Discipleship: Built for Relationship

Jesus showed us that making disciples is about forming relationships.


“Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” (John 13:35)

It’s not a stretch to say that the whole Bible is about relationships. The Bible speaks not just of our relationship with God, but about our relationships with other people as well. Consider the Ten Commandments. On the surface, they look like a list of rules, but a better way of thinking of them is as the guardians of relationships. By observing the first four commandments, we honor and protect our relationship with God.

1. You shall have no other gods before me.
2. You shall not make idols.
3. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
4. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.

And commandments five through 10 address our relationships with others.

5. Honor your father and your mother.
6. You shall not murder.
7. You shall not commit adultery.
8. You shall not steal.
9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
10. You shall not covet.

Or consider that when someone asked Jesus to tell him the greatest commandment in the law, Jesus spoke about loving relationships with God and with others.

“‘Love the Lord your god with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matt. 22:37–40).

According to Jesus, you can summarize most of the Bible as God’s plan for us to have healthy, loving relationships with him and with others. In the first story of the first book of the Bible, God makes sure that we catch this. We hear him say with his own voice that we were created to connect with other people:

“It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18).

This means that our desire and capacity for relationship are part of our hard wiring. Consider your own life right now. Are you sharing your life with other disciples? How are you spiritually connected to the body of Christ? Are you in need of someone to disciple you? Or, if you have been disciple by someone already, do you have anyone in your life that you are currently discipling? If not, I wouldn’t be surprised that you are feeling dry or unproductive in your faith and in need of a spiritual tune-up.

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Scripture gives us many examples of people investing in relationships with other people. We all know that 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 personal relationships, questions can be asked, real-life stories can be shared, sin can be confessed, accountability can be offered and encouragement can be given. There is a greater capacity for truth transfer. Coincidentally, this describes how Jesus made his own disciples. Jesus’ ministry teaches us that disciple making is a relational process, one built on trust.

Dr. Coleman, in his book The Master Plan of Evangelism, assumes that the incarnation of Jesus was the starting point and foundation of Jesus’ method, but he did not explicitly start with it and states it in his book. By this principle he means that Jesus entered fully into human life, especially in relationships with other. And this trajectory of the incarnation, taking on everything “human” to fully identify with and relate to us, was characteristic of Jesus’ ministry and his methods. Coleman states that if he were outlining his principles today—over fifty years after writing what became one of the most influential Christian books of the last hundred years—this is the only principle he would add to the book and emphasize. He said that he made the mistake of just assuming it.

Jesus’ method started when he entered into the world of others and built relationships with people. He didn’t just come to be a human being; he came to be a human being in relationship with people and show us what it really means to live a godly life, fully alive to God and people. And because we are blind and unaware of how to do this, he first came into our lives to show us how much God loves us.

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Coleman had it right, and we tell everyone who wants to follow Jesus’ method today to begin the same way. Start by entering into the lives of others. Form relationships with the heart of Jesus. Show them how much God loves them. Coleman puts it this way:

“Nothing disarms a person like love. Everyone likes to be loved and for someone to express love to them in tangible ways. When you know you’re loved, you’ll listen and open up. It was Christ loving people, his service to them, his ministry to them—healing the sick, opening the eyes of the blind, delivering those possessed by demons, teaching them about the Kingdom of God—that drew people to him, and the same is true with our ministries. You have an audience with everybody who knows they’re loved and knows you care about them. The incarnation is the foundation upon which we must begin to express our life in Christ. It’s a beginning place to fulfill the Great Commission, starting with reaching out just as Jesus did in making disciples.”

Motives matter. If you’re doing all this to fulfill an inner need to accomplish something or to prove to others that you are a good leader or really smart, it won’t last. We don’t engage others in relationship because it proves that we are effective disciple makers. True discipleship begins as a response to God’s love. God’s love humbles and transforms us into people who are freed up from focusing on ourselves to truly love others. And as we love others, we experience the joy of God. All of this produces the fruit of God-honoring relationships. Relationships lie at the heart of God’s nature as a Trinity, and they are at the heart of our created purpose as human beings. Jesus came to restore relationship, so it’s no surprise that relationships are one of the most important things talked about in the Bible.

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Taken from The Disciple Maker’s Handbook by Bobby Harrington and Josh Patrick. Copyright © 2017 by Bobby Harrington and Josh Patrick. Used by permission of Zondervan. Zondervan.com