Counter-Cultural Discipleship

Written by Kristina Osborn

As an elementary school student, I had a unique opportunity to witness the workings of natural biology in an up-close-and-personal, unforgettable kind of way.  Our classroom adopted an incubator filled with about a dozen chicken eggs, and we spent our school year watching the incubator warm the eggs while they grew, all the way up until they were ready to hatch and gift to us healthy baby chicks. I remember crowding around the incubator, on tiptoes to peer over the top and down through the transparent lid, side-by-side with other eager and wide-eyed learners.  We watched and waited with expectation—always on the edge of our seats.  Would today be the day?  I remember looking down at those eggs and wondering if they would burst open to reveal chicks right before my little eyes.  I wanted so badly to see them emerge into the world for the first time! 

When they finally did escape their eggs, though, they chose to do so overnight.  Of course, we were not in the classroom to see it.  But let me tell you, we immediately recognized the difference in the morning!  The baby chicks had finally arrived.  That which once so little resembled a chicken—which even looked so little like a living thing, in its small, hard, egg form—now looked brilliantly alive and so much more like a chicken.  The incubating took time and patience, and though the final result was known, its timing and unfolding could only be anticipated until the day it arrived.

As a young student, I learned an invaluable science lesson.  But more than that, I learned an awesome life lesson: wonderful, life-full, rewarding things are worth the wait—or the incubation period, if you will.

Well, here at Embrace, we have been doing some incubating…and some anticipating with great excitement, too.

It all started about a year ago, when we looked around us and took stock of all the beautiful ways God was working in and among our community. We saw much to celebrate! But we also noticed something missing. Though we knew some growth and community support systems were springing up organically, we saw that there was not much structure in place for helping our members and regular attenders to grow deeper in their walks with Jesus. We saw a need for a clear discipleship pathway.

So, we asked ourselves this question: “What would it look like here at Embrace if we became more intentional about walking alongside and resourcing people as they learn how to become more like Jesus?” 

We took that question and we incubated it. We prayed, researched, talked with other local church leadership, read books and blog posts about different discipleship and small group models, met and talked together, and began to dream about what the Spirit of God might want to breathe into life in our community. 

From the beginning, we knew we wanted to offer some sort of “groups” for people to grow as disciples together.  What we didn’t know was how that would look, or how we could best create group environments that would actually foster real growth. Our time of incubation around the question led us first to some convictions about the reasons we need growth-propelling togetherness—and then these helped form the mental framework we operated within while dreaming our new approach into existence.

1 — As those who belong to Jesus and desire to grow as his disciples, the gift of eternal life is ours for the living now. Jesus tells us in John 17:3 that eternal life is knowing Him and knowing the Father. We believe: Growing in knowledge and experience of God and opening ourselves more fully to Him is what it looks like to live eternal life now. We grow in knowing and being known through spiritual disciplines, continual confession and surrender, and committed walking together. 

2 —Through a survey of our people, we learned that many call Jesus their Savior but now feel stuck, unsure how to grow. We are convinced this stuck mentality happens to us when we feel isolated. Growth always feels harder when we are trying to make it happen through our own resources and alone. We believe: Discipleship and the journey of spiritual formation require community and support. This journey is hard, and we need each other.

3 — Living in close, committed, and accountable community is counter cultural and will be difficult, because our culture has trained us to choose isolation over intimacy, cover-up over confession, and competition instead of mutual relationship. We must learn how to commit together and to each other for the long haul, expecting challenges to come and weathering them as they do. We believe: We need rhythms and practices to retrain the way we think and operate, so we can live as disciples who daily answer the high-commitment call of Jesus.


We grow as disciples
we are grace to each other, revealing more of God
the journey is hard—and we need support
and we require (re)training in commitment.


As these truths became central in our processing, a vision of the groups began to take shape. 

To foster this type of committed togetherness, we envisioned:

-small groups of 3-5 people (MAX),

-that would be gender-specific,

-governed by a covenant,

-meeting weekly (or at least bi-weekly),

-for 12-18 months,

-focused around practice of spiritual disciplines and accountability.

And as we began to talk with potential leaders about this vision, we heard the agreement of the Spirit with our many spirits: “YES.  I want this and I need this, too.”

Our goal was to begin 2 or 3 groups for each gender.  We would have been grateful to step forward into even only one.  But we experienced both a greater outpouring of desire to join these groups, and a greater response of willingness to lead them than we had hoped.

In late August, we trained 10 leaders. As September began, we formed groups and assigned them to the leaders. And now, as we head towards October, groups are connecting for the first time.

We use the language of experimentation a lot right now.  “This is all new.  As we experiment, we will see what works and what doesn’t and adjust as we need to.” These groups are meant to be high commitment, but not high pressure.  We want people to become free, and so we approach the process itself with open hands, too.  

What will it look like for these groups of people—many who have not known each other before now—to enter into a committed journey of life and growth as disciples together? Only time will tell.  And that’s the excitement-laced, beautiful sense of anticipation present in the process!  We can anticipate with hope and joy, because we expect our God to show up.

In a very real way, these groups are incubators. They are dedicated environments, which will hopefully provide just enough light, and warmth, and safe space for lives to flourish. And a year from now, when our members emerge from their incubator-groups, I pray the result we are met with is much like that elementary school science lesson I learned.  I pray what we see is people emerging vibrantly alive and looking a whole lot more like Jesus. For this is, after all, what we are intended to grow up, and come alive, and be.