What is a Discipleship House?
A discipleship house is a very general term for a living facility where all residents are in alignment about what is means to be a disciple of Jesus and they are actively challenging each of the other members towards that standard. In our American culture today, discipleship houses are one way to combat the discipleship issues that the church faces. It specifically addresses the shortcomings of the average church discipleship by:
1) Creating a culture of discipleship.
2) Allowing for a high bar when it comes to discipleship.
There were five main ministries interviewed to research the different styles of discipleship houses or ministry houses:
DWELL (Formerly Known as Xenos)
Dwell is a growing house church movement in Ohio that emphasizes discipleship. They utilize weekly house church, Bible studies, small groups, and one on one discipleship to foster a culture of discipleship. They have discipleship houses, however, Dwell does not actively oversee or structure any of their houses. If a group of guys or girls from a small group wants to live together, they find a house and set up whatever discipleship in the house how they want. Dwell only steps in when there is an individual church discipline issue.
The Homestead is a faith-based recovery program for women coming out of the sex trafficking industry. They provide a structured, live-in program that these women complete with lots of oversight. They heavily emphasis a holistic approach to recovery and integrate counseling, life skills training, job training and educational opportunities. Partnered with a local church, the women attend worship, a Bible study, serve in the church, and complete several book studies over topics such as spiritual warfare and boundaries.
Adult & Teen Challenge
Adult and Teen Challenge was originally started by David Wilkerson in New York as a way to combat the gang and drug issues in the city with the love of Jesus. Since then, it has expanded nation-wide. They've purposely created a national leadership structure that is not overly involved except for providing some discipleship material and ensuring that Adult & Teen Challenges cooperate with legal codes. The Greater Kansas City Adult & Teen Challenge provides an intense, discipleship focused recovery program for anyone but specially those with background involving alcohol, drugs, sexual sin, and mental issues. They provide a one year structured, tailored program that heavily focuses on renewing the mind through Scripture and the freedom in Christ that comes from a saving relationship with him. They also receive some life skills and work skills training.
Working Men of Christ
Working Men for Christ is an organization dedicated to ministering to men (and women) being released from prison. The process starts still in prison as the student completes some discipleship material. Then they can move into one of the closest discipleship homes that have been set up. There is a live-in house manager in each house and each student gets paired up with mentor to help guide them. Through local partnerships, they are able to find jobs with the goal of being integrated back into society as a disciple of Jesus with a transformed life.
Refuge Discipleship Houses
The Refuge Discipleship homes are ran through a local church, The Refuge Fellowship (if you haven't noticed, this is their website). This church started with a goal of creating a church with intensive discipleship at its center. They currently have a women's home and a men's home with hopes of expanding. These houses are for Christians who have surrendered to Jesus but are looking for a high level of discipleship or are seeking to overcome the effects of a sinful lifestyle and have their minds transformed by following Jesus. With a two-year course that covers topics from prayer to the character of God, Refuge Discipleship houses place a high emphasis on teaching people to walk with Jesus through Scripture and prayer. Everything in the program is centered on knowing the Word of God and learning how that applies to every area of life. This is unique as it's for those coming out of really intense life situations and those coming out of really nice life situations.
There are a lot of different types ... what's the best model?
While researching and interviewing these different styles of Discipleship Houses, it it became clear what some of the major differences between them are. We will go over them and then present what I believe to be the best model of discipleship house. With any type of church ministry, there will be doctrinal differences that work themselves out in how houses are run. I will not be reviewing those - as long as they are professing Christians and hold to the key statements of the Apostles Creed, we're on the same team. However, there are key differences in how discipleship houses are set up that is helpful to see and discuss. I've illustrated them below.
The horizontal axis is "Rigidity of The Program": This is referring to how strict the program is. How deeply do they require accountability? How much oversight is on residents? Can they go somewhere without the leadership knowing? A really structured discipleship house is going to have a leadership structure and oversight of everything that goes on in the house. An unstructured discipleship house is not going to have hardly any structure set up on how the house needs to operate.
The vertical axis is "Focus": This is referring to what purpose the discipleship house is set up for. Is it set up to minister to a specific type of person in a particular situation? Do they only allow certain people in certain circumstances into the house? If a house is focused totally on making disciples in will be lower on the chart. If a program is more recovery focused it will be more towards the top of the chart.
What does this tell us about different types of Discipleship Houses?
This type of chart is very telling and it is not meant to throw some ministries under the bus - but to allow us to find what model might be the most helpful for churches in America to implement. Some observations from this graph, the interviews, and ministry experience from running a discipleship house:
The less structured a discipleship house is, the harder it is to set up the environment for intensive discipleship that you want. It could become just a house with Christians in it - rather than really focusing on a high bar of discipleship.
The more structured a program is, the higher likelihood that allegation of "legalism" will come against the program. These need to be evaluated seriously, however, it could just be someone whose heart really isn't all that yielded to Jesus or invested in what the house is about.
The more a discipleship house is focused purely on making disciples, the easier it will be to allow Christians from all walks of life and backgrounds. This can create an environment with large demographic disparities - however, if those in the house are really humble, it can create a really cool, unique environment.
The more focus on a specific niche of ministry the house is, the easier it is to lose the focus on creating disciples. Not to say that this happens, but the danger is there. As more things are done to focus on drug recovery, for instance, the focus can easily shift from primarily making disciples. Ministries created to focus on certain types of sin and recovery are important but not what discipleship houses are about.
This issues acknowledged, I believe the best type of house is one that is:
1) Creating a culture of discipleship
2) Setting the bar high when it comes to discipleship
...the house that is structured and focused on discipleship first and foremost.