Reliability and Disciple-Making

Disciples of Jesus are best made in a community of reliability where each member of the group can depend on the others.

For some, their church small group experience has been a disappointment because they were told that if they would be open, honest, and vulnerable with their group that they would find belonging. Although being forthright and honest are necessary parts of community they are not enough to establish the belonging that we hope for. The group must also be able to rely on one another.

Alferd Jepsen broadens our understanding of truth and trust when he writes, “In the Hebrew Bible truth ‘was used of things that had proved to be reliable . . .. Reliability would be the best comprehensive word in English to convey the idea.’

Trust is that on which others can rely. Faithfulness and reliability are personal and social terms. They describe the character of a person both as she is in herself and as she is towards others.”[1]

Early on Jesus introduced reliability to his disciples by teaching them to treat others as you would want to be treated. Yet even after spending three years with him, the twelve disciples committed the most unreliable of acts by betraying Jesus on the night that he needed them most.

Reliability takes years to learn and comes out of our greatest failures. Peter learned to be reliable by seeing how his unreliability deeply harmed Jesus and by contrasting his own failure against Jesus’s faithfulness to him even after his denial of the Lord.

In closing:


  • It is because God is reliable that I am able to be reliable to others.


  • In making followers of Jesus it can take months and years for a person to become reliable. This is learned in community with others. It can be a painful process as we learn to forgive one another in our unreliable moments.







[1] Volf, Miroslav. Exclusion and Embrace. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996. p. 259.

Disciple-Making and Making Space

Disciple-making is based in the relational nature of the Trinity. The love that the Father, Son, and Spirit have for one another enabled them to open up and make space so that others could belong to the family of God.

Jesus came on earth to show in practical ways how God’s love should function among us. Jesus made space and drew12 men into his life providing for them a place to belong. He created an experience for his disciples that reflected the belonging, love, and self-giving essence of the Godhead. This is why disciples should be made in community.

Later the apostle Paul not only proclaimed the good news of Jesus but he also formed these believers into communities that reflected the nature of God. At the core of these communities were a servant’s heart, hospitality, affection, and self-sacrifice that enabled them to make space for others.

To make space for another comes at great cost. For the Godhead it meant the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross, which was costly for all the members of the Trinity. For the apostle Paul it came at the price of years of extreme suffering. Though many things have changed since the first century, the way to make disciples is the same at it was 2000 years ago. Disciples are made only when men and women are willing to lay down their lives for another.


Your Disciple, Your Friend

The concept of friendship begins in the essence of the Godhead. As the Trinity relates to one another in love, delight, and service, so should our friendships be. God relates to man as a friend with Adam, Eve, Abraham, and Moses, and later when Jesus comes to earth as God in human form, he is a friend with his disciples, Lazarus, Martha, Mary, and even sinners.

As children of God our friendships are never just between two people. As Jesus’ friends were drawn into relationship with his Father, because he and his Father were one, so our friends are drawn into relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, because we are united with God.

The triad nature of our friendships (my friend, me, God) makes them fundamentally different than the world’s model of friendship. We are one with God and therefore he is in the midst of each of our friendships. This safeguards against dysfunction and selfishness and empowers us to extend love to our friends as an outflow of God’s love for us. We are able to absorb rejection and are immune from manipulation because our security is based on a relationship with the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, and not in human relationships. In fact, we are simply adding our new friend to our already established relationship with God.

In closing:

  • Your relationship with your disciple is a friendship as demonstrated by Jesus and Paul with their disciples.
  • Building a friendship with your disciple is an important means of him becoming a follower of Jesus.
  • Your friendship with your disciple not only draws him into relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but also with other disciples.
  • The courage needed to make disciples comes from God’s relationship with you. His love will both empower and protect as you develop the friendship with your disciple.

Meet the Parents 3

It is not possible for your disciple to separate his relationship with God from his relationship with people, as hard as he may try. To understand your disciple’s relationship with God you need to look no further than how he relates to people, including his parents and siblings. His relationships serve as a mirror for him and a window for you to understand how he relates to God. John, in no uncertain terms, irrevocably ties our relationship with God to our relationship with people when he writes:

If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:20-21)

It is a contradiction to give the appearance of having a relationship with God and yet have discord, jealousy, selfishness, dissension, hatred, and envy with people. Your disciple’s relationships will either expose a facade of religion or affirm a genuine relationship with God.

In closing,

  • Making disciples in community gives your disciple the opportunity to learn how to love others and to receive love from others.
  • Making disciples in community gives you the opportunity to observe how each disciple relates to the others.
  • Your community’s relationship with one another is an indication of how the community as a whole is relating to God.

The Beauty of Belonging

Man was created to participate in beauty and not just to be an observer. A lack of beauty rarely comes to mind when dealing with personal problems but when other approaches with your disciple have failed an absence of beauty should be considered.

There is beauty in belonging to others of which the Psalmist writes in Psalm 133: “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe. It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.” To paraphrase, being united to others is a beautiful thing.

This beauty flows from the eternal love between the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. God designed man to enter into this beauty by being connected to Him and His other children. But sin in the Garden of Eden brought shame and a separation between God and mankind and man with one another, which resulted in ugliness.

A relational breach demoralizes and creates a void of beauty in a person which will compel him to desperately seek out perverted and distorted forms of beauty to compensate for this vacuum. This search will lead him to self-destructive attitudes and behaviors such as pornography, flirtation, sex, eating disorders, drug and alcohol abuse, materialism, etc.

Your disciple will become confused and frustrated over the contradiction of this behavior. He desires to love, belong, and please the Lord and he is aware that his behavior is sinful and self-destructive but he continues it anyway and he does not understand why. He soon discovers that his self-determination and self-control cannot compensate for this void of beauty.

The nature of God moved Him to restore man’s relationship to Him and mankind’s relationship with one another through the death of Jesus.  So once where there was sin, shame, hatred, and discord there now can be the beauty of unity and peace. Although the story of relational restoration through the gospel is familiar to your disciple the implementation of this reality may prove difficult. A large part of the disciplining process is helping your disciple understand the beauty of how he is restored to God and how he can now be connected to others.

In closing,

  • Only make disciples in the context of community. It is in community that they will experience the beauty of belonging and how to love others.
  • As a community discuss how the group can help each member understand how he or she belongs to the Lord and to the others in the group.
  • Communicate regularly to your disciple how he belongs to his heavenly Father and also to the others in the community. (e.g. Tell him what you have heard from others in what ways they appreciate him.)

How I View My Disciple #4

Each Tuesday evening our group of disciples has dinner together to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. This past week during our table discussion there was a frank honesty about our childhoods and how each of us had felt like we had not belonged anywhere while growing up. We had lived a detached existence.

Making followers of Jesus must be done in a group. A large part of the disciple making process is accomplished through my disciple learning how to interrelate with his brothers and sisters in the family of God.  I have wondered how much of Jesus’ training of the twelve was achieved through the disciples learning how to live together for three years vs. the “classroom” instruction of Jesus. I have also wondered how much of the teaching of Jesus flowed out of the conflicts between the disciples not too dissimilar from a parent using sibling discord as a teaching moment for his children.

The essence of our God is the familial interconnectedness of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. Their identity is found in the eternal love bond to the other persons of the Godhead. Because we are created in the image of God a disciple can only come to understand his identity and purpose by integrating into a family context with his heavenly Father and his spiritual siblings. In contrast, our culture pushes him toward individualism and independence, which can only lead to confusion and ultimately self-destruction.

Just as a my disciple cannot know himself or understand his giftedness apart from being in this family context, so I cannot know my disciple apart from seeing him interact with his spiritual siblings.  His relationship with God is not visible to me which means he can deceive me into thinking he has a good relationship with God when in reality he may not.  One way I can get a glimpse into my disciple’s relationship with the heavenly Father is through seeing how he relates to others and how others relate to him.

Made to Belong

Within your disciple is a conflict between his need to belong and his fear of rejection.   He is constantly searching for a group to which he can safely attach while at the same time keeping his guard up because of the painful memories of disappointing relationships.  This double message he transmits to others confuses them to the point that they do not know how to respond to him.   He then senses their awkwardness and becomes even more insecure.  Sometimes in a brave or impulsive moment he may guardedly attach himself to a group with an optimism that these new friends maybe different, only to be disappointed once again. The more disappointments your disciple accumulates the deeper his despair, which opens the door to erratic and self-destructive behavior.

Man is made to belong.  Being an image bearer of God he is designed to belong to God and to others as demonstrated in the love between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The degree of your disciple’s relational pain corresponds in direct proportion to his need to belong.   Evidence of the importance of belonging is seen in the void he experiences in its absence.  The reason why rejection hurts deeply and its sting endures is because of the vast capacity God has given us to love.

The good news about Jesus is that he makes it possible for us to belong.   Paul explains:

For he (Jesus) himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.  (Ephesians 2:14-18)

Jesus destroyed barriers and walls of hostility so that we can be united with the heavenly Father and become one with one another.

Longing to Belong

Parents and disciple makers get it wrong when they try and form a person’s character by outward conformity.  It is putting the second thing first, the cart before the horse.  To make a disciple of Jesus begins by engrafting him into a group (family) where he belongs and then out of this belonging will flow the character of Jesus. It is the first thing.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “…you can’t get second things by putting them first.  You get second things only by putting first things first” [1]. It is fruitless to try and get your disciple to live by kingdom values or to have a right attitude if he does not understand to whom he belongs.  You will become frustrated and you will frustrate your disciple if you do not begin by helping him unite to God and to a people, which I would argue are inseparable.

Man is created in the image of God, which means he was designed to belong.  When your disciple feels disconnected his behavior will become erratic and often self-destructive as he seeks to compensate for his detachment.   He will attach himself to some inappropriate group through inappropriate bonds to give the illusion that he belongs somewhere and to someone.

When Jesus called his men to follow him, he was also calling them to belong to a group of 12 other men. Jesus formed a community not only because it flowed out his nature but also because he knew that for his disciples to live as God intended they must belong to one another through bonds formed by love.

In closing:

  • Rarely do I disciple someone apart from being with him in community.
  • A large part of the discipling process is teaching your disciple how to love and receive love and how to serve others and to be served in community.
  • Starting a discipling community is difficult as seen in Jesus’ disciples’ relationship with one another.  It is more difficult than starting a bible study, small group, or maybe even a church plant.  It takes months and years rather than weeks.  The process does become easier as your disciples learn how to love one another.

[1] C.S. Lewis, “First and Second Things,” in God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics (Eerdmans, 1994), p. 280.


Love: Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing

In 1972 Eastern Airlines Flight #401 to Miami was using the most advanced commercial airliner in the world being flown by a pilot with 30 years of experience.  On their final approach the indicator light that the landing gear was in place had not illuminated.  While the pilot, co-pilot, and flight engineer focused on the $12 burned out light bulb the airplane crashed into the Everglades killing 99 people because no one was flying the plane.  The moral of the story is: keep the main thing the main thing.

To be distracted from the main thing has consequences. Recently I was involved with a relational conflict between two church planters.  I asked one of the pastors when was the last time he had told his fellow pastor that he loved him, after an awkward silence he replied timidly “a couple of years ago.”   Meanwhile, I spoke at a church that has a history of interpersonal conflict.  After the service the pastor asked if he could walk me to my car to ask me a question.  He asked: “Do you think that it is important for me to tell the individuals in my congregation that I love them?”  At that moment I began to understand the reason for their church’s relational troubles.

Peter tells us our main thing: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:8 Our main thing is based on the truth that our God is love (1 John 4:16), our message is love (Romans 5:8), and our distinction is our love for one another (John 13:35).

In closing a quote from the poetry of Thomas Traheme:

You never enjoy the world aright. . .till you love men so as to desire their happiness, with a thirst equal to the zeal of your own; till you delight in God for being good to all; you never enjoy the world . . . [1]

[1] Thomas Traherne, Selected Poems and Prose (New York: Penguin Classics, 1991)

What is God Like?

While looking for ministry methods, Christianity has the tendency to skip over the Gospels and dive into the book of Acts and Paul’s letters.  Yet it is in the Gospels that we have four accounts of God coming to earth to show us what God is like.  “When Church Was a Family” by Joseph Hellerman is one of the more thought provoking books I have read in a while.  He writes:

“The earthly ministry of Jesus of Nazareth constitutes the one time in the history of humanity when heaven fully and finally came to earth.  In Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, we have the opportunity to see the question What is God like? answered in the flesh-and-blood world in which we live.  During His incarnation Jesus not only procured our way to heaven.  He also shows us how to live on earth.  Now we can pattern our lives after Jesus.”[1]

The answer to What is God is like? as seen in the Gospels is love.  At the baptism of Jesus the heavenly Father breaks silence and declares his love for his Son.  “And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matt 3:17) Here we discover the family love bond between the heavenly Father and Jesus.  This familiar love becomes the basis for Jesus love for his disciples and the disciples love for one another.   “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.” (John 15:9)As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

While reading the Gospels our Western eyes are drawn to ministry methods and we can easily miss the relational component of Jesus’ approach.   Imitating the methods of Jesus without the family love element will result in a sterile religion rather than a dynamic spiritual family.  It is essential for your disciples to understand that God relates to them as a Father and they are to relate to him as a son.  This understanding is the basis on which your disciples are to lovingly relate to one another as brothers.  The brotherly love your disciples have for one another is a window for the world to see into the heavenly Father’s love for Jesus and their perfect unity. “I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:22-23)

[1] Joseph H. Hellerman, When the Church Was a Family (Nashville: B & H Academic, 2009), p. 62.