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Where Do Covenant Discipleship Groups Fit?

Covenant Discipleship Connection

Covenant Discipleship groups are part of the foundation of the congregation’s disciple-making mission. Read Matthew 7:24-27, Luke 6:46-49, and Ephesians 2:19-22. Jesus said, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.” Covenant Discipleship is a proven and effective means of equipping the people who respond to the invitation to discipleship. They are the ones the congregation can count upon to hear and to act upon Jesus’ teachings. The process of weekly accountability and support for acting upon Jesus’ words, living the Christian life, forms these persons into leaders in discipleship the congregation needs to carry out its mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ equipped to join his mission in the world.

Covenant Discipleship groups are how congregations form the apostles and prophets Paul describes as being the foundation of God’s household in Ephesians 2:20. They are the leaders in discipleship working as partners with the appointed pastor to keep the promises the congregation makes in the Baptismal Covenant:

With God’s help we will proclaim the good news and live according to the example of Christ. We will surround these persons with a community of love and forgiveness, that they may grow in their trust of God, and be found faithful in their service to others. We will pray for them, that they may be true disciples who walk in the way that leads to life.[1]

The mission of Covenant Discipleship groups is to provide the disciples who disciple others in the congregation and in the neighborhood. These disciples who make disciples form the foundation, the rock, upon which the congregation is built as an outpost of God’s reign, centered in Christ and his mission.

I’m reminded of a powerful line from Mike Breen’s insightful book, Building a Discipling Culture

If you make disciples, you always get the church. But if you make a church, you rarely get disciples.[2]

He goes on to explain that church leaders need to understand that discipleship builds the church, not the other way around. He correctly says,

We need to understand the church as the effect of discipleship and not the cause. If you set out to build the church, there is no guarantee you will make disciples. It is far more likely that you will create consumers who depend on the spiritual services that religious professionals provide. [3]

Nowhere in Scripture does Christ tell his disciples to build a church. He mentions the church in only two places (Matthew 16:18 & 18:15-17). Jesus describes the job of his disciples in Matthew 28:18-20

Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: "God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I'll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age."[4]

I’m quoting The Message here because Eugene Peterson provides an accurate translation of the Greek word most commonly rendered as “make disciples.” He clearly illuminates the words meaning as “train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life.” This is the work of disciples who make disciples, and by extension, the church. This is the job description of lay and clergy leaders in discipleship.

Discipleship (living the Christian life) and disciple making (training others in the Christian life) is the work of the church. When disciples do their job, Jesus promises to build the church

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.[5]

Here Jesus tells Simon Peter the meaning of his name. Peter is “Rocky.” His name is a play on the Greek petros, which means, “rock.” Peter is the leader of the disciples. When Jesus points to him and says, “on this rock I will build my church,” he is saying he will build his church on the “rock” of discipleship.

This brings us back to Matthew 7:24, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.” Discipleship is the “rock” upon which God’s household, the church, is built. This means the church must intentionally provide the means for forming its members as disciples of Jesus Christ equipped to join his mission in the world. To do this essential work, the church needs disciples who disciple others.

Covenant Discipleship groups are the part of the disciple-making foundation of the congregation dedicated to the formation of disciples who make disciples.

[1] The United Methodist Hymnal, “Baptismal Covenant I:8,” (Nashville: The United Methodist Publishing House, 1989), 35.

[2] Breen, Mike (2011-08-16). Building a Discipling Culture (Kindle Locations 100-101). 3DM. Kindle Edition.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Eugene Peterson, The Message: The Bible In Contemporary Language, Matthew 28:18-20, (Colorado Springs: NavPress Publishing Group, 2005)

[5] Matthew 16:18 (NRSV)

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