role model to others in the house. They also run the weekly house meetings, lead house devotions, and check to make sure chores and items on the contract are being upheld. It best when there is some kind of regular meeting between the house leader and a deacon or elder so that goo communication is had and the house leader doesn't feel like they are all alone in dealing with problems.
Leadership structure of a discipleship house
The discipleship house really does operate best in the context and structure of church leadership. Each point person for guys or girls houses needs prayerfully selected as it can be a difficult position to be in - especially if they are put into some kind of leadership position over their peers.
Who can get into a discipleship house?
A discipleship house is really for any follower of Jesus who is committed to seriously growing in their faith. Because of the nature of it, it does appeal well to a demographic of young singles in their 20s or 30s. This doesn't mean that it's not for older people, but the season of life that it works best in is that time out of high school and before marriage. Something that hopefully becomes clear as structure discipleship houses have been presented, is that discipleship houses really operate as a Christ-centered family really should. If you grew up in a house where Jesus was central and discipleship was key, most of the structure and program are similar. Not all but most of it. So in reality, discipleship homes also provide an environment that many Christians didn't get - a culture of Christ center living together. Ideally a church is investing in families to have cultures like a discipleship home as well as pouring into those who don't have that privilege through discipleship houses.
How does someone get into a discipleship house?
Can members get kicked out?
Once someone finds out about the house somehow (through members in the house, hearing about it from someone, or finding it online), usually what works best is to have an elder and the house leader meet with that person to get to know them and make sure they understand everything they are getting into. It's important at this point to verify that the person is both humble and hungry to grow. These are both thing that really fuel discipleship well. In this meeting, emphasizing the why behind the things that are done is key to make sure the the person is really on board. It's not pleasant when someone moves in and they aren't on board with what the house is about or they aren't humble enough to receive teaching and direction.
Disciples can choose to move out any time they want to. However, someone will be asked to leave the house if they continually don't meet their end of the contract. It can look like someone having regular fits of rage - even when they've been warned by the leadership. It can look like someone sneaking out to use drugs. Or it can also look like someone just not committing to make it to events regularly. Each situation should be handled separately with warnings and certain measure taken to ensure that the person has ample time to change before actually kicking them out. While this doesn't happen often, it is necessary for this to happen at times to preserve the discipleship culture and peace in the houses. That being said, it's also not impossible for that person to get their act together and be able to move back in after a time. That can be a cool way to show forgiveness.
What about small matters of house discipline?
Usually each disciple has one or more items on the contract that they don't agree with or like for various reasons. If someone is truly surrendered to Jesus and knows that God wants them in the discipleship house, they should have no problems submitting to the contract and structure - they really want to grow! However, what happens when someone breaks part of their contract? It's typically up to the house leader to notice this and specifically to notice a trend or if a member has breached several items on the contract. A form of the way Christians are called to handle sin is the best way to handle this in the discipleship house even though some areas aren't blatantly sinful. What this should usually look like is the house leader talking with the member and lovingly confronting him about the issue. If this is all that is required and the disciple has a change of heart and corrects the issue, then everything is good!
If not, the house leader should take someone else with him to confront the member again. If this doesn't work, a meeting with the church elders should be arraged to determine if that person can still be allowed to stay in the house. Again, this is all done in truth and love so that the member knows that he/she is loved and is wanted in the houses. It is important to keep in mind that if one member can get away with breaking the contract, that sets a tone for the rest of the house. A balance of love and holding the bar high is needed. If it does come to it, being asked to leave the discipleship house doesn't inherently mean that the person is "kicked out of the church." Usually they are fine to keep being a part of the church and move in somewhere else - just not a discipleship house.
Running a discipleship home this way allows for the house to be missional.
When the high bar of discipleship is held and the structure is in place, this creates a dynamic environment and culture that can really be used well to impact others and even minister to homeless, broken-background people. Picture this: if you've got a house running well with most people in it really seeking Jesus and really going for it in discipleship, it creates a great culture to bring someone who has a shattered background into to really find healing and to be surrounded by God's people like they need. Rather than putting a bunch of shattered people in the same house together (this usually doesn't work too well), having one or two of these people surrounded by disciples that are stable in life has been found to work a lot better. These environments can also be good places to minister to friends as well when the see the love of God practically lived out in these homes.
Having more churches with discipleship-focused, structured discipleship homes in this this manner is one really good way to raise the bar of discipleship and to make disciples that know the Scriptures well, are walking in obedience to Jesus, and are equipped for whatever God has for them.
I believe that more discipleship houses of this nature are needed in the American church today and I hope that this resource guide can prepare and equip other ministries to set up and run these types of structured, discipleship-focused houses!