Discipleship is currently a hot topic with new books being released almost every day on the topic. In fact, I helped co-author one (over 500 pages long!) that is due to be released any day now. Websites are springing up and "how-to" programs abound. While all of this is good and necessary, it is my hope that we do not lose sight of the primary truth about discipleship.
Discipleship is all about relationships. We enter into the Kingdom of God via a personal encounter (relationship) with the Lord Jesus Christ. We accept His perfect atoning sacrifice and we are now in a restored relationship with our heavenly Father. Our sins are forgiven and we are redeemed. We now can have as personal relationship with our Creator as we desire.
After we are born again, we become part of a huge family called the Body of Christ. This Body is made up of all those who have also been redeemed by the sacrifice of Jesus. While salvation is accomplished in a one on one transaction between our Maker and us, discipleship is accomplished in a multiple relationship setting. We are saved alone, but as long as we resided on this side of eternity, we will be in many relationships with God's other children.
Like a family, the Body of Christ has members that are older and those that are younger. Those who are older have a responsibility to assist and help those that are younger. The members of the Body of Christ that have more experience are supposed to share that experience with those who are younger. The experience may be positive or negative but both should be freely shared for both have value. We may feel all of our mistakes are wasted but they will not be, if we share them with others so they do not have to repeat the same ones.
There are many tools available to assist the discipleship process but the reality is that it will still all be about personal relationships. Like the Ethiopian eunuch that had questions about what he was reading, (Acts 8) new believes will have questions about their faith. Philip asked a powerful question - "Do you understand what you are reading? The wise Ethiopian man answered, "How can I, unless someone guides me?" These questions, and the answers given, are at the heart of discipleship. The older helps the younger gain wisdom and understanding.
We live in a social media world. There are smart phones, iPads, notepads, web casts, the internet, and a plethora of books being published daily. All of these are powerful tools to assist the furtherance of the Gospel and can greatly enhance the discipleship process. They cannot however, replace the relationship aspect of it. New believers will still ask, "How can I unless someone explains it?" and they will be correct in asking. Those who are older will still have to explain to those who are younger what they are reading and seeing, even in our high tech world.
Discipleship is all about relationships. It always has been and always will be. Two or more people talking and sharing information that leads to growth. Of course, this can be accomplished on other sides of the globe via technology, but the people will still need to talk. Questions abound and answers are available but those answers are always connected to a relationship of some sort. It is by God's design. God designed us to need human interaction in order to grow and mature in Him.
Human relationships reveal many aspects of our character that would not otherwise be exposed. God is the One that first brought up the whole, "It is not good for man to be alone," thing in Genesis 2. For the record, man was not alone; he had an intimate, personal relationship with his Creator! Yet, the Creator thought it best for man to have someone else to share his life with, thus Eve was created.
Our Christianity is lived out with others and that is by God's design. Discipleship will only fully be effective when we live in on-going relationships with other disciples. Classroom instruction can be helpful, as well as six or eight -week lessons, but the reality of discipleship occurs as we walk in long-term relationships with others. I would also add that in order for discipleship to really make much of a difference, relationships must be at the center of any discipling effort. Jesus simply could have thrown down His word from heaven, but a great deal would have been lost. Jesus modeled relationships.
Some verses to consider in light of the relational aspects of discipleship:
Proverbs 27:17 - Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.
Proverbs 27:6 - Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.
1 Peter 5:5 - Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
Philippians 2:3 - Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.
While there are hundreds of verses we could consider, these four provide plenty of material to point us in a relational direction. We need each other to become sharp, to be honest with one another, even when difficult, to learn humility, and to help us die to our selfishness daily. Spending time with someone else will eventually lead us into conflict, wounds, a choice to submit and humility. Almost none of these take place without the personal interaction with another person.
The relationship aspect of discipleship will help everyone involved to mature in Christ, and that is after all, the goal. The older teacher learns to grow in patience and the younger student experiences humility and growing pains. As delicate issues are addressed, faithful wounds are given and the sharpening process deepens. Yes, relationships are messy, but without the potential struggle, there is little growth, and with the relationship difficulties, maturity follows.
We tend to overcomplicate discipleship, but when it is all said and done, relationships must be formed and growth will come as a result of people walking together in their mutual pursuit of Christ. This is certainly not all that can be said about the topic, but this at least must be considered when discussing discipleship. The Kingdom of God is relational in all aspects.
Dr. Jeff Klick