I am about to start a new discipleship group. My church leadership and I believe The Faith is best spread by making disciples in small groups. Some of our nearby congregations believe this as well, so this is what we do: we meet with others in small groups to discuss how to hear from/walk with God.
I told my mentor about this, and he said something surprising to me. He suggested I be more friendly to the guys I invited into my group. Actually, he suggested that I start the group not as a disciple-maker but as a friend.
And I understood a little of what he was getting at there. He once shared this little picture with me:
This little picture illustrates the three levels of intimacy that a disciple-maker can have with the people who interact with him/her. Some will be friends; they will serve (or share is a word he sometimes uses), but they won’t do much more. Followers go deeper; they submit. Family goes even deeper still; they surrender.
There’s a lot that could be said about that, but the big point for me is that I needed to start at friendship. My mentor told me that I am very serious and ready to get down to business, but that I needed to back off that a little, that I needed to befriend people before discipling them.
Again, this was surprising to me, not just because I am eager to get to the disciple-making level but because I think I’m a fairly-friendly guy. I am a Celt, after all (by descent, anyway), and a common Celtic saying is:
I think I really do regard people in that way. I am open to most anyone that wants to be open to me.
Still, my mentor said this and I think there is some truth in it. While reading Matthew 9 recently, I noticed that Jesus is having dinner with some “sinners and tax collectors”:
What I realized while I read this is that many of these tax collectors and sinners must have kept Jesus on the “friend” level. They “friend-zoned” Jesus, in other words.
But Jesus still interacted with them. He must have wanted more. He must have wanted to disciple them. That’s one of His primary objectives, after all. But He still interacted with those who friendzoned Him. He was willing to be friend to those who stopped at that level.
I’m not sure what this looks like for me. I’m not even sure I’m capable of doing. I will always be the serious, down to business guy, I think. But I am sure it is a part of disciple-making. Maybe that’s the best way to think about it. Being a friend isn’t all there is to disciple-making; it certainly isn’t the goal. But it is part of it, and I have to be as open to it as Jesus was.