Let’s Take Fellowship a Step Higher and Call It Disciplemaking!

I’m always looking for new pictures to express familiar truths. Here’s a new image to capture disciplemaking: “Disciplemaking is an elevated form of fellowship.” I’ve been pondering this statement from former Navigators U.S. Director Alan Andrews for years. I’ve come to this conclusion: “Alan, you’re right!” And here’s why.

Fellowship, not discipleship, is the overwhelming theme of the epistles. There are no commands to make disciples and the word “disciple” is not found in the epistles outside of a reference to the original twelve. What is found is that special relationship between believers called “fellowship.”

When I mention fellowship, several images pop up in our minds. One could be the “fellowship hall” at your church. Another is the “fellowship time” where we drink coffee and talk about the Buckeyes game (if you’re from Columbus, Ohio). We often refer to our causal meeting with other believers as “fellowshipping together.” God, however, calls us to something more.

In his book True Community, author Jerry Bridges describes how fellowship comes from the Greek word koinonia, which means to participate, share, or fellowship. He documents how this word takes on two meanings. One, fellowship means we jointly participate and share in a life with Christ (1 John 1:3). Second, fellowship is a partnership (Philippians 1:5). Koinonia was used as descriptor for a business partnership (Luke 5:10) in the Roman culture, a partnership formed around a common goal.

Fellowship, then, is a shared relationship in Christ and with one another where we intentionally help one another become mature in Christ and live on mission for Christ. Doesn’t this sound familiar? Relationship plus partnership plus intentional goals equals disciplemaking.

The New Testament then goes on and describes what takes place in this relationship: we’re to “one another” one another.  Over and over again, we’re called to, among other things, teach, submit to, serve, love, honor, encourage, and admonish one another. This is fellowship at its finest. This is taking fellowship a step higher.

We’re now entering into a relationship that transcends donuts and coffee, conversations about the Bible, or periodic sharing times. We’re now beginning to mess with one another’s lives. To do this we have to overcome some misconceptions about disciplemaking and about fellowship. Here are two misconceptions to consider. 

Misconception 1: It’s important for people to feel safe. Safety is a popular term used in coaching, social relationships, and culture building. Safety typically describes creating a place where people feel “safe” to be themselves, to be transparent, to fail, to be protected, to not be judged. I encourage creating safe places in team settings for training. We need a place where we can fail as we role play, talk, or practice ministry or life skills. This is good and important but safety needs perspective. C.S. Lewis, in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, gives a different slant to safety.

When describing the Christ figure, the lion Aslan, it’s explained that Aslan is “not safe but he’s good.” What do we do with this insight? Jesus’ followers included the marginalized, those on society’s fringes. Did the safety of his presence attract them? Perhaps, but they would have been in the crowds that were “immediately overcome with amazement” and astonished at his authoritative teaching (Mark 5:421:22). When Jesus rebuked a storm (Mark 4:41), the disciples fearfully responded, saying, “Who is this, that even the wind and sea obey Him?” Did the safety of Jesus’ presence attract people or was it His goodness and authority?

Some of the “one another” ministries do not make me feel safe. For example, we’re to admonish one another, correcting a past behavior (Romans 15:4). We’re to rebuke one another (Luke 17:3), pointing out sin in each other’s lives. This does not immediately create a safe place for me but it’s true fellowship and true disciplemaking. How do we reconcile Lewis’s observation with our contemporary emphasis? How do we balance grace and truth like Jesus did?

Misconception 2: We create judgment-free zones. This has become a mantra for helping relationships and is foundational for creating safe places. At its most basic level, judgment is forming an opinion or rendering a decision. Judgment is a hard pill for me to swallow. I don’t want to come to a place where I will be judged. Fellowship, however, doesn’t happen without it. Consider these three intentional and proactive one another ministries that require some form of judgment.

To do all three, I must make judgments, loving decisions about my behavior and the behavior of others. I prayerful decide whether to admonish someone for wrong behavior. I wisely consider what truth to tell. I lovingly form an opinion about what will encourage someone to move forward. In all of these, I’m not making a judgment about the person but about his or her behavior or attitude. 

Now, God calls us to keep judgment in perspective. It’s reciprocal and it’s done in love (Ephesians 4:15). It starts by taking “the log out of my eye” first (Matthew 5:7). This is not a top-down, superior-to-inferior approach.

In Matthew 23, Jesus destroys the heavy-handed notion of rank or position in his Kingdom. We’re not to be called “rabbi” because we have “one Master,” Jesus (23:8). We’re  not to address one another as “father” because we have one “Father” in heaven (23:9). Nor are we to be called “instructors” because Jesus is the ultimate instructor (23:10). 

How do we relate without a rank or position? Jesus says that we’re “brothers [and sisters]” (23:8) and therefore we should serve one another (23:10). Fellowship is a shared life, a reciprocal life, a give-and-take style of living between brothers and sisters. Disciplemaking happens in reciprocal relationships.

If I admonish another I’m willing to receive admonishment. If I teach I’m willing to be taught. If I encourage then I’m willing to receive encouragement. That’s what the one another ministries are all about. This is not a one-way street. Reciprocity is the mutual commitment of true fellowship.

As brothers and sisters, we come alongside one another under the headship of Jesus and relationally commit ourselves to love, exhort, admonish, and honor one another. This requires a relational commitment that exceeds coffee and donuts. This is a commitment we commonly associate with disciplemaking. 

You might think that I would be practicing true fellowship by now. But despite years of experience, I’m still growing. We can all stand to learn more about how to take fellowship a step higher and call it disciplemaking.

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