Relational connections are really the foundation of discipleship. God created us as relational beings, we thrive when making connections, and are at our best when we feel supported and loved. A relationship between a disciple and their teacher can be a life-long and powerful connection, but it always just starts with simply getting to know each other. From the relationships we make, we can build true friendships and from friendships, discipleship can grow.
So let’s think about our friendships: When it comes to our Christian friends versus our non-Christian friends, it is easy to emphasize the importance of one over the other. What normally happens when a new Christian follows Jesus, is their relationships with “outsiders” begin to shrink while their relationships with “insiders” begins to expand. We only have a finite amount of time and it’s easiest to spend it with the people who already fit within our normal routines. When looking to disciple others, it seems natural and easy to draw from those who fit neatly into your life already. It’s all well and good to draw from your Christian community (we all need a mentor at certain points in our lives!) but where we really need to begin is outside of the walls of the church; with our friends who don’t fit so neatly into our lives. After all, we can’t share the good news with people who already know it!
If you realize that you have very few non-Christian friends, you can start with building meaningful relationships with people that God has already placed in your life. We should intentionally be looking to disciple people different from us; people who believe differently, and live different lifestyles. These connections build bridges, not just between yourself and your disciple, but between larger communities; plus we have more of a chance for growth within ourselves, than if we stick to what we know. As we begin to enter a less familiar world and build relationships with people who make choices we might not choose, who think in ways we don’t, we can fall into judgement very quickly. It is necessary to remember we all have our own path to Jesus. We’ve all struggled with doubt, we’ve all given into temptations. We are not there to judge. We are there to seek to understand. All healthy relationships are built on respect and authenticity. Building relationships is not a job or task; it’s just about letting God work through you in the natural relationships you already have.
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Who are you intentionally forming discipleship relationships with in your life?
- Where in your life could you develop authentic relationships with not-yet Christians?
- What skills do you need to develop and apply to move your relationship or friendship forward to discipleship?
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