Unit 3.5 Ralph W. Neighbour: Discipleship Systems


Discipleship Systems

The making of disciples takes place within the cell; for Neighbour, the cell is the discipleship system. Neighbour makes four points about the relationship between the disciple and the disciple maker: (SG: 35-36)

1. The one being equipped depends on the equipper.

2. Basic to the whole relationship is the inner fellowship between the two, and the practical effects of it.

3. The relationship is not merely an external connection with the goal of picking up information or skills under expert direction.

4. It is grounded in a fellowship which arises because all who participate are equally striving.

Equipping cell members for the Lord=s service involves mending them where they are dysfunctional and training them with new knowledge and skills (WD: 60). In Neighbour=s understanding, this is accomplished through the relationship between two persons in a Amentor‑driven discipleship process.@ In this model, the cell leader is the primary equipper of each cell member (SG: 35-42, 48, 23-34; WD 16). Like the relationship between parent and child, it cannot be done in a couple of hours per week. Properly done, cell leadership requires a large investment of personal time with each person being equipped.[1] Mutual equipping between members helps ease this Aone on one@ time requirement, but the leader=s commitment to invest time in mentoring will be continually tested by other priorities.  Prayer time can also become neglected. There is a temptation to focus on improving the quality of the weekly cell Aevent@ (WD: 261-275; SG: 146-217) to meet these needs rather than developing the spiritual maturity of each cell member throughout the week. Cells seem to flourish best in environments where people have a great deal of free time; this is especially true of the cell leader.[2]

Disciplewalk identifies five basic levels of developmental maturity: newborns (infants), children, adolescents, parents and grandparents. The Touch model uses four correlating levels of spiritual maturity: Beckham=s Aeddies@ and Neighbour=s children, young men and fathers. The latter are derived directly from 1 John 2:13-14 (SG: 14-16, 36-38; WD 16, 235-237, 250-255, 338). Neighbour says that AThe extent of a person=s spiritual maturity is the extent of the commitment he or she has to Kingdom activity@ (SG: 53). A form of Hersey & Blanchard=s situational leadership model explains the form of equipping ministry needed by each of the four maturity group (WD: 379; SG: 56). Mutual ministry and equipping also takes place as members exercise their spiritual gifts in the cell (WD: 185).

[1]An extraordinarily talented Christian could mentor 12 spiritual beginners in the cell or share this task with a talented intern.  A cell filling up with beginners drawn from harvest events could easily overwhelm the system and stop growth.

[2]Cells seem to flourish best among the impoverished, uneducated, unemployed, oppressed and powerless. Often these people have time on their hands. Cells provide very effective tools for people to overcome these conditions. There are many correlations between the cell movement and the social work discipline of community organization. (SG: 132).

NOTE (my response)



Abbreviations for page numbers in parentheses:

WD: Ralph W. Neighbour, Jr. Where Do We Go From Here? A Guidebook For The Cell Group Church. Tenth Anniversary Edition. Houston, TX: Touch Publications, 2000.

SG: Ralph W. Neighbour, Jr. The Shepherd=s Guidebook: Spiritual and Practical Foundations for Cell Group Leaders. Revised Edition. Houston, TX: Touch Publications, 1995.

The quote is from Major League Disciple Making: An Overview of the Best Research on the Cell Church, an online course developed for the Institute for Discipleship at www.BeADisciple.com in 2009. Course materials, including these lectures, can be downloaded here: http://www.disciplewalk.com/IFD_MLD_Class_Links.html

All Scripture quotations are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please review the page How and Why We Use Quotes.

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