Our young team was trusting God to help us launch a campus ministry in Amarillo, Texas. Since God had used me in big ways at college, I was confident. Three months later, my confidence was in shambles.
My teammate Drew was like no one I’d ever met. At stores, he’d talk to the cashier and routinely walk out with free items. On campus, he’d just say hello to guys and 10 minutes later they’d be inviting him over to their dorm or to go out with friends later on. After just two months, a steady stream of guys came to our apartment to hang out with Drew.
With Drew . . . but not with me. The difference between his ministry and mine was depressing. I’d developed a solid connection with a couple of guys, but the contrast was hard for me to swallow. I felt inadequate. But more than that, I was confused. I thought the better someone knew God and the Bible the more impact they’d have. By Drew’s own admission I was far ahead of him in those areas, so why the big difference? What was out of balance?
In disciplemaking there’s a balance between two approaches. On one side of the scale is a relational approach. On the other side are intentional practices. To make disciplemakers, both approaches are vitally important. Since everyone leans to one side or the other, the scale helps us assess our preferences. It also helps propel us to new levels of fruitfulness.
When I began as a disciplemaker, my scale was weighted heavily toward intentionality. I’d developed intentional disciplines that helped me grow in my love for God and knowledge of the Bible. I did inductive Bible study, prayed regularly, memorized and reflected on two verses a week, and regularly shared my faith with others. As a result, my relationship with God flourished. Relatively quickly, I had a depth of insight into God and His Word that helped me help others.
As I began to disciple young believers, I’d spend about an hour preparing for each meeting. First, I’d pray and decide on a topic to discuss. For example, if the topic was prayer, I’d have a few verses, some questions, an illustration, and a personal story ready to share. During the meeting, we’d spend two-thirds of our time on our topic and a third of our time catching up on life. That ratio of intentional/relational time isn’t necessarily out of balance, but I did view the relational time as just an appetizer. The main course was what I’d prepared. My goal was to help him develop disciplines like those that had helped me know God and Scripture.
The harm in being too intentional is easy to see. It looks like people running away! Since my relational skills weren’t nearly as developed as Drew’s, it took me a lot more effort and time to connect with guys. For others, too little relationship manifests itself in legalism, pride in our doctrine or methodology, or an inability to be flexible. But the biggest harm done by too much intentionality is that it presents a model of disciplemaking that’s driven by desired outcomes rather than by love for others. When discipling is too intentional, disciples pass on knowledge that puffs up, rather than love that builds up (see 1 Corinthians 8:1).
So, what about being too relational? In these relationships, the discipler doesn’t prepare beforehand. The meeting looks and feels like two friends hanging out together. They ask questions and “share life.” The discipler is reactive rather than proactive in what he offers. He listens and responds with questions or advice, but misses the opportunity to provide depth or insight that comes from prayerful preparation.
The harm of being too relational is difficult to see. A highly relational meeting feels natural. Both sides find it encouraging and comfortable. The one being discipled feels loved, listened to, and helped. So, what’s the harm? Relational disciplemaking is driven by comfort rather than becoming. In other words, it allows people to believe that disciplemaking is simply loving people as they are, rather than helping them to become mature in Christ. The result is disciples who are self-focused and who lean on their discipler primarily as a counselor rather than a trainer. When discipling is too relational disciples rarely reproduce and seldom survive long-term.
To reach our disciplemaking potential, we must be aware of our default setting and move toward the middle; that is, we must have a balanced approach. That’s not easy. Growth requires confronting our deepest beliefs about ourselves and how we get love from others. It’s often a painful process and progress is slow, but the fruit of such soul work is sweet.
During our two years together, Drew and I learned a lot from one another. As I watched guys being drawn to Drew, I learned that my relational skills were lacking. As Drew saw how I intentionally developed depth in the guys I met with he learned that he needed to be more intentional in his disciplines and preparation.
The final way we can apply this scale is by understanding where the person we’re discipling falls on it. If a naturally relational discipler is helping someone who is naturally intentional, then the discipler should spend more time and effort making things intentional. Similarly, an intentional person discipling a relational person must also adjust. To disciple well we must aware of our own default setting, the default of the person we invest in, and adjust our disciplemaking practices accordingly.
A careful study of Jesus’ life reveals a man who was both intensely relational (“You are my friends,” John 15:14-17), and intensely intentional (“Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men,” Matthew 4:19, emphasis mine). The most skilled disciplemakers, like Jesus, exhibit a personal balance between being relational and intentional.
So, what about you? Which side of your disciplemaking scale is heavier? Which way do those you disciple lean? How are these two approaches impacting the disciplemaking relationship? Are there any adjustments you need to make?
Justin Gravitt is Dayton (Ohio) Area Director for Navigator Church Ministries. Read more from Justin at his blog, One Disciple to Another.