Discipling must begin with an incarnational relationship with a person. It is essential that it be in an alongside style (not distant coaching thru phone, or in a large group setting). Only then in an authentic, loving relationship, does a person recognize the power of life-on-life modeling as it moves into transforming the heart.
This kind of discipleship, in the context of relationship, is more easily transferred in a cross-culture situation; it fosters and opens greater understanding of the person since we can observe the person up close, and listen to their emotional language in real life situations, and provides credibility to effectively speak at crucial times into their life.
Distant coaching should only be done when the people know each other and when you are focusing on ministry skills and competence. It is very hard to move into the heart of a person without the trust and love of relationship and the physical power and presence of relating and sharing life mutually together.
Although proclaiming God’s truth in a large group context is vital whether it be evangelistic or teaching messages, nothing can replace our Lord’s command to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20).
So what are some of the marks of relational discipleship?
Discipleship is designed to facilitate learning rather than telling others what to do. In this framework, relationship is fostered and those being discipled actively and personally get involved in the learning process. As a mentor, it’s not my role to be heard, but to develop skills to listen and draw others out with thought provoking questions as I walk alongside them.
In this context, those who you disciple take ownership and integrate biblical truth that changes their character and not just fills their head with knowledge. It equips them to adapt and apply principles and skills as they step forward in life and provides them with a safe environment to process what they are learning.
To be clear, relational discipleship is not just listening, but it involves reflection and loving confrontation when needed as permission is asked to share insights God provides. Because relationship is fostered, the mentor gains discernment on how to tailor learning opportunities to the learning styles of those they are discipling.
Here in relationship, that spans longer seasons of life, we taste the joy of watching God develop His people with the vision and direction of the call He has on their lives. As we join with them in the process of becoming followers of Christ, ours is not the role of being seen, but in moving to the background in order to support, encourage and resource disciples as they step forward in faith to become and participate in all God has prepared them to be involved with before the foundation of the world.
by Jim Feiker and Steve Meeker
Jim stepped alongside many young leaders including myself and lived out these truths. As he wrote, often this model was difficult for others to understand and measure, but those who experienced it not only value it, but their lives were changed forever.