The Power of Relational Discipleship

by | Apr 6, 2010 | Blogs, Fire in My Bones

Last week 91 guys gathered for a three-day retreat.
It reminded me that real Christianity has nothing to do with superficial
religion.

For
at least three years I’ve wanted to gather a group of friends for a time of
encouragement and personal ministry. I couldn’t afford to host a fancy event,
and I didn’t think these guys wanted a big hoopla with expensive hotels and
high-priced speakers.

So
we went with a simple format that involved a donated church facility (thank
you, Pastor Donna), a totally informal dress code (jeans and T-shirts),
home-cooked meals (we met in North Carolina, the barbeque capital of the South)
and cheap rooms, courtesy of the local Hampton Inn. What surprised me was that
91 guys from 20 states and four foreign countries showed up for three days of
worship, small group interaction and inspiring messages from 32 of the guys
(everyone kept their comments brief to allow time for fellowship).

“Young
Christians
are not going to receive the mentoring or the spiritual nurture they
need by carrying someone’s Bible or suitcases. True discipleship can
only
happen in a loving, relational context.”

What
happened in that small window of time amazed me. Weary pastors met new friends.
Younger guys bonded with new mentors. Men opened their hearts about their
deepest struggles. And best of all, God showed up and spoke to many of the guys
about their insecurities and fears.

On
the second day a panel of six young men shared about their need for godly role
models. Some admitted that they have dysfunctional relationships with their
dads. Others pointed out that even in the church they have not been encouraged
to connect with spiritual fathers.

One
man, Charles, said that in his church, young men were never allowed to develop
real friendships with pastors or leaders. They were expected to be “armor
bearers” who acted like personal valets—by shining the pastor’s shoes, carrying
his water and escorting him to the pulpit.

The
young men who came to our Bold Venture discipleship weekend were crying out for
authentic relationships. They are not going to receive the mentoring or the
spiritual nurture they need by carrying someone’s Bible or suitcase. True
discipleship only happens in a loving, relational context.

This
was the apostle Paul’s method of discipleship. While he did speak in church
meetings, ministry was not focused on events, sermons or a flashy delivery
style. And it was certainly not about high-pressure offerings, pulpit mannerisms
or how many people swooned at the altar.

Listen
to Paul’s definition of ministry from 1 Thessalonians 2:8: “Having so fond an
affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of
God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us” (NASB).

Paul
knew that ministry was about loving people and investing in them. He did not
live for TV cameras, fawning crowds, armor bearers or book deals. (In fact he
wrote a lot of the New Testament and didn’t get any royalties!) The reason he
could endure beatings, shipwrecks, betrayal, riots, hunger and imprisonment is
that he loved the men and women on his ministry team. Everything he did was
about pouring the life of Jesus into people like Timothy, Silvanus, Mark,
Phoebe, Epaphras, Luke, Priscilla, Barnabas, Euodia and all the other New
Testament heroes who called Paul a spiritual father.

I wonder how Paul would react today if he were alive to
see the trappings of “ministry” we have created. I imagine he would rend his
garments and call us all back to raw humility.

One
of the international guests at our Bold Venture weekend was a pastor named Robert from Uganda. He wrote me today, just after arriving back in Kampala, to
share with me his plan for discipling men in his country. Robert wrote:

“Thank you for introducing me to 91 men of valor,
men whose life stories have inspired me to do business with and for God in
totally a different way! I have a new boldness to deposit my life in as many
people as I can.

“I have already contacted
all the guys I have been helping. Next week I will meet about 24 of them just
to deposit some of what I experienced. After that I have a group of another 70
fellows that I am going to mentor intentionally. In total I am looking at 100
young ministers I will disciple. We are going to do life together, laugh, cry,
be vulnerable and open with each other. This is not an African thing, but I
know it is the way to go.”

Discipleship
is a simple concept—maybe too simple for some of us who have become addicted to
applause, prayer lines and the bells and whistles of American religion. But if
you listen carefully, amid the noise of the crowd, you will hear the Holy
Spirit calling us back to New Testament basics.

J. Lee Grady served as editor of Charisma for 11 years and is now
contributing editor. You can find him on Twitter at leegrady.

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