About a year ago, I met Jeremy. He is now as close as a brother—a brother who has refined, challenged, and equipped me in areas that would have otherwise gone untouched. My relationship with Jeremy has not only been a major personal blessing, but has also broadened my perspective of the value of intentional, discipleship-driven relationships. Jeremy is about 30 years old, married, and has two young kids. In between various odd-jobs, he invests in many men at Moody Theological Seminary. He intentionally pursues, meets and prays with those who still don’t know what they want to be when they grow up.
Our initial talks primarily consisted of exchanging one another's background information, as he also began to probe my framework for ministry, marriage, and life in general. Over time, I began unpacking more and more to him. Through it all, he has listened patiently to my various struggles, fears, and questions. Sometimes, he just listens. Other times, he listens and then provides counsel. But he’s always there, deeply investing in me. I often wonder why. Typically, I leave feeling undeserving to have an older, wiser man so intentionally pouring his life and the gospel into me.
At this point in our relationship, I comfortably express anything to him. Sometimes I find myself digging up a fear, doubt, or concern deeply embedded in my heart—something I thought I'd never talk about. These conversations can be hard in ways; but overall, they are deeply freeing and ultimately, life-giving. Moreover, Jeremy always extends opportunities of spending time with him, besides one-on-one conversations. He’s intentional and provides deep counsel while also being fun and spontaneous.
Making Disciples Who Make Disciples Because of the blessing of this relationship, I’ve often wondered about the impact this type of relational dynamic could have on 21st century Christianity. Unfortunately, we are typically too busy for such a relationship to develop, or we question whether there is much value in it for. For most of us, we stiff-arm this kind of friendship because the thought of being weak, confessing our struggles, asking for counsel, and growing in prayer are things that do not come naturally. We would rather just talk football, play with power tools, and eat red meat.
Many of our church programs and tactics enable us to hear the Word of God; but over time, our forms of ministry tend to lack the initiative to enhance one’s growth over the long haul. The gospel calls us to a pilgrimage and persevering discipleship in Christ. Gospel-centered, intentional relationships can and should be foundational in this. I'm deeply grateful for people like Jeremy who purposely seek to make disciples of Jesus, and encourage others to desire discipleship for themselves and others. This diffuses the powerful relational dynamic of 'making disciples who make disciples'—something we most likely agree with but are somewhat perplexed as to how it should be implemented.
How to Pursue a Discipleship-Driven Relationship Most of us agree that a discipleship-driven relationship is a healthy thing. The trouble is we vaguely know how to pursue such a relationship. What if I don’t know anyone who is willing to disciple me? What if people at my church aren’t really into this idea of discipleship? What do these types of relationships look like? I’m fine with being mentored by somebody, but I don’t feel equipped to mentor/disciple someone myself. This all sounds more awkward than I am comfortable with exploring right now. These are all normal concerns.
I'd like to share some things I have learned from being discipled. My hope is that they will address and clear away some of these concerns. Though not exhaustive, hopefully they will provide clarity on how discipleship relationships can develop.
1. Pray for a refining, gospel-centered, discipleship-driven relationship. Do not overlook the value of prayer. God is surely in favor of an iron-sharpening-iron relationship. Praying for this does not mean God will suddenly drop this person into your life (although he could), but it will definitely be something that he answers in his time and in his way.
2. Ask someone to mentor/disciple you. Unless you are a part of a small church, the lead pastor is not the best person to ask. Otherwise, he may already have too much on his plate. If this is the case, search for someone in your church who would not only be willing to disciple you, but would feel blessed by it. This is a great indicator that such a relationship will be truly refining. On the other hand, if this is something they agree to, but are going to have to squeeze it into their already tight schedule, I recommend searching elsewhere. It will be the greatest blessing for both individuals if each is fully on board and can consistently hang out and build depth. Also, don’t get offended if somebody denies your request or isn’t fully on board. People are busy, many have numerous kids. And while excuses can sometimes be frustrating, they are often perfectly valid.
3. Search for someone who is older and wiser, yet still close to your stage of life. If possible, the person should be at least a few years older, although there can certainly be exceptions. In some cases, a new believer may be conveniently mentored by someone who is his exact age and who has been a believer for a while. In other cases, a believer may be mentored by someone 40 years older. That’s certainly OK! But the blessing of someone who is older and wiser yet still close to your stage in life is that they can more naturally relate to you. They’ve walked where you’ve recently walked and also have the wisdom and experience on how to handle various facets of life. Also (and perhaps this doesn’t need to be said), only seek such a relationship from someone of the same gender.
4. Joining a small group is not the same as being in a discipleship-driven relationship. Small groups are important, but often the same degree of gospel depth cannot be reached in this setting as it can in a mentoring relationship. There are certain things you would never talk about in a small group setting. This is because people whom you barely know are in the room, like the young mom with the baby who you’ve seen once in the church lobby. Small groups could actually be a great place to meet someone who could provide discipleship, but they will most often not fulfill one's need of gospel cultivation that digs more deeply and personally into one’s heart.
5. It shouldn’t be super serious all the time. A buzz phrase in Christian culture is life-on-life discipleship and there is major value in this. A discipleship-driven relationship shouldn’t solely consist of deep, spiritual conversations or lengthy Bible studies. Such relationships should be much broader. Life should be enjoyed together. Christians need to have more fun. Go out to eat. Play basketball. Go to a baseball game. Play video games. Start your own rap group. Build an all-around relationship. Then also meet to talk about Scripture and plant it into each other’s heart and life; but make the relationship broader than merely that. Truthfully, when the relationship is broader, then the depth of the spiritual matters will more naturally open up even more. A deeper gospel friendship will grow, while vulnerability and weakness will follow.
Discipleship-driven relationships effectively diffuse the idea of 'making disciples who make disciples', because true, gospel-centered discipleship should lead to such a ripple effect—where communities of believers make disciples who will in turn make more disciples of Jesus. This will happen through a generation who grasps the value of discipleship relationships and in turn learns how to implement them in their everyday life.
Haddon is a graduate student at Moody Theological Seminary. In 2010, he graduated from Cedarville University, where he met his wife, Julie. They are currently residents of northwest Indiana, and plan to move to Haddon's hometown of Rockford, IL, where they will invest in urban and youth ministry. You can find him blogging at HaddonAnderson.com.