Discipleship 101: What Kind of Relationships?

March 30, 2017 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments

Posted in: Pastoral Encouragement

This is part six of a multi-part series exploring discipleship in the local church. Jesus declares in his final, “great” commission that his followers are to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19). The mission of the church is to make disciples. As followers of Christ, we are to be disciples and to be making disciples. What is involved in discipleship? What does discipleship look like in our individual lives and for our church?

Perhaps it goes without saying that relationships are necessary for discipleship. The process of discipleship involves both learning and modeling by example. We need someone to teach us and we need examples to follow. But are we intentional to seek out those types of relationships where we learn and are shaping new habits? On the flip side, are we intentional to seek out those types of relationship where we teach and model Christian life? These types of intentional relationships go beyond following someone on Twitter, listening to an edifying podcast, or sharing snippets of our lives and opinions on Facebook. We need old-fashioned, biblical, discipleship relationships.

What do these relationships look like? Let’s consider Paul’s relationship with Timothy.

We are introduced to Timothy in Acts 16:1-3, during Paul’s second missionary journey. Paul returned to the region of Galatian where he traveled on his first journey. Whether directly or indirectly, we cannot be sure, Timothy put his faith in Christ through Paul’s missionary activities in his region. Regardless, when Paul meets Timothy on the second journey, he wants him to accompany him. It’s during this journey that Paul established significant ministry relationships with Philippi, Thessalonica, and Corinth. Timothy must have played an important role in those ministries because he is mentioned in Paul’s letters to these churches (1 Cor. 4:17; 2 Cor. 1:1; Phil. 1:1; 1 Thes. 1:1).

Through the course of ministry together, Paul became very fond of Timothy, like a father with a son. He commends Timothy to the Philippians by saying, “you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel” (Phil 2:22). And in his letters to Timothy Paul calls him “my true child in the faith” (1 Tim. 1:2) and “my beloved child” (2 Tim. 1:2).

In his closing letter to Timothy, Paul indicates that he wants Timothy to do what he did, to follow his example. He says, “what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). Paul became a spiritual father to Timothy. Now Paul wants Timothy to be a spiritual father to others, who, in turn, will become spiritual fathers to others. While they had unique circumstances and responsibilities, Paul’s relationship with Timothy becomes a model for discipleship relationships.

What can we glean from Paul & Timothy’s relationship?

1. Be on the lookout for divine appointments. Paul started his second missionary journey with a partner: Silas. Did he need another ministry partner? Not necessarily. But Paul was sensitive to God’s leading. Paul understood the nature of gospel ministry and discipleship, that it is a process of teaching and modeling. Paul was not closed to new relationships. Neither should we. Let’s be sensitive to God’s leading for new discipleship relationships.

2. Find someone, even more than one, to teach and model the faith for you. Timothy would not become a partner for the gospel unless Paul “entrusted” to him the truth and example of Christian faith. And the teaching Timothy received was more than what can be received from a book. Paul says, “You have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings” (2 Tim. 3:10-11). This is the kind of “entrusting” Paul has in mind in 2 Timothy 2:2. Rub shoulders with someone. Learn not only good doctrine about Christ, but watch someone live faithfully following Christ through hardship.

3. Find someone, even more than one, for whom you can teach and model the faith. The intention of 2 Timothy 2:2 is reduplication. We are here, 2,000 years after Paul, because faithful men and women entrusted the truth and example of the gospel to faithful men and women, who, in turn entrusted it to others, and so on through the generations. Don’t just say “the church is there to make disciples.” You are the church. And Christ has given the church “pastors and teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-12). To whom are you entrusting the faith?

These kind of discipleship relationships don’t often form in a program. They take time and sacrifice and commitment. But for the sake of the gospel and that Christ may be formed in each of us, let’s pray that God would cultivate these relationships among us.


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