What does a mature disciple of Christ look like? Over the past decade Lifeway Research has delved into this with thousands of pastors and church leaders. Culling through the data, we discovered that strong discipleship ministries and practices could be put in eight categories. We call these eight categories the signposts along the discipleship pathway. One sign of growing disciples is that they build relationships with others.
We were built for relationships. I know that doesn’t sound as poetic as John Donne’s “No man is an island entire of itself,” but it captures the same truth. God wired us to live in community with others.
In the opening chapters of Genesis, an incredible picture of God’s creative power is revealed. Each day of creation closes with “God saw that it was good.” In fact, at the end of it all, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good indeed” (Gen. 1:31).
The only thing God observed that was not good was the man living alone. “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper corresponding to him’” (2:18). The context was the creation of the woman and the introduction of the God-ordained marriage relationship, but it points to an overarching principle: We were created to live in relationships.
The ultimate relationship we’re called to is a personal relationship with Christ. But when we come to Christ, we also come to His body: the church. As we walk with Christ, we don’t walk alone. We walk alongside others. Community—living and interacting with other believers—is a central part of a believer’s discipleship and growth.
From the earliest days of the church, this idea of community was central. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). Do you hear the “togetherness” in that passage?
The New Testament has close to sixty passages with the phrase “one another.”
- Love one another (John 13:34).
- Live in harmony with one another (Rom. 12:16).
- Instruct one another (15:14).
- Have equal concern for one another (1 Cor. 12:25).
- Serve one another (Gal. 5:13).
You help me in my walk with Christ; I help you in your walk. We’re in this together.
Scripture contains only one explicit command telling us why we must be involved in a community of believers.
“And let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching.” (Heb. 10:24-25, emphasis added).
Yes, we gather together for worship … for prayer … to hear and study God’s Word, but in all these things, we encourage each other. I’ve heard the excuse—and you probably have too: “I don’t need to go to church to worship God … to pray … to study the Bible.” While we can do these things privately (and we should), we miss the rich element of doing it with other believers. We are hard-wired for community, and there’s no greater place to do that than in relationship with other believers.
As we mature in Christ, we see the value of community more and more. Consequently, we will seek to build and strengthen those relationships. But maturing believers don’t just build relationships with other believers; they seek to build relationships with those outside the faith too. They do this with intentionality; they want to build a relationship in order to show the love of Christ and share the gospel.
Ways the Church Can Foster Believers Who Build Relationships.
- Promote Bible study groups. Corporate worship with the whole body is great, but the ideal way to build relationships is within the smaller setting of Bible study groups. Whether you call it Sunday School, Small Groups, Life Groups, or whatever, a group of 8-16 people gathered to discuss the Bible together can’t help but build relationships within the group.
Some group leaders love a larger group, but the larger the group gets, the dynamic for relationships within the group can lessen. Introverts are far more likely to participate and thrive in a smaller group—and 1/3 to 1/2 of the congregation is filled with introverts! So when a group is regularly reaching 16 or more people, start a new group.
- Create opportunities for relationship building. Encourage the Bible study groups to do more than just study the Bible together. Parties, mission projects, and ministry opportunities bring people together.
Consider intergenerational opportunities as well. Let a get-together or ministry project involve two or more generations. For example, as younger adults build relationships with senior adults, they can be mentored and disciple by someone with more life experience.
- Model building relationships. As a church leader, you have many occasions you interact with outsiders. When appropriate, take someone with you. Let him learn how you start and build a relationship. Open the door for him to build a relationship with the other person. Our relationship-building habits can be contagious.
We’d love to hear from you. What are some ways your church is helping believers build relationships?