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disciple making through relationship

In a previous post, I shared how knowledge on its own is not enough to lead to the transformation Jesus desires for us. Throughout Scripture, and Church history, we see how obedience motivated from our love for God, cultivates a heart that is responsive to the Spirit’s transforming work. Knowledge can do little more than puff us up when not put into loving action (1 Corinthians 8:1).

In this post I’d like to add that obedience-based disciple making requires a relationship to ensure mature disciples are formed. This is not an article on abandoning mass gatherings and teachings. Scripture illustrates Jesus teaching to the masses. For Jesus, the large gathering was the place where curiosity and genuine interest were stirred. As people drew closer to Jesus, He welcomed them into His life and discipled them further. We see the maturity of the apostles formed through the time spent with Jesus.

This article is sparked by my personal conviction.

Here I am, completely convinced of the importance of relational disciple making. Yet, I’m writing a blog (a form of mass communication), to convince others of the importance of face to face disciple making..… the irony does not escape me.

Recently my husband Andy and I joined a group of people who learn together and hold one another accountable in making disciples who make disciples. I’m amazed at how easily I justify skipping the relational connections to which I've committed - reaching out to neighbours, praying with my prayer network, listening to a friend share about her struggles... Whenever I follow the path of least resistance, I find myself defaulting to mass communication without relational connectivity. As I’ve reflected over these months,

God’s shown me I’ve adopted the narrative that these small connections are relatively insignificant and inefficient to God’s Kingdom expansion.

We see from Jesus’ example, that this is not true. Jesus’ lifestyle reveals a profound impact in the relational connections he had with the both the crowds and his disciples.

For Jesus, the teaching opportunity arose out of the daily lived experience. Praxis occurred in the classroom of life. The same holds true for us. As we journey in proximity with others, the Holy Spirit presents us with the next “topic” of learning through whatever tension, dissonance or curiosity presents itself on any given day.

Disciple makers partner with the Spirit as He leads the process.

Attempting to disciple from a relational distance results in ill-timed content delivery. Like a drummer in a marching band hitting off beat, it has the potential to throw learning into an unnecessarily confusing and complicated experience.

The timing and order of the curriculum? That’s the Holy Spirit’s to determine and reveal. Discerning this for another cannot be done apart from community. I recognize that how we make these relational connections must involve the use of technology. I’m not encouraging us to only connect in physical proximity. I am exhorting us to leverage technology for relational connectivity over knowledge transfer, while recognizing our propensity leans towards the latter.

The relational connectivity of teacher and student facilitates an environment of individualized learning.

When I say individualized, don’t hear me say individualistic. Individualized learning is specifically tailored to the learning needs of the person. Each of our journeys with Jesus is unique. Yes, there are universal truths that apply for all, but the order in which we embrace them is unique to who God’s created us to be and the story we’ve lived. Individualized learning requires an interactive and responsive community. Individualized learning is enhanced when students have a front row seat to observe the journey of others. Individualism, however, shows independence and reliance on nobody. Individualism means our own thoughts and actions are separate from others. On the other hand, individualized learning ensures that the story and life experiences of others impact our formation. We learn from another’s challenges and mistakes. We learn from another’s victories.

God’s shown me that I’ve believed two related lies:

  • first, bigger is always better,

  • second, to be big enough for the Kingdom of God, it needs to be immediately scalable.

As a result, I operate as if time with one person, while good and nice, is not as valuable as taking the message immediately to the masses. It pains me to write that because I know it’s not true. Jesus preached the Good News to the masses, and He even more frequently invested in the few. My faith 2000 years later, is a result of Jesus’ time with the twelve and the three.

In my own renewal journey, I’ve discovered the power of identifying false narratives and choosing to replace them with the truth. Today, as I continue the shift to relational disciple making, I am choosing to replace the false narrative with these truths:

1) Jesus invested in and loved the few well. Therefore, intentional, Spirit guided time with others is time well invested.

2) Consistent faithfulness to the “little” things the Spirit prompts me to do for and with others, has significant Kingdom impact. Don’t underestimate the power of what feels like obedience to the small thing.

As previously mentioned, each of us has our own journey with our own lessons and timing.

It’s very likely that some of you have also bought into some version of the false narrative I’ve shared. For you, I’m asking the Holy Spirit to give you a new narrative that will strengthen and encourage you as you shift towards what could feel less efficient - even clumsy.

It’s also probable that many of you can’t relate to my false narrative, but still struggle with consistent relational disciple making. For you, I’m asking the Holy Spirit to reveal obstacles or false narratives that hinder/prevent you from engaging more fully in relational disciple making.

And finally, there are others of you who are not only passionate about relational disciple making, but natural in its execution. I praise God for your story. I pray that God use your relational interactions to expand the number of people who “naturally” disciple in this manner. Know that your insights and experiences are a gift to the Church. Don’t let anything dissuade you from continuing.

May God give each of us perseverance as we consistently choose the proximity of relational disciple making.

For further reading on relational disciple making, check out DiscipleShift by Putman and Harrington, or go to the Relational Discipleship Network at to check out additional resources with a relational focus.

image used with permission from Helena Lopes.

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