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Wednesday, February 17, 2016

"Discipleship That Fits" (Bobby William Harrington and Alex Absalom)

TITLE: Discipleship That Fits: The Five Kinds of Relationships God Uses to Help Us Grow
AUTHOR: Bobby William Harrington and Alex Absalom
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016, (240 pages).

When buying clothes, we look for those that fit the wearers. When hiring people, we usually talk about whether we get the right person for the right job. Even in churches that are hiring staff, we are passionate about finding the right fit. In a world of increasing personalization and customization, the idea of fit matches very well with modern society. Bobby Harrington and Alex Absalom have extended the idea of 'fit' to discipleship. They are convinced that the primary command of the Great Commission is to make disciples. Without discipleship, churches risk getting converts without depth, believers without passion, and people without purpose. For Harrington, discipleship is about the process of turning believers into followers of Jesus in every way. For Absalom, a disciple is an "intentional learner from Jesus." The authors highlight the presence of three common sets of behaviour in churches. The "bounded set" is about churches that tend to focus on the boundary to determine who is in and who is out. Such a set tends to be too discriminative and fails to build community with people different from us. The "fuzzy set" type runs to the other extreme where there are no distinctions, leading to a confused state. The "centered set" has all persons in the community united in one goal.

The two key questions for discipleship are:

1) What is Jesus saying?
2) What am I doing in response?

Discipleship is essentially disciple making. It is about helping people trust and follow Jesus. It is about the four operative words: "Help, Trust, Follow, and Jesus." The helping is the intentional process. The trusting is the heart change toward God. The following is about obedience and sanctification. In Jesus is the felt presence of God. Believing that there is no one way to do discipleship, the authors propose five. All of these approaches incorporate elements of discipleship through building relationships, experiencing God, and sharing information.

The first is the Public context which is about the large number of people gathered within a common boundary, like a Church coming together for worship on Sunday. Private information tends to be shared more by chance rather than by intention. This is like Jesus ministering to people in the crowds. Discipleship comes through preaching, public teaching, inspiration, and mass rallies. For the authors, the goals in such a context is "inspiration, movementum, and preaching." The word "movementum" refers to that of exponential growth and multiplication. Corporate worship, testimonies, story-telling, are good ways to build discipleship. Unique applications in this context include the way the center serves the edge.

The second is the Social context. The best example is that of a missional community who are centered on a common purpose and ministering together in a shared neighbourhood. Size wise, this is like Jesus sending out the 70 disciples to the neighbours. The operative words are "community, mission, and practice." It has much greater community and common sharing. Individuals will feel a sense of affinity. Gathering for meals, meeting in households, and networking with one another are ways to help individuals do discipleship.

The third is the Personal context. This is like Jesus and the 12 disciples. Small groups are great examples of this format. The operative words are "closeness, support, and challenge." Due to the smaller size, people can afford to share more about themselves. The focus is on relationships rather than organization. Here is where we need to be careful. Small groups that are not centered on doing discipleship will lack the necessary foundation that holds the group together. Leaders must be people who are themselves being discipled. Such a context also presents a great opportunity for discipleship up close and personal.

The fourth is the Transparent context. This is like Jesus and the three disciples in the inner circle. Examples are small groups, discipleship groups, and marriages. The size of the group should be small, like between two to four persons. The key words are "intimacy, openness, and impact." Whether it is Neil Cole's "Life Transformation Groups," Robby Gallaty's "D-groups," Randy Pope's "Life-on-Life Groups," or Tara-Leigh Cobble's "Women's D-Groups," we learn that we are all wired for intimacy. We need closeness, intimacy, openness, and togetherness as part of our humanity. It is here that we learn to develop trust and to live impactful lives. The true test of Bible studies is how we live out practically after our discussion together. Groups provide great learning opportunities to do just that.

The fifth is the Divine context. This is the intimate relationship like the one Jesus had with the Father. The example is that of our personal walk with Jesus. This is where we learn about our true identity in Christ. The key premise is this: Without a one-to-one relationship with God, we have nothing substantial to build our other relationships upon. We learn the different spiritual practices like prayer, retreat, celebration, giving, fasting, and so on. More importantly, we learn that it is not about us doing things to reach God, but experiencing how God embraces us. The three goals are identity, destiny, and truth.

Harrington and Absalom are passionate about all things discipleship. Harrington co-founded discipleship.org and is lead pastor of Harpeth Christian Church in Franklin, Texas. His Church is passionate about biblical discipleship, whose mission is simply to make biblical disciples of Jesus. Absalom speaks, writes, consults, and practices missional Christianity, and in particular to build missional communities. He also leads Dandelion that empowers disciple making leaders. Both have come together to provide a well thought out book on discipleship. Using five different contexts, they help us begin where we are, allowing Christian communities to begin discipleship from their existing contexts. Unlike many other discipleship programs that tend to pull people out of their original contexts and implanted into an oft-lecture or educational based curriculum, through the ideas in this book, they help crystallize the discipleship objectives, to help us understand the different ways in which discipleship can be practiced, and the many practical initiatives we can adopt to strengthen the discipleship projects and lifestyles. There is something for everyone, but before that can happen, we need to do our own homework as well. The book alone does not do the digesting for us. They are only raw materials. We must do the processing and the deliberating on what is best and what is most appropriate for our purposes. Any book about discipleship is worth looking into. Good books on discipleship are worth investing in. This book is one of them.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Zondervan Academic and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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