By Bobby Harrington
Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples … John 13:35
Relationships, which are genuine life on life connections grounded in Christ-like love are the environment for discipleship.
The Bible has many examples of people investing in relationships with other people. It’s one thing to sit in a church gathering – watching and listening, but it’s another thing to be taught about Jesus with a few others who know you well. In the context of relationship, truth can be transferred from one life to the next. Questions can be asked. Real-life stories can be shared. Sin can be confessed. Accountability can be offered. Encouragement can be given. This describes how Jesus made disciples. The ministry of Jesus makes it clear that disciple making is a relational process built on trust.
When Jesus made disciples he chose relationships as his specific method. Like Robert Coleman, we have come to believe that Jesus’ method is perfect. It combines the best wisdom and knowledge of the ages. If Jesus’ method emphasized relationships, we should do the same. We want to make disciples the way Jesus did.
When we say that Jesus put a priority on relationships we don’t just mean that Jesus was always hanging out with people (which he was). What we mean is that Jesus invested in and got to know the people he was discipling. He constantly entered into their world and he invited them into his world. The tenderness that he experienced with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus reflected the cultivation of deep relationships over a period of months and years (John 11). We should plan to do the same with those that we seek to disciple.
But there is more. By his life, Jesus teaches us a certain kind of relationship. It was grounded in self-giving love (agape love in the Bible and we simply call it Christ-like love). Jesus was constantly putting the needs of others first. When Jesus died on the cross, it was not an isolated event. It was the culmination and natural conclusion of how he lived everyday. He was constantly laying his life down for others. And then he gave us this vitally important summary statement in John 13:34-35:
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love each other. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (NIV)
Christ-like love is not just the environment of discipleship. It is also the evidence of discipleship. And so this kind of love becomes our highest priority as disciplemakers and disciples.
Here are some of the statements that guide us as we think about relationships and discipleship.
• Without relationship there is no discipleship, just the passing of information.
• We cannot accomplish what Jesus wants us to accomplish, or be what Jesus wants us to be, without doing it the Jesus way – which is relationships.
• Jesus’ whole methodology is about relationships.
• If a church does not create relational environments for discipleship, people will seek ways of getting them outside church structures.
• You can impress people in a lecture setting – but can usually only deeply impact people through a real relationship.