8 Characteristics of Disciple-Making Relationships
In this blog, I will describe eight characteristics of effective disciple-making relationships within a larger community.
In a transparent community, people are open and real with one another. They share successes and struggles. They’re not afraid to deal with tough questions. In fact, when this kind of transparency exists in a church, young people are much more likely to stick with the church as they move into adulthood (see blog on the Hemorrhaging Faith Study).
Developing deep relationships requires a significant investment of time and energy. Are we willing to carve out this space in our busy lives? Of course, maintaining meaningful relationships takes time and effort, as well. When we get close to people, we enter their world—a complex and sometimes messy place. Living in those spaces requires commitment!
For several years, my family participated in missional communities that met in homes. Some people called them "simple church." Yet, we discovered that even though the structure was simple, the life-on-life discipleship that took place was far from simple. However, the Jesus-followers in effective disciple-making communities are willing to invest deeply in one another's lives.
When we laugh and enjoy one another, we are in a much better position to go deeper with one another. Levity is the gateway to and moderator of the intensity that is often required for deep discipleship.
We want to have fun together, but we also need a certain amount of intensity that will position us to press more deeply into one another’s lives. For example, if someone is struggling with a particular temptation, we would want to provide the necessary support and accountability.
Within effective disciple-making communities, people pray for one another (see 9 Ways to Strengthen Prayer in Your Church). God works powerfully in people’s lives as we pray to that end. In Ephesians 6:18, the Apostle Paul describes how our prayers for others are an important part of their spiritual protection. E.M. Bounds has written:
Prayer fills man’s emptiness with God’s fullness.
Prayer puts away man’s poverty with God’s riches.
Prayer puts away man’s weakness with the coming of God’s strength.
It banishes man’s littleness with God’s greatness.
Sometimes I take a haphazard approach to making disciples. I socialize and support, but do I intentionally try to turn conversations into disciple-making opportunities? We need be intentional in our everyday conversations (here's how you can turn any conversation into a mentoring opportunity). We can also set up structured mentoring sessions where we can often help people take next steps more quickly (see 5 Stages of a Structured Coaching Conversation).
I love the way some cultures value a healthy interdependence. I can sometimes be a lone ranger who likes to get things done on my own. Yet, when I open myself up to rely on others, it’s amazing how this can deepen relationships.
We will not grow as disciple-making communities until we recognize that we need one another. Throughout Scripture, we are commanded to practice “one anothers” such as encouraging one another, loving one another, and admonishing one another (click here to see a full list of the 59 "one anothers" in Scripture). To do these well, we need to be in healthy, interdependent relationships.
8. Missional Focus
We sometimes think that relationships will suffer if we have a missional focus that pushes us outward. Allan Hirsch disagrees. He uses the word communitas to describe missional communities that have "overcome their instincts to 'huddle and cuddle' and to instead form themselves around a common mission that calls them onto a dangerous journey to unknown places—a mission that calls the church to shake off its collective securities and to plunge into the world of action, where its members will experience disorientation and marginalization but also where they encounter God and one another in a new way."*
When a group has an outward focus, it actually has the potential to grow closer to one another.
Obviously, there are other characteristics of growing relationships. Yet, these eight provide a start as we think about how we might encourage our people to grow deeper with one another, so that we can make disciples within and outside those relationships in a maximum way.
Note: Developing a strong relational culture, as described in this blog, is the second of eleven essential elements for Developing a Strategic Pathway for Discipleship in Your Church.
Randy Wollf is the Director of MinistryLift and Associate Professor of Practical Theology and Leadership Studies at MB Seminary.
* Allan Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2006), 221.