Jesus’ last command to His followers was to make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey everything He had commanded them. Much of the church in the West is largely unaware of how to take a new follower of Jesus and teach them how to follow Him. We need to recover simple, transferable ways to disciple others. Yesterday we looked at how we’ve developed a rhythm of exposing ourselves to divine truth. But discipleship is much more than just exposing ourselves to God’s truth, it’s also building nurturing relationships.
First, let’s state the obvious. God’s desire for His church (literally His “called out ones”) is that they not be single, isolated believers. There are certain situations where Christians are alone because of circumstances beyond their control, but even in the case of missions, Jesus sends people out in groups of two. From the earliest days of humanity God said that “It is not good for the man to be alone,” (Genesis 2:18). God’s design for humanity is that they function within a community of people who love Christ and each other. This is why all over the New Testament there are “one another” commands that encourage us interact and support one another.
We practice these frequently within our house churches, but our 2&3’s have become a deeper expression of that community. As I’ve said, we meet in groups of two and three people of the same gender and practice accountability and confession with each other. To do this, we utilize a set of questions from Neil Cole’s book “Ordinary Hero.” You can see the list below:
Notice a couple of things with this list:
1) These are pretty in your face questions about what you’ve been doing. Most people cringe at the thought of talking about #2. Others think they have no need of talking about #’s 3 and 8. But we ask each other these questions to achieve a kind of intimacy that’s often not achieved without talking about these kind of issues.
2) Number 9 is intentionally left blank. It’s important to leave this list somewhat customizeable, because while it’s important to hit some universal questions, it’s important to be specific. My number 9 question for many many years has been “Have you been faithful to Jesus and the calling on your life this week?” But I’ve known many guys who change their number 9 every couple of months, depending on what the Lord is leading them into at that time. You can find a more thorough list of questions you can use in number 9 that friend of mine developed here.
3) Number 10 on the list is the time we take to discuss the what we’ve read in the word. Notice that it’s in the context of relationship and obedience, not in just a study that never amounts to any action.
4) Lastly, this could be interpreted as a list to be critical of ourselves or others. Instead, this list is a discussion starter. It’s purpose is to get us talking about the areas in our lives described here. If sin is discovered, we pray for one another. A couple of years ago I started to identify an addiction to soda when my friends asked me about #6. Through prayer, counsel, and encouragement, I was able to kick the addiction. But it was only as I talked through the question (that previously I thought did not apply to me) and became honest about my addiction with my friends that transformation happened.
Admittedly this is a process, which can feel mechanical if we let it. But it relies on the fact the truths that we are supposed to “encourage each other,” (1 Thessalonians 5:11), confess our sins to each other and pray for each other (James 5:16), and “motivate one another to good works,” (Hebrews 10:24).
What we’ve found as we’ve put this into practice is that these questions (when answered honestly) produce transparency. This transparency births intimacy. When I can be a source of grace and prayer to my brother who is struggling, we grow closer. Much of what we need to achieve transformation in our lives is transparency with another flesh and blood human and prayer that God promises will be effective. And the friendships that are formed from meeting this way last because they are built around Christ and continuing to walk with Him, not around things that fade.
This is simple rhythm has allowed us to develop nurturing relationships that build up the body and bring forth the character of Jesus. Whether you follow this pattern or not, I would encourage you to find the spirit of what’s described here and walk it out with other believers. It’s a gigantic part of discipleship that cannot be ignored.
Whenever I have a conversation about joining or starting a house church with someone who has never been part of one before, there are a number of things I tell them. But I always mention one thing every single time: Be prepared for things to take longer.
Why? Because relationships aren’t efficient. And for those of us who are part of the business world, or part of a highly structured church, or even just those among us with Type A personalities, this can be more than a little frustrating.
But relationships are built on things like trust, respect, and love. All of these elements require time: time to be shown, time to be earned, and time to develop. None of these happen quickly.
Think about your best friend. You’ve probably gotten things done together. But the times you remember best…the times that make that relationship more worthwhile than others…are the times you spent together doing things that didn’t accomplish much outwardly. Whatever those times were they communicated more than just a task. The times you look back on are the ones that say to you “You are important to me.”
A few years ago I had a disagreement with a brother who was part of our house church network about how we were going to make disciples. We went around and around talking about methods, but when we got to the heart of the matter, his real concern was that I was more concerned about our “church” succeeding and not about him. It was a real learning moment for me. I had put our mission above our relationship and I was wrong.
I wish I could say I never made that mistake again. I can say I’ve made it less and I work to deny that part of me that just wants results. But it’s meant letting projects and work take a back seat whenever a serious need comes up. It’s meant stopping a conversation when it becomes obvious we aren’t arguing about strategy, we’re missing each others’ heart. It’s meant meetings that should take an hour or two sometimes take three or four. But it’s been worth it.
I’m not saying things shouldn’t get done. Quite the contrary, we have a mission friends, and that mission is very important. But how we do the mission is just as important. If we devalue people as we pursue it, we invalidate the very mission we set out to accomplish. If we use people to accomplish our mission, we may accomplish a mission we set out to do, but we’ll leave a trail of broken people in our wake.
My goal in saying this is not to persuade you that relationships are bad or that they hurt mission. They just come with a cost that you need to recognize up front. They are time consuming and don’t always move in straight lines. But over the long haul, if you stick with them, they pay off both now and in eternity.
Just don’t expect them to be efficient.
The most transforming relationship that you’ll ever be a part of is a relationship with Jesus.
But once in a relationship with Jesus, He leads us into relationships with His followers that have a transforming affect on our lives.
Transforming relationships are transparent, relational, and accountable.
They begin with transparency. You open up about your weakness and failures, your struggles, and your great need for a savior. Frequently this gives permission for others to be honest about their brokenness in a way that few have ever had. This is usually the missing element in transforming relationships.
Built on transparency, true brotherhood or sisterhood emerges. What wrecks relationships is jealousy, competition, and ego. So with the newfound transparency a true relationship is born. You help each other, not to get, but because you see and understand each other. Mutual relationship gives birth to love which gives birth to serving one another.
And finally (but usually the part we want first) is accountability. Once we have been honest about our weakness and have been in a relationship of love and service to one another, we can hold one another accountable. This isn’t the kind of accountability where you say “Try harder or I’m done with you,” but an accountability that’s birthed out of genuine care for a weak and broken human being. And because it’s birthed out of love and mutual understanding, this type of accountability (along with the power of Jesus) births transformation in the human heart.
We all want these types of relationships. The mechanics of these relationships aren’t difficult. The reason we see so few people enter into them is they are costly. Someone has to go first. But once you’ve had one or two, you’ll never go back.