Discipleship Happens in Your Community Group

by Matt Kleinhans
The primary place that discipleship happens at Cornerstone is in the context of community groups. The one anothers of the New Testament are lived out in these smaller groups of men and women, gathering together throughout the week and throughout West LA. This is where we bear one another’s burdens, where we love and serve one another, where we sin against and forgive one another, and where we study, pray, and spiritually invest.
But what is discipleship? And what does that mean for us in community groups?
One of the final (and one of the most well-known) commands that Jesus gave to His disciples is in Matthew 28:
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16-20, ESV)
The resurrected Jesus tells His disciples that they themselves are called to go and make disciples.
It’s interesting to think about this command from Jesus — what does it mean to “make disciples”? For these 11 disciples there didn’t need to be further explanation. For the last 3 years they spent their time with Jesus and Jesus was making them disciples in the process. Basically, Jesus commanded them: live your life with others the same way that I have been living with you for the last 3 years.
The disciples go out after the ascension and dedicate the rest of their lives to evangelizing, planting churches, investing in people as future leaders of the church. We stand at the end of a long line of discipleship in the context of the church — life on life investment centered on the person and work of Jesus Christ. This same discipleship that Jesus modeled for His disciples is the kind of discipleship we are called to emulate in our community groups.
As I try to capture the work of discipleship, it’s helpful for me to think about discipleship as intentional, Christian friendship.


Discipleship requires intentionality.
Spiritual growth doesn’t just happen. It requires a willful effort on the part of a person, together with the power of the Holy Spirit. Discipleship, as God’s chosen means for growth in our lives, requires intentionality.
Sometimes we walk into a community group expecting relationships to develop organically and easily. We think that if the relationships require time or effort or energy then maybe it’s not the right place for us. But discipleship always requires intentional effort, time, and energy.
Think about Jesus. The 12 disciples were a ragtag group of people from the widest swaths of ancient Jewish society. Matthew was a tax collector. Simon the Zealot hated tax collectors, spent his whole life fighting against the Roman occupation, and would have diametrically opposed political views as Matthew. What does Jesus do? Does this group of people “instantly click”? Of course not. The process is messy. There is conflict within the disciples all the way to Jesus’s death in Jerusalem, but He brings them together with intentional teaching, time, effort, and energy.
The reality is that developing close relationships within a community group requires intentional effort. If you are new to Cornerstone and trying to get connected, know that deep, life-giving relationships take time, but they also take effort. Don’t hesitate to reach out to others in the group and invite them over to your apartment. Host a game night. Invite someone to coffee. Go hiking. There’s a million ways to get connected, but it will take time, it will take effort, and remember when it gets hard that discipleship requires intentionality.


Fundamentally discipleship is Christian.
Our goal in community groups is to grow in Christ.
This is the vision Paul paints for Christian community in Ephesians 4:
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:15–16, ESV)
Life on life relationships in community groups are aimed toward spiritual growth. We should be studying together, praying for one another, and discussing spiritual truths. God chooses to use us to encourage, spur on, and challenge one another toward loving Christ more.


One of the most under-appreciated aspects of discipleship is friendship.
Jesus talks to His disciples about their friendship in John 15:
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:12-15, ESV)
Discipleship is not meant to be cold, formal, and impersonal. True friendship is affectionate, close, friendly. Friendship is a special gift in the Bible — a relational closeness full of affection and shared values and interests. We sometimes think of friendship as a less important part of Christian community, but the truth is that friendship is at the very heart of Christian community. We are called toward a certain kind of friendship. We’re not supposed to only share hobbies or do fun things together without ever encouraging one another toward growing spiritually. But we are called to be intentional, Christian friends.
What does this mean for community groups? It means that times of social interaction and fun are no less spiritual or meaningful than times of prayer. You should have fun, share close affection for, and enjoy people in your community group. These groups are not meant to be pure Bible studies (though we study the Bible), and they are not meant to be pure prayer groups (although we do pray for one another). These groups are designed as the  context to build close friendships with brothers and sisters in Christ, who will love you, spur you on toward Christlikeness, and bear your burdens with you.
Cornerstone’s community groups are meant to facilitate discipleship in the church — and in order to do that we need to embrace our call from Christ toward intentional, Christian friendship.