God’s Grace for Growth ~ Starting a Discipleship Relationship

One of the first preparations my wife and I made before moving our families to Argentina was to establish accountability with fellow believers. Knowing that we would not have the same kind of fellowship on the field that we had at home, we recognized the importance of finding men and women who would walk the Christian life alongside of us, encouraging us when needed and discouraging us when needed. I lament that the importance of accountability and discipleship within our church fellowship is understated.
Many want fellowship at the most basic level: the laughter and joy that creates the illusion of a perfect life.  Few consider the significant impact that true discipleship at the deepest level of relationships can have on one’s character. This is especially true of the Christian who seeks to walk in the holiness of the Lord.
Most of us like fellowship at the corporate level because it makes us feel as though we have significant relationships without having to invest much of ourselves. However, for a true relationship in Christ to exist, there must be something deeper. The discipleship relationship requires time, humility, vulnerability, and effort that most of us are unwilling to allow as part of our normal routine life. Instead we switch it out with something that requires less activity and effort (like Facebook). But consider what significant impact the accountability and discipleship relationship can have:
  • It Provokes Change: Through our relationship with others the Holy Spirit can convict us of our areas that falter and convince us to change by His work through us. Change is more probable when we have the accountability of others pushing us towards a deeper relationship with the Lord through our deeper relationship with others.
  • It Promotes Christlikeness: The ultimate goal of change is not simply to be a better person, but to be conformed to Christ’s image. Conformity to his character requires change from our character.
  • It Provides Concord: Finally, discipleship provides an opportunity for unity within the body. This does not mean uniformity so that all of us are the same. Instead it means a unity that can come only when we are vested in the interests of God over the interests of self.
These three consequences are not small pieces to be ignored, but provide a greater imprint of God’s glory both inside and outside of the body of Christ. Therefore, we must not overlook this vital aspect of the Christian life.
I suspect that one of the greatest barriers in the discipleship relationship is simply initiating the relationship. We are unsure of where to start or who to turn to. Therefore, I want to take a moment to look at some external factors that impact our ability to follow through on discipleship and accountability (next week I’ll take a look at the internal factors for making the most of our time). Take into consideration the following recommendations:
  • Prioritize Its Importance: If you are going to initiate and follow through with such an intensely personal relationship, you must recognize its importance and role in your life.
  • Initiate Contact: While I would desire that church leaders would develop a plan for discipleship within their church and instill that vision within the body, but unfortunately that is often not the case. In fact, it is likely that nobody will reach out to you even if you are desirous of a deep relationship in your life. Therefore, it may be up to you to reach out and directly ask someone to be an accountability and discipleship partner with you.
  • Initiate Contact with Someone You Know: Find someone that you are comfortable with that will be humble and compassionate, while still willing to confront you when necessary (and would be willing for the same from you). The relationship is not about being comfortable in our sin, but about growing in Christlikeness.
  • Be Consistent: Be consistent in your time together. Perhaps every week is too frequent, and certainly events will interfere. Generally though, it is important to meet on a consistent basis whether it be once a week or once a month.
  • Incorporate Scripture: Certainly this is a time to build relationships with one another, but be sure to incorporate Scripture. Whether it be studying it directly or citing and looking into Scripture for the various circumstances you face.
  • Don’t Make it Too Complicated: For some they avoid discipleship because it can be so cumbersome and complicated. However, it doesn’t need to be so. Structure it for an hour, including time to discuss what is going on in your lives, offering counsel combined with prayer. For some it may be important to incorporate some time of study (whether Scripture directly or a book that directs you to the Word; below are some possible resources you can utilize during this time).
  • Don’t Make it Too Easy: While not wanting to complicate things, don’t make the time too easy. Once again, this is to be a time of growth and if we simply stick with the status quo, that growth will not happen.
This is not a conclusive list, but provide a basic foundation for making the most out of your time.
Discipleship should be an important part of our Christian life. Our fellowship with one another is a grand grace of God to us. Through it we encourage one another. Through it we hold one another accountable. Through it God causes growth in our lives. However, this grand grace of God often goes un-utilized and thus we never realize the full effect of it in our lives. My urging for all of us is to consider its importance and take initiative in making an active part of our lives.
Not sure where to start? Below are some good resources geared towards developing godly character that can be utilized in a discipleship setting (some are geared specifically for men or women, but most are geared towards all).
Gene Getz:
Kent & Barbara Hughes
There are plenty of resources specific to certain situations as well. If you want recommendations to address specific issues, please feel free to use the contact me page and I can try to come up with some specific resources for you.