There wasn’t a Bible study, or Scripture memory, or even prayer. There were barbells on the floor, reps to be done, and a lot of sweat. Some would say it wasn’t discipleship. I would disagree. I believe discipleship is simple: do what you do and do it with others. Or, do what they do and do it with them. Sometimes that means hitting the gym, playing basketball, or hunting wild game. The bottom line is discipleship is best done in the context of a relationship.

Why? Because that’s life. Life doesn’t push pause for an exegetical study of Romans. I’m not saying that’s not a good thing, but some of the ways we disciple or think about discipleship can be less than helpful. Life is too fluid to put a box on it and call it a “Growth Class.” The class is life itself and the relationships therein. There is also the missional dynamic to think about: how you disciple someone will be repeated. If you only disciple someone in a classroom with a curriculum, more often than not they will do the same.

Recipe-Based Discipleship

I can remember back in college, fresh out of a Bible study group, trying to convince my fraternity brothers to sit down with me and do a scripture memory plan of 100+ verses. Needless to say, it went really badly. My highest attendance was zero. But that’s what I knew at the time. That’s what I was discipled to do. It was great for me as a new believer, but not an effective way to engage my lost friends.

We cannot treat discipleship as a recipe or formula. Recipes include ingredients: classrooms, curriculums, and “you better take notes.” The relationship quickly becomes an event and, instead of caring about where our friends are spiritually, we care more about which study we’re doing next. It doesn’t work well, especially if your goal is to reach the lost.

I had to make a change. So, what is a more helpful way?

Relationship-Based Discipleship

There are three phases of a relationship that work best to create an environment for anyone to grow in. This works whether you have a church building or not. This works with your schedule, not against it. You have zero excuses.

Note: I never had words for this until recently. I stole this from my good friend Dewayne, pastor of Life Givers Church, and hope you find it as helpful as I did.

  1. Learn: Who are they? What’s their story? Get to know them. This means hitting the gym before work, happy hour nachos, and coffee after work.
  2. Love: What are they going through? How can I love them where they are? Start to love them. Listen deep. Look for the gospel door knobs—the moments where the truth of the gospel can speak life into them.
  3. Lead: Where are they at now? How can I meet them where they are and help them take their next step in their walk with Jesus?

The Gospel in Everyday Life

A formula or guide is helpful for getting general directions, but complex gospel realities confront us in every season of life and at every intersection. We often forget this. Discipleship is putting the gospel on replay and allowing it to inform our feelings, actions, and decisions. Most discipleship models promote execution. They say, “What did Jesus do? Now go do that.” But, this implores us to shift and think about how what Jesus did affects life right now. This is how the massive truth of the gospel gets into the small places of everyday life.

To be clear, I’m not saying reading the Bible together or memorizing scripture isn’t a good thing. What I am saying, however, is that we can’t create a recipe or cookie cutter program for everyone at each stage. Discipleship is best done in the context of relationships.

Bryson Isom

Bryson Isom

Bryson Isom is the pastor of Valley Life | Camelback, located adjacent to the campus of Grand Canyon University.