Discipleship is vital to the church's mission. Making disciples was a central part of Jesus' ministry, and his last instruction to his followers was that they were to do likewise (Matthew 28.19). A fresh expression of church will see discipleship as central to its task. (See God wants people to become disciples of Jesus).

This section of the guide has been written by Andrew Roberts and Michael Moynagh, in consultation with the Fresh Expressions Discipleship Round Table.

What are the key principles?

Tiger lily

The key principles that should underpin discipleship in a fresh expressions context include:

Make discipleship a priority

This is what Jesus did and he told his followers to do the same. Discipleship equips Christians to promote the kingdom of God.

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See your whole fresh expression in terms of discipleship

Discipleship is far more than getting new Christians started. It's a lifelong journey into the heart of God's love. Have you thought about how you can begin discipleship before people come into faith? Discipleship has four dimensions - upward to God, inward to the self, outward to the world and sideways to the whole body of Christ

Listen to those you are seeking to disciple

Discipleship should start with the questions people are asking. It should fit the context - one-size-fits-all increasingly doesn't work. It should normally be side by side rather than top down or bottom up.

But very often Jesus helped people realise that there were more important questions than the ones they were asking. People's questions may be the starting point, and we certainly need to listen very carefully rather than imposing our agenda or insisting on our starting points, but becoming a disciple often means learning to ask different questions.
Stuart Murray Williams, Urban Expression

Address the whole of life

Discipleship is about bringing kingdom values to bear on every aspect of life. This involves a journey to holiness - and holiness requires dying-to-live in your inner heart.

Nurture community

Football playersAuthentic community nurtures spiritual life. Healthy Christian communities will be life-centred rather than church-centric. Discipleship includes multiplying these communities.

Provide plenty of support

Disciples need the support of other Christians. A Christian community can provide this through one-to-one support, small groups and gatherings of the whole fresh expression. Effective discipleship increasingly requires collaboration between churches, and this should be a priority.

Rethink worship and learning

Worship may be very different from inherited church. Understanding how people learn can make discipleship more effective. There should be a renewed emphasis on spiritual practices, such as a light-touch 'rule of life'.

Encourage reliance on the Holy Spirit

Top-down learning risks creating a dependency on Christian leaders. The New Testament emphasises dependence on the Spirit instead. Pioneers should normally leave their new Christian communities as soon as possible.

  • Discipleship encourages dependence on the Spirit
This depends on the kind of pioneer. Some are gifted at initiating new churches and need to move on quite soon – so that they can use their pioneering gifts elsewhere AND so that they do not get bored with what they have been doing or get in the way of emerging leaders. But other pioneers grow with the church they plant and serve it over the long haul.
Stuart Murray Williams, Urban Expression

Remember that discipleship is changing

It has to engage with changes in society - we are a more sensual culture, for example. Discipleship in fresh expressions may be more about forming church than helping people to join church. Individuals are very different, or at least want their differences recognised.

How might we encourage discipleship?

WavesYou should ask the question, might published resources work for us? We have details of several such resources which you might find useful.

You might also like to explore What material and approaches have fresh expressions developed?

If you know of other discipleship resources which could be appropriate for fresh expressions of church of different shapes and sizes, please let us know.