What Is A Discipleship Relationship Like?

A discipleship relationship is characterized by withness—meaning that training is accomplished as you “do life together”. This is also called life-on-life mentorship. This creates a unique bond between the “mentor” and the “mentee” as they both strive to serve the Lord all for His honor and glory. 

A Discipleship Relationship Is Characterized By “Withness”

  • Jesus ordained the twelve disciples “that they should be with Him”. Jesus knew that before they would be sent out to preach and have power to perform miracles that they needed to be with Him. This means that they needed to spend a lot of time together. This was a charge for them to constantly be in His presence so that they could learn from every aspect of His life and He could mold every aspect of their lives into representations of Himself. This was a transparent, intimate and bonding relationship that can only be established through spending good quality and a large quantity of time together. This was also more than just friends hanging out, Jesus was a man whom God was with (in fact, He was God Himself), and took every opportunity to teach them the truth.
    Mark 3:14; Luke 9:18-20; John 3:2
  • We need to realize that discipleship isn’t just sitting down and teaching our disciples lessons from the Bible for an hour each week, but it’s a relationship where we invite others into our lives so that we can train them like Jesus trained His disciples. Also, we can’t expect for people to follow us except God be with us and we desire to teach them God’s truth. Our discipleship relationships also need to be defined by withness—spending time together with our disciples training them for the kingdom of God.

A Discipleship Relationship Is Characterized By “Life-On-Life”

  • A discipleship relationship is like a spiritual “teacher and learner” relationship. A “disciple” is a person who is a learner or student that is devoted to learning from a specific teacher in an instructional relationship. But this is more than a “classroom relationship” where a professor teaches and the students listen and receives information, instead it is teacher who is imparting knowledge and practical skills to his student. The student is fully committed to learning from his teacher and organizes his life around his teacher so that he can spend the necessary time with him to accomplish this. Thus a student (disciple) ends up being like his teacher (master).
    Matthew 10:24-25; John 13:14-15
  • A discipleship relationship is like a spiritual “father and son” relationship. Paul referred to his disciples as spiritual sons or sons in the faith (“Timotheus, who is my beloved son,” “Titus, mine own son after the common faith,” “my son Onesimus”). Timothy was the greatest example of this and Paul said their relationship was like a son with his father, because He had served with Paul in the work of the gospel. Timothy did ministry like Paul did. This relationship signifies a permanent and lifelong commitment to invest in your disciples’ lives for their edification. We are to train our disciples in the same way that a father teaches and cares for his own sons.
    1 Corinthians 4:14-17; 16:10-11; Philippians 2:22; 1 Timothy 1:2, 18; 2 Timothy 1:2; 2:1; Titus 1:4; Philemon 10
  • A discipleship relationship is like a spiritual “leader and follower” relationship. Jesus was the leader and those who wanted to be His disciples were to follow Him. On the part of the disciples, there wasn’t a full understanding of what the “pathway of following Jesus” was going to look like or what would be required (although Jesus did challenge them with many hard sayings), but they had confidence in the leader. A follower needs to have confidence that the leader is going to lead them well and they need to make the necessary sacrifices to be able to follow—not just following literally, but also to accept and follow their guidance and leadership.
    Matthew 4:19-22; 8:19-23; 9:9; 16:24; 19:21
  • A discipleship relationship is like a spiritual “master and apprentice” relationship. A “master” is someone who already has experience and skills in a certain area or trade and is teaching the less experienced and unskilled person everything they know about it. We have several examples in the Bible, but a few from the Old Testament are: (1) Elijah and Elisha; (2) Moses and Joshua; (3) Eli and Samuel.
    (1) 1 Kings 19:19-21; 2 Kings 2:1-25; (2) Exodus 24:13; Deuteronomy 31:1-8; (3) 1 Samuel 1:24-28; 3:1-23

Principles For Discipleship Relationships

  • Principles in being a disciple trainer:
    • Invite: You have to invite others into your life and give them permission to “follow” you, learn from you, and be trained by you. Like Jesus, we aren’t looking for those with the best education, those from great families, those with enormous wealth or the most religious person, but we are looking for those with humble hearts willing to learn and serve God. We aren’t looking for those without problems, but normal hard-working men and women who might make a lot of mistakes—but we aren’t focused on who they currently are as much as we are focused on what they can become through Jesus.
      John 1:43; 15:16; Acts 4:13; Heart: 1 Samuel 16:7; Double Vision: Acts 9:10-19; Judges 6:13-18
    • Instruct: As you are training those who accepted your invitation to learn from you, you want to give them instructions about how to grow and serve. You are not to do all the serving and work by yourself, but you are to instruct them how to do it and give them the opportunity to actually do it themselves, even if they can’t do it as good as you can. For who could do anything better than Jesus, but He allowed His disciples to serve. Instruct each person through encouragement at a pace they are able to endure.
      Serving: John 6:10; Luke 22:8; Growing: Matthew 10:5; 14:26-33; Pace: Genesis 33:13-14; John 16:12, 33; Mark 4:33
    • Inform: We are to teach our disciples God’s word, but also spend extra time making sure they understand everything that we are teaching and how to apply it to their lives.
      Mark 4:1, 34
  • Principles in being a disciple:
    • Follow: You have to be willing to “follow” someone who invites you into their life to learn from them. This means making sacrifices so that you can establish this discipleship relationship. Those who are training for full-time service will have to make greater sacrifices as this becomes their entire livelihood.
      Mark 1:19-20; 2:14; Luke 5:11; 18:28
    • Serve: Disciples serve wherever they are needed. They learn to obey what they are told to do by those who are training them and serve alongside them. They aren’t looking to just serve in the areas of prominence, but also in the small, insignificant and seemingly less important areas. They are also willing to bring their friends and family to church and tell them about Jesus.
      Serving: John 6:11; Luke 22:9-13
    • Learn: Disciples are learners. They are to be constantly asking questions to the person who is training them so that they are learning new things and understanding everything that is being taught. They are to be interested, inquisitive, and imitative.
      Matthew 13:10, 36; Mark 4:10; Luke 11:1; 24:35

Review Questions

  • What does “withness” mean?
  • What does “life-on-life” mean?
  • A discipleship relationship is like what four types of relationships?
  • What are three principles in being a disciple trainer?
  • What are three principles in being a disciple?

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