New church members have lots of questions. A common one is,
“How do I get connected in a discipling relationship?”
What a great question! Discipling is critical for our Christian growth as individuals as well as for making the gospel visible in our life together as a church. So we want to do everything we can to cultivate a culture of discipling in our church.
Disciplining can take on many forms. Within Grace, we see the possibility for four main “touch-points” or opportunities to connect in a disciplining relationship: Corporate Worship, Biblical Life Development Classes (Sunday School), Life Teams (small groups), and one-on-one discipleship.
1. What do we mean by “discipling?”
In one sense, almost everything we do as a local church is about being and making disciples. The songs we sing, the prayers we pray, and certainly the sermons that are preached all aim to grow us as God-glorifying disciples.
But in this context we are thinking particularly about individual relationships. More formally, we are talking about the intentional encouragement and training of disciples of Jesus on the basis of deliberate, loving relationships.
Jesus tells us to pursue one another like this: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:17). How did Jesus love his disciples in ways that could be imitated? He loved them intentionally, purposefully, humbly, joyfully and normally. Let’s think about these descriptions.
Intentional: “You did not choose me but I chose you…” (John 15:16a). Jesus did not merely stumble across his disciples; he took the loving initiative. He chose them. Christ-like love is not passive; it takes initiative. Loving other Christians like Christ loves us means taking the initiative.
Purposeful: “…and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last” (John 15:16b). Christ’s love for his disciples is purposeful. He called them to bear fruit for God’s glory. In other words, his love is not merely sentimental, but has a wonderful, God-glorifying agenda. If we are to love one-another as Christ has loved us, surely we will share Jesus’ goals for one another, namely, the spiritual good of our friends and God’s glory through their joy in the gospel.
Humble: Jesus says, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you,” (John 15:9) and “Instead [of slaves] I have called you friends” (John 15:15). Jesus condescends to be our friend, even though he is infinitely far above us in majesty, holiness, and honor. Surely, then, we must relate with all humility to our fellow fallen brothers and sisters. We treat them as friends whom we love, not as “projects” or “lessers.” We don’t lord it over, we honor and cherish them and our time together with them.
Joyful: “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11). Jesus commands us to love one another so that we would know his joy. Setting out to care for other Christians, encouraging their growth in grace, can be hard work. But it is wonderful work, and Jesus says it is joy-producing work!
Normal: Jesus makes this kind of loving discipling his basic command to all his people and, thus, normal for all Christians. Consider again: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” Not surprisingly, you will find talk of basic Christian discipleship throughout God’s Word:
- “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (Hebrews 3:13).
- “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10)
- “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
The New Testament is filled with such exhortations. Jesus and the apostles did not mean for discipling between Christians to be exceptional, but normal.
As a member of Grace, we want you to be intentional, purposeful, humble, and joyful as we work together at making these kinds of one-on-one relationships normal.
Do this by letting people get to know you. Do this by working to know them. Really, the more we are in Christ; the more he will be reflected in our relationships with each other!
2. How do we develop a “culture of discipling”?
Most dictionaries define a “culture” as something like “the shared values, goals and practices that characterize a group.” That is pretty much what we have in mind when it comes to discipling at our church. We don’t want just a program, we want mutual love and encouragement to be a value, goal, and practice that increasingly characterizes all of us.
Formal programs are not necessarily bad, but we want to make sure we do not fall short of the biblical ideal. And the biblical ideal, as we have said, is to become a place where it is normal to take initiative in doing one another spiritual good. You don’t have to sign up for anything or get permission before loving fellow members this way. Nor do you want a church where discipling only happens when the staff sustains it. That’s not a healthy church! No, we want you to pray and think about how you can jump in. And talk to an elder or some other member about your unique opportunities and stewardships.
3. What is my part in a discipling relationship?
The most significant aspect of any discipling relationship, often, is not exactly what you do when you meet, but that you build a relationship with biblical grace and truth at its core. As such, there is no “set program” for discipling relationships in our church. Members do a number of things:
- Meet weekly to discuss the prior Sunday’s sermon, a relevant Christian book, or a passage of Scripture.
- Invite visitors and regulars alike to lunch after service.
- Accompany mothers with young children as they run errands.
- Prepare meals to ease the burden on hurting families.
- Help together with many of the fun local activities in the community.
- Grab some coffee and just enjoy the fellowship and conversation.
Examples abound, and the venues are flexible. What’s important, again, is that you pursue something, something were you have time to relate to another member with the intentional aim of encouraging and being encouraged by the truth from God’s Word.
So be creative! But be intentional about loving one another in the best, the highest, the most biblical way—by aiming to do the other person spiritual good, and by resting in the One whose good envelops us.