Discipleship is an integral part of the spiritual growth and development of a believer. Once an individual comes to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, the next step is discipleship. What that looks like, however, can be very different for each person. Much of our responsibility as church leaders is to create opportunities and environments for discipleship to happen.
Our present age of digital technology lends itself to discipleship happening more frequently online. This makes Bible studies, commentaries, and even small groups easily accessible to more people. But it also removes the face-to-face component of discipleship. Growth can happen through online experiences, but there is a richness found in conversation and study across the table or over a cup of coffee that is lost when connected by a keyboard.
Whether through small groups, men’s and women’s Bible studies, or mentoring relationships, discipleship rooted in relationship has a deep and lasting impact.
“Jesus-shaped spirituality hears Jesus say ‘believe and repent,’ but the call that resonates most closely in the heart of a disciple is ‘follow me.’ The command to follow requires that we take a daily journey in the company of other students. It demands that we be lifelong learners and that we commit to constant growth in spiritual maturity. Discipleship is a call to me, but it is a journey of ‘we.’” –Michael Spencer
So as ministry leaders how can we encourage discipleship that is strong in relationships?
1) Create opportunities for face-to-face connections
Introduce believers to Bible studies that promote connection. Small group studies that meet consistently over a period of time strengthen relationships and provide accountability. Training up small group leaders to shepherd members is a great investment. Offering these groups for a specific length of time allows members the freedom to be invested with the accountability of group commitment but also the freedom of knowing when it will come to an end. Mentoring relationships are also highly beneficial for believers that may feel intimidated by a larger number of people. A small group may actually be too big for some, and a one-on-one relationship found in mentoring could be a life changing experience.
2) Encourage diversity
A small group or Bible study group does not need to be full of people that are alike. Some of the richest small group experiences and closely bonded groups can be found within groups made up of individuals of different races, socioeconomic backgrounds, educational levels, and age ranges. The beauty of the Gospel is that it is custom made for each of us and reaches us exactly where we are. It takes us where we need to be when we surrender to its life-giving power. As Americans we gravitate toward what feels comfortable and what we are used to. But the Lord likes to take situations that stretch us out of our comfort zones and create growth within us. There is great value in placing new believers with mature, seasoned believers. These relationships create fertile soil for growth for both believers.
“The one indispensable requirement for producing godly, mature Christians is godly, mature Christians.” – Kevin DeYoung
3) Be a disciple
When we as leaders, have experienced growth through discipleship that was strong in relationships, then it becomes something we are passionate to help other Christ-followers experience. We need to lead from experience, not ideology.
“Only a disciple can make a disciple.” – A.W. Tozer
This is a lifelong pursuit because we daily choose to take up the cross and follow Him. We choose to be disciples and be discipled. Then as we grow, we desire to help others in the same way and disciple others.
How do your discipleship programs encourage building relationships?
For more ways to build disciples in your church, check out our free guide “Building Disciples Through Engagement.”