The relational side of being and making disciples.
By Anthony Mullins, U.S. Southeast Regional Director
One of the better recent inventions for my personal health has been smartwatches that also act as a pedometer. There is something about seeing my step count climb upwards to propel me toward a daily goal of walking at least 10,000 steps (approximately 5 miles). Since COVID-19 became an ever-present reality in early 2020, I have consistently walked 30 miles each week. It has been an important step, pun intended, toward better overall health.
However, as wonderful as walking has been to my personal revitalization, it occurred to me that I needed to add cardio for a robust and holistic exercise plan: cardio is good for an elevated heart rate. Studies have shown that revving up your heart rate each day trains your body to move oxygen and blood to your muscles more efficiently. Elevating your heart rate daily for 20-30 minutes quickens the burning of calories which fuel the body. In other words, it is good for you! With that in mind, I recently purchased an exercise bike, which is now in my home office. Twice per day, for at least 10 minutes each session, I rev up my heart rate by cycling-in-place.
Walking is good, but I needed more for sustainable healthy living. Pastors and ministry leaders, in a similar way, gospel proclamation through preaching is an important element of discipling the congregation, but more is needed in each congregant’s faith journey with the Lord Jesus Christ. By its inherent nature, a sermon is relationally one-sided, whereas healthy discipleship should include mutual relationship and reciprocity. An inspiring Hope Avenue sermon may be well situated to declare the truth of the gospel and our identity in Christ, but by the very nature of one speaking to mostly passive listeners, the format lacks relational reciprocity, which is a key component of healthy discipleship.
In the Faith Avenue, when we disciple others in smaller relational spaces like a Connect Group or one-on-one, a good approach for pastors and ministry leaders is one of curiosity. When we deliver the Hope Avenue sermon, we often see ourselves as preacher/teacher—the dispenser of information. What if we took the posture of student in the flow of discipleship relationships? With curiosity and discernment of the Spirit’s work, we study the other for signs of where God is already at work in his or her life. We will find ourselves amazed at how much we can learn from others and their understanding of Scripture, and their personal relationship with the Triune God. And then—and this is very important—study for signs that he or she is inviting us into that divine work through relationship.
Timothy Keller, retired pastor and author, recently wrote, “Often it is not through listening to preaching but listening to friends that brings us home spiritually.” Keller’s statement feels about right. Preaching clearly matters, but it is often faithful, Christ-honoring relationships that are the catalysts for ever-maturing children of God. Let’s continue to be intentional in emphasizing relational discipleship in the Faith Avenue!