Relational Discipleship: Hard to Measure But Worth Every Moment

Discipling must begin with an incarnational relationship. It is essential that it be in an alongside style (not coaching over the phone or in a large group setting). Only in an authentic, loving relationship does a person recognize the power of life-on-life modeling as it moves into transforming the heart.

Be disciples. Make disciples. In cross-cultural discipling, relating in person becomes even more crucial. This approach fosters greater understanding since we can observe the person and listen to their emotional language in real life situations. It builds credibility and trust so that the mentor can effectively speak into a person’s life at crucial times.

Coaching from a distance should only be done when the people already know each other and when the focus is on ministry skills and competence. It is very hard to reach the heart of a person without the trust and love of relationship and the physical power and presence of relating and sharing life together.

Although proclaiming God’s truth in a large group context (whether evangelistic or teaching) is vital, nothing can replace our Lord’s command to go and make disciples.

Three Marks of Relational Discipleship

1. Good questions for deep learning

Relational 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. The mentor’s role is not to be heard, but to develop skills to listen and draw others out with thought-provoking questions as we walk alongside them.

2. Character change

In this context, those whom we disciple take ownership and integrate biblical truth that changes their character — 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.

3. Sharing insights

To be clear, relational discipleship is not just listening. It involves reflection and loving confrontation when needed as permission is asked to share insights that God provides. Because relationship is fostered, the mentor gains discernment on how to tailor learning opportunities to the learning styles of those whom they are discipling.

Through relational discipleship 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. Rather, we move to the background in order to support, encourage, and resource disciples as they step forward in faith to participate in all God has prepared for them before the foundation of the world.


Reprinted with permission from SEND International

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About the authors

Steve Meeker runs Leadership Lab International in Croatia. LLI believes no young leader should be thrust into ministry without being mentored and trained. LLI prepares a new generation of leaders to serve on multicultural ministry and church-planting teams through its summer study abroad program.

Jim Feiker, mentor to Steve Meeker, wrote that though the relational discipleship model can be difficult for others to understand and measure, those who experience it not only value it, but their lives are changed forever.

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