How Relational Discipleship Changed My Life

by Joel Owen - Lead Pastor | Grace Fellowship Church, Kingsport, TN

I grew up in the church. I love the church! It’s one of the reasons I’m a Pastor today. However, the word “discipleship” in the context I grew up in was primarily about a transfer of information. Don’t get me wrong, I feel like I benefitted from someone investing the time to study God’s Word and teach me in a small group setting. I learned so much about God and the Bible from those classes. In those settings we could ask questions and have discussions. But once the class was over there was nothing intentional being invested until the next class. As a result a good portion of my ministry life followed the pattern of what had been modeled to me. I put people in small group settings that were largely designed to teach content and transfer information.

As a Student Pastor I started noticing that the time I had with students outside the class environment or the Wednesday night gathering were incredibly impactful. I started trying to spend more and more time with just a few kids who wanted to follow Jesus more faithfully. We would go to football games together, hang out at my house or find a coffee shop to sit in and talk about life, faith and girls (teenage boys, what are you gonna do?). The life change I saw in those students far surpassed what was happening in the lives of most of the students in our ministry. But to be honest, I felt like I was making it up as I went along.

Fast-forward to 2015 when I attended a Discipleshift1 (DS1) put on by the Relational Discipleship Network. During the DS1 I found out the majority of what I was doing was in line with Jesus’s mission, but I didn’t have a strong framework for using His methods! The two things I found that were missing most from my version of discipleship were being an intentional leader and having a reproducible process. I had always had a biblical foundation for discipleship and a relational environment that I tried to create, but if I’m honest, I wasn’t being intentional outside of those times I got together with people to teach them. I also didn’t have a thought in my head about making sure someone else could do what I was doing! I felt like most of my life I had been making disciples, but the reality was if I was going to truly follow the ways of Jesus in making disciples, something was going to have to change.

Once I began utilizing the methods of Jesus things changed for me! I grew deeper in relationship with people than I had ever been. The level of transparency in those relationships changed dramatically. Not only that, but I began seeing the men I was discipling not simply as Bible learners, but as disciples learning to make disciples. So I began to share responsibility and expect more from the men I discipled than showing up to listen and learn once a week. Previously I would have invested in people through teaching truth and hoping they would then walk more closely with

Jesus in their personal lives. Now I wanted to invest in men who would reproduce the process and make disciples themselves. I also stopped seeing myself as the teacher and became part of the process; yes, I was the intentional leader, but I was also entrusting myself to the people I was in relationship with. I had never been freer to share my life than when I walked out true relational discipleship.

Perhaps what has changed me the most in the past 8 years has been seeing individuals, and our church as a whole, embrace relational discipleship and understand that our faith is personal, but it’s not private. We are meant to walk with one another. We are meant to call others to follow Jesus as we walk in relationship with them. I’ve had my view of church leadership changed to understand that everything we do within the church needs to be helping disciples of Jesus make disciples of Jesus. I can’t begin to express how deeply relational discipleship has changed me. But I can say I will never go back and I have no desire to do anything else with my life

Joel Owen, Lead Pastor
Grace Fellowship Church
Kingsport, TN