There have been several books in recent years on the subject of discipleship, many of them are great, while others…well….
However, one of the primary points that is skipped or underemphasized in many of these books is the importance of the local church in meaningful discipleship. I thank God for men and women who have Bible studies at their workplace or during lunch with coworkers, for men and women who meet with one another through the week and walk through Scripture and other books. However, it is critically important to realize those relationships are not your local church. Not only that, but discipleship relationships are MOST effective when taking place with people within your local church. Now, this is not a call to quit the Bible study at work, but it is a call to say that your most meaningful discipleship should be in the local church. This is the place where you are hearing the same truths, where there should be accountability, where other people around you are being used in your sanctification process.
Some will argue that the reason they are in discipling outside the local church is because their local church is not doing it well. The problem is that God’s pattern for discipleship is through the local church, and if the local church is not doing it well you could and should be the catalyst to help it improve, rather than “redesigning” what God intended. Going outside the local church for your primary discipleship because the discipleship is not very vibrant, is like me going to another woman to meet some emotional needs because I believe my wife is falling short. Now to be clear, I am not saying if you are discipling someone outside the local church it is equal to adultery. What I am trying to explain is that if God established His Bride to be the primary way to disciple and you choose to do it another way because you believe the church is not doing this well, that is certainly unhealthy. As a rule, my deepest most meaningful spiritual relationships should be the people that I worship with and do life with faithfully. Your Bible study group or your discipleship group is not an alternative to a local body of believers.
A great, short book on this subject is entitled Discipling, by Mark Dever. He says: “The local church is the natural arena for discipling relationships….” He explains this is the where accountability, ordinances (which proclaim and teach the gospel), godly examples of everything from marriage, to losing a loved one is demonstrated. The church is not plan A for discipleship, it is just God’s plan with no plan B. Find a healthy one and love her, warts and all and watch God do a great work in your life and in those around you.