I do not believe it is possible to separate friendship from making followers of Jesus. My disciples are my friends. How one makes disciples is by the laying down of his life for his disciples, whether they be his own children or an individual the Lord brings across his path. This process requires time, diligence, commitment, sacrifice, and true love for another person. It doesn’t just “happen.”
Friendship is not the design of man but a truth that flows from the love nature of God. Throughout history God has extended His friendship to man. Abraham was called a friend of God (2 Chron 20:7-8, Isaiah 41:8, James 2:23-24) and the Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend (Exodus 33:11).
When Jesus came to earth as the God-Man we are eyewitnesses to God demonstrating friendship. In addition to Jesus’ friendship with Lazarus, sinners and outcasts, and in various other stories, the gospels give us an extensive account of Jesus’ friendship with His disciples. During His last meal with the disciples there is a moving scene when Jesus calls them His friends. He goes on that night explaining friendship to them saying, “Greater love has no one than this that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15). Then, the next day His disciples experienced that ultimate demonstration of friendship through Jesus giving up His life for them.
Part of the discipling process is to experience the love of having someone lay down his or her life for you. Taylor Gardner is the man who discipled me. Although I appreciate all that he taught me, what changed my life were the sacrifices he made for me by spending hours with me and creating opportunities of ministry for me often at his expense. One example was the number of times Taylor would have me teach a group of people, knowing he could have done a better job. These opportunities provided the experience I needed to develop my gifts and abilities.
I am often asked, “Where do I being in making disciples of Jesus?” My answer is by being a friend. I do not announce to someone, “I am discipling you!” Rather I simply show an interest in their life, seek to find where God is at work in that life, and join in the adventure.