Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Group Dynamics of the 12 Disciples

I earned my undergraduate degree from East Texas Baptist University. My major was Religion and my minor was Psychology. The minor, I owe to Dr Lynn New. He was so captivating in his required  course “Introduction to Psychology,” that I kept taking his classes until I had enough credits for a minor.

I did not know it at the time, but his class “Group Dynamics” would be the one to help me most in my future ministry. As I began to pay attention to how groups form and function, I saw many parallels in the church. I marveled at how some people had a knack for attracting people and getting them into groups. While I understood the theory, I was not very good at it. I thought it was a mark of a good minister, to be able to organize people and create groups where people could grow in the Lord.

For me, the Biblical example was Jesus, who seemed to be able to just walk by people and draw them in.
Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men." And immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.    (Mark 1:16-20)

He went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, "Follow me." And he rose and followed him.  (Mark 2:13-14)
I had not yet begun paying attention to how Jesus trained his disciples to disciple families and groups, nor had I studied the formation of churches in the book of Acts. If I had done that, I would have seen that the apostles primarily relied on others to form the groups.

The case of Jesus calling his group of disciples, however, is not as random as it it appears in Mark. There is a big back story. Here is my telling of it:

The Calling of the Twelve

Before Jesus began announcing the Kingdom of God, his blood-relative John the Baptist was preaching repentance and telling everyone that a special person was coming. When Jesus came to the Jordan river to be baptized, John pointed him out. “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

Two of John’s disciples followed after Jesus when they heard that, and they spent a day with him getting to know him. One of those two disciples was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. Andrew then told Simon that he thought Jesus might be the Messiah.

The next day, Jesus went to Galilee and spoke to another man named Philip, who was from Andrew’s hometown Bethsaida. Philip went and talked to his friend Nathaniel just as Andrew had gone to Simon. “We have found the one Moses talked about. Come and see!” The following day, Jesus went with them to a wedding in Nathaniel’s hometown Cana. That is where he performed his first miracle, but only a few people saw it.

Jesus then went to Capernaum for a few days to visit family, and then on to Jerusalem for the Passover. When he went to the temple, he took issue with the money changers and chased them out. He also taught and performed a few miracles. Many people in Jerusalem started to believe in him, but he knew their hearts and didn’t trust them. However, there was one Pharisee named Nicodemus who met with Jesus and was convinced. From then on he supported Jesus among the Pharisees.

Now, After this, Jesus went out again to the Jordan area in Judea where John the Baptist was still baptizing people. Only now, some of his disciples were starting to follow after Jesus and Jesus began to draw bigger crowds than John the Baptist. John approved of this, but in order to avoid problems Jesus left with some of his followers and went to Galilee.

On the way he passed through Samaria and met the woman at Jacob’s well. He ended up spending three days in the village of Sychar where many Samaritans trusted in him. Then when Jesus finally arrived in Galilee, he was well received, and he also went back to Cana, and again to Capernaum. It was around this time that John the Baptist was arrested and imprisoned.

Jesus went out to the seashore and taught the people there. For crowd-control purposes, he sat in Simon’s boat. When he finished teaching, he asked Simon to push out and drop the net in deep water. Andrew and Simon pulled up so many fish that they had to call their partners over to help. So, Jesus’s cousins, the Zebedee brothers, James and John came over to help pull in the fish. Peter realized, then, that following Jesus would be even greater, and more dangerous calling than following John the Baptist. That is when Jesus called them to be His disciples and fishers of men.

There near the shore was Mathew, almost certainly a close acquaintance, if not friend of the fishermen. Jesus called him to follow as well.  That very night, Matthew called a bunch of his friends together and threw a dinner party. He invited Jesus as the guest of honor. This happened quite a lot with Jesus in all the neighboring towns.

By this time, Jesus had quite a large number of followers. He went up the mountain to pray, spending the whole night there. Then, in the morning, he called all of his disciples together and chose from among them, twelve to be his apostles. These twelve would be close to him, and be sent out to represent him, preaching the gospel, and casting out demons.

He chose:
Simon, to whom he gave the name Peter
Andrew, Simon’s brother
James, the son of Zebedee and Salome, who was Mary’s sister
John, James’ brother, and also cousin of Jesus
Philip, John’s disciple
Nathaniel, also called Bartholomew, Philip’s friend
Matthew, the son of Alphaeus, also called Levi
James, the son of Alphaeus (possibly Matthew’s brother, but we don’t know)
Thaddeus, whose name was also Judas
Simon, the Zealot, and
Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.


  1. Stephen,

    Thank you so much for your writings. They have encouraged my spirit and aided in my understanding of the scripture. Love you! Keep up the good work.


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