Discipleship : Meeting 3
DISCUSS the disciple’s final Life Theme. Identify how God has uniquely formed the disciple throughout their lifetime, and help them begin to understand how their experiences and gifts illuminate their calling. How has God shaped this disciple, and for what purpose?
Once this is done, simply spend time discussing any significant decisions, interactions, or challenges the disciple is facing, and what God may be up to. This is what guidance is all about!
ASSIGNMENT: Read the essay, Friendship Is Discipleship, attached below.
Friendship Is Discipleship
By Jake Thurston
For many churches, the common understanding for discipleship is “the process of becoming like Jesus.” Ancient Christians referred to this process as “spiritual formation,” which included a number of practices that would craft us, shape us, and form our spirits into Christlikeness and holiness. These practices are commonly referred to as spiritual disciplines, which include prayer, Scripture reading, worship, fasting, silence, solitude, confession, self-denial, awareness, hospitality, and so much more. In fact, much of the Discipleship Pathway is built around learning and practicing these disciplines! For the entire history of the Church, these were the necessary practices to grow in God.
But what about friendship?
Rarely do we consider friendship making the list of spiritual disciplines that forms our holiness. Friendship just doesn’t feel like it’s holy enough to be considered a spiritual discipline. We may add “Christian community” to the list, or we may even call it “Christian fellowship,” but we normally shy away from specifically using the verbiage “friendship” when talking about this stuff. Why is that?
Let’s think about this for a second. We are designed for community. God hardwired our brains as these remarkable social organs that are molded, shaped, and influenced by the people we surround ourselves with and the communities we immerse ourselves in. Have you ever noticed you start to act like the people you hang out with the most? You start picking up on their phrases, mirroring their sense of humor, moving about with their gestures. For example, chances are someone from the east coast who moves to South Dakota never once in her life said “oofda” when they were surprised or perplexed about something. However, after living in South Dakota for a couple years, it’s only a matter of time before “Oofda!” becomes a regular part of her vocabulary.
We are literally formed by our friendships. They shape us and mold us into what we love, what we do, how we live, and who we are. To put it simply, you are who you’re with. So if God is the greatest friendship we can possibly have, then he is the greatest force that forms our character into his likeness when we spend time with him (hence why the spiritual disciplines are so important. They’re ways to “hang out” with God).
But what happens when we’re friends with other believers whose lives are founded on that same friendship with God? We become even more like Christ because we’re rubbing shoulders with friends who are like Christ! In other words, we become Christlike when we’re with Christlike friends. You are who you’re with. Plain and simple.
In a way, friendship is discipleship. This is why it’s so necessary we immerse ourselves in Christ’s body of believers: The local church. In all reality, we could do all of the spiritual disciplines, like prayer, worship, scripture reading, and so on, in isolation by ourselves. Most people would consider that good spirituality! But it would be absolutely terrible Christianity.
Discipleship and spiritual formation are always done in community. To know Christ is to be a part of his church. Therefore, a lonely Christian is a contradiction. Someone who labels themselves as a Christ follower who isn’t embedded into Christ’s community is about as out of place as a fish out of water. No one should be lonely in Christ’s church.
Now, certainly there are some spiritual disciplines we need to do by ourselves, like silence, solitude, and private prayer and Scripture reading. But doing these disciplines alone can’t be the only way we go about them. Discipleship and our pursuit of Christlikeness are only magnified when we do so with friends who are after the same thing. True discipleship can’t even happen without friends! Our spiritual friends give us guidance on major life decisions, help make sense of situations that completely blind side us, snap us out of the lies we tell ourselves, and act as the voice of God to us when he seems silent. They sharpen our perspectives, teach us to think differently, laugh with us, mourn with us, worship with us, and pray for us.
You can attend a weekend church service without being noticed, and you can do the spiritual disciplines all by yourself, but if you’re not friends with people who are helping each other become Christlike, then you’re missing out on one of the greatest joys of the Church. A lot of churches offer discipleship programs, small groups, weekend serving teams, and social gatherings as opportunities for people to develop these friendships and experience the joys of Christian community.
Friendship is discipleship. If we want to be guided into who God is forming us to be, then spiritual friendships are a must have. Author Brian Edgar sums up this point perfectly when he says, “Virtue cannot be achieved in solitude. Friendship, specifically virtuous friendship, is at the heart of Christian community. One needs friends in order to be holy.”