Let’s face it. If discipleship was simply finding and following a program, the discipleship dilemma would have been solved long ago. Programs we have. Effective disciplemaking? Not so much.
I appreciate the role of programs in discipleship. They provide needed resources and helpful direction. They can point us down the right path and keep us from theological ditches. But discipleship takes more than a program. Authentic, life changing discipleship needs relationships.
Jesus spent time with people. In particular, he spent time with the 12 disciples. He taught them. He modeled proper behavior for them. He challenged them. Jesus even rebuked them where necessary. His discipleship course was the course of his life lived together with these men.
Perhaps we should see discipleship more like this. It is best done through relationships with other followers of our Lord. Stronger Christ followers helping other Christ followers live the life of Christ could become our model. We could begin to see discipleship as being done best through relationships rather than programs. Programs can be a tool, but relationships are the means.
Here are three reasons to see relationships as more important than programs in discipleship.
1. We need examples. Information is great if applied. But information stored is not the goal of following Christ. We need to apply that information to real life situations. And examples are a powerful way of learning to make that application.
If I asked you how you have been helped to grow in your faith, you are likely to begin to name names. You will remember a friend, a teacher or a pastor who set the example for you. Books and programs certainly help, but examples make the difference. God’s goal for you is not just for you to know the truth, but to live the truth.
2. We learn by watching. Children learn by watching others. They watch their parents and older siblings and mimic that activity. That is why you want to be careful about burping in front of a toddler! Watching others is a great way to learn to ride a bike or whistle a tune.
I doubt adults have changed that much from children in learning styles. We still need to learn by watching. I remember how revolutionary it was for me to see my college roommate have a quiet time each morning. Watching him read his bible and pray was an important learning tool for my own devotional life. Those disciples watched Jesus in action and, therefore, learned well what it means to “follow Christ”.
3. Actions speak louder than words. No parent wins by saying “Do what I say, not what I do!” Actions impact us too powerfully. Hypocrisy cuts too deeply to ignore and faithfulness shouts too loudly to easily reject. Words have great power. But words backed by a consistent life have greater power still.
If you want others to grow in Christ, tell them the truth about his word. But, even more, show them the truth of his word by living the life of Christ in front of them. Let them see how you love others, how you deal with your failures and sins and how you are taking up your cross daily. Take them on your faith journey as you learn together.
I don’t want you to ignore discipleship programs. Take advantage of the wonderful resources that are available to help you and others grow in their walk with the Lord. But don’t ignore the relational aspect of discipleship. Find a mentor. Be a mentor. Join a small group. Connect with others who are going hard after the Lord.
Discipleship needs relationships.