I want to begin with a bold and provocative statement: it is nearly impossible to grow as a Christian by yourself. We need other people to walk with us. I say this because we have a relational God and a relational faith.
Have you ever stopped to think about the fact that the God we worship is a relational God? We worship one God and yet he is three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. He is a community of love all by himself. It shouldn’t surprise us then that the essence of Jesus’ way of life is simply about living in right relationship with God and with others. In other words, love God with all your heart, mind, and soul and love your neighbor as yourself. It is impossible to learn to love unless you are in relationship with God and with people.
But there is this other reason why I need others. I have learned over the years that my ability to deceive myself is downright frightening. Some of you might be familiar with the story of King David. During one of the low points of his life, he got the wife of one of his officers pregnant. Did David come clean? No, he decided instead to have the officer killed in an ambush and then quickly married the grieving widow, thinking no one would notice the baby was born a few months early. But that’s not the worst thing. David is approached by Nathan the prophet, who tells a thinly veiled story about a rich man who killed the one lamb of a poor neighbor and served it to his guests. When reading this story, you know, I know, everyone knows that Nathan is talking about David. Everyone that is, except for David. He doesn’t get it. In fact, he calls for the execution of this rich man, not knowing that he is condemning himself.
King David is not unique. The ability to deceive ourselves is part of what it means to be human. This is why the book of Proverbs says that “wounds from a friend can be trusted.” (Proverbs 27:6). The wounds they are talking about are words spoken in rebuke. Perhaps the most loving thing a friend can do is call you out on something that you can’t see. It can be sin, but it also can be your potential, or gifts, or signs from God in your life that you are completely missing. God sometimes most clearly speaks to us through the honest and loving words of a friend.
And that is the essence of what we are calling discipling friendships. These are Christ-centered friendships that exist within the tension of presence and intentionality, spontaneity and purpose. They are about presence and spontaneity because as friends you are simply seeking to share life together. But they are purposeful and intentional in that you are mutually seeking to become your true selves in Christ.
What I mean is this: discipling friendships begin with a willingness to be there for the other person. It’s about hanging out and spending time. There are no shortcuts. This will cost you. At the same time, you are also in conversation with the Holy Spirit, asking how you can help the other person to become whom Christ created them to be. These are the kinds of relationships that help us grow as disciples of Jesus and I’d like you to consider pursuing three types of discipling friendships: a “Paul”, a “Silas” and a “Timothy”.
A “Paul” is someone who is a little ahead of you on your Christian journey. This would be someone that you could consider as a mentor. The important thing to remember is that you are following the Christ you see in this person, not the person themselves. If you don’t have a “Paul” in your life, ask yourself, “who do I know that has something in their Christian-life that is worth following”? Generally speaking, it is better for men to mentor men and women to mentor women. I have been blessed with a series of mentors (Pauls) throughout my life including a youth leader, my boss at Youth for Christ, Stu Batstone who mentored me through the Sonship Course, and Paul McPheeters who began mentoring me back in Seminary and still plays that role today.
A “Silas” is a friend who is roughly at the same stage of the Christian life as you are. A good candidate for a “Silas” is someone who you are already friends with, but who might be open to a little more intentionality in your friendship. Think about approaching a friend like this and asking if they would be interested in the two of you praying for each other, sharing ideas and struggles, and encouraging each other to follow Jesus.
A “Timothy” is someone you feel called to mentor as a follower of Jesus. If you are a parent, it could be your children. At church, it might be a younger Christian that you have connected with. It could be someone in your life who does not yet know Jesus. Does this sound intimidating? If it does, the best thing you can do is start simple and start small.
- Take note of the people in your life that you could help follow Jesus. Pick five of those people and commit to praying for them on a daily basis. Pray that God blesses them and works through the circumstances of their life so that they are open to following Jesus.
- When the time is right, offer a specific invitation to spend time together learning to follow Jesus.
- As you spend time together, pray and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal how you might participate in what God is already doing in that person’s life. When it comes to growing as a follower of Jesus, there are a couple of areas to keep in mind:
- 1. Identity – who is this person in Christ? How can they grow deeper into their identity as a son or daughter of God? What false identities are they building their life around?
- 2. Servant’s Heart – how is this person learning to relate to others as a servant? This relates to all areas of life: family, marriage, job, position at church, etc.
- 3. Calling – What gifts does this person have? How can they develop these gifts? What might God be calling them to do with their gifts?
That is a quick overview of these essential discipling friendships. What experiences have you had with a “Paul”, “Silas” or “Timothy”? What questions might you have? Feel free to leave a comment at the end of this blog post.