I have heard it said that ministry can be one of the loneliest occupations there is. Given my own personal ministry experience I’d have to say that I agree, it surely can be, but it doesn’t have to be. Jesus commands us to love God and love each other, the foundation of relational discipleship. When we choose to obey this great commandment, not only do we glorify God and accomplish his mission for us as believers, but we also get to experience the great joy and fulfillment of being in real, authentic and life giving relationships as well. Jesus himself proclaimed that those who love others as he did are not only recognized as his disciples, but also his friends.
John 15:12-15 (NIV) – 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.
I believe that relational discipleship, if embraced and carried out as Jesus modeled and commanded, fosters rich and authentic relationships, the truest form of friendship. Here is how I have experienced that reality in the friendships in my life and how I believe all disciples can experience it as well.
A unifying common goal – on mission together
The goal of a disciple is to love God, love others and make disciples. I have discovered that when my life’s purpose syncs up with someone else’s life’s purpose, there is great affinity and commonality that fosters relationship and results in friendship. It’s unifying. Jesus himself said that when we share in the Father’s business, we are friends together and not just servants of God alone. Sharing the same priorities and values alongside striving to achieve the same God given goals has resulted in having on-mission relationships that have developed into on-mission friendships.
A reciprocal love – being the benefactor of another’s obedience
I have some really great friends in my life as a result of being in discipleship relationships. Some have discipled me. Some I have discipled. We are not great friends because they think I’m super great or because they make me happy or because we meet all of each other’s friendship needs, but because we have a unified belief that we will choose to love each other through the good, bad and ugly out of obedience to Jesus. The love we have for each other is not always perfect, but it is reciprocal. They are friendships built on grace, mercy and forgiveness, the practical application of love. Discipleship friendships are rooted in love for one-another as a result of loving Jesus.
A blueprint for success – the application and practice of truth
Relational discipleship is the practice field in which I have learned to apply God’s truth in real life alongside others who are doing the same. Proverbs tells us that wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses (27:6), the righteous choose their friends carefully, but the way of the wicked leads them astray (12:26) and one who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. As I have been in real, open and honest discipleship relationships I have practiced and learned in real life that:
- My closest friends are going to hurt me. They are going to hurt me not because they are not close to me and not because they don’t know and care and love me, but because they are and they do. Sometimes I have been hurt because my friends have slipped up. I let them know it hurt, but I still choose to still entrust them. Sometimes I have been hurt because I have slipped up and they let me know and it hurt to hear. But that is why I trust them. Wounds from friends can be trusted, but no real friend will let you go astray and tell you you’re fine (kisses).
- It is up to me to choose friendships wisely. I have unwisely chosen friendships that have led me away from the Lord and not closer to him. I have chosen friendships that have drawn me closer to the Lord. I have lost friends because of this truth and I have gained friends as well. Relational discipleship has given me the environments and opportunities to observe and wisely discern the difference between them.
- If I am unwilling to be in open, honest and transparent relationships with other disciples of Jesus than I can succumb to the reality that I may not have real and reliable friendships in my life and that relational deficit can lead me into ruin.
- When I do obey the command to be a disciple and a disciple-maker in relationship, God has provided for me real friendships and friends that have been closer than a brother to me in my life in through the toughest and greatest of times.
Being in ministry can be lonely, but it doesn’t have be.
Blake Whiteman – Lead Pastor
Real Life Ministries Cd’A
Coeur d’Alene, ID