Discipleship is Friendship

It boggles my mind to think of Jesus going to a wedding. This means he was invited to a wedding. That means someone thought of Jesus to be enough of a friend to put him on the guest list.

Now, think about this. Jesus saw his fishermen friends struggling to catch fish. After telling them to give it one more shot, he started a fire and waited. He camped out with them at sunrise, took their fresh catch, and made it into breakfast. Who does that but a friend?

Jesus had friends. He was a friend.

Of course, Jesus isn’t just any old friend. He’s also Creator, Master, Savior, King. But he is still a friend. Perhaps being those things and a friend, the Friend, makes his friendship all the more wonderful.

Friendship was Jesus’ unique method for discipleship. He was a leader, of course. But Jesus was never the lord-it-over kind of leader. He was the come-alongside kind. The kind who eats dinner at your house. Takes long walks with you. Tells you stories about God. Encourages you when you mess up. Empowers you to do ministry. Prays for you.

In John 15, in case there was any doubt, he told his disciples explicitly, “You are my friends.” But he goes on, “I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give to you.”

Jesus is passing the baton of his model to his disciples. Calling his disciples “friends,” he tells them that their mission to is to bear fruit—that is, make disciples (remember the metaphor of vine > branches > fruit).

That’s not the most amazing thing, however. Jesus says all of this is “so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.” Ask the Father for disciples and he will give them to us.

But what if we take the Jesus model of discipleship and turn it into something unrecognizable? All too often, we’ve made discipleship top-down (i.e. professionals to laymen), transactional, a one-hour meeting over coffee, a church service, or an eight week class.

These aren’t evil things. Not at all! But Jesus did none of them. And he is the Master.

Discipleship is friendship in a Christ-ward direction.

There are certainly many strategies for making disciples, but if transparency, authenticity, confessing, story telling, encouraging, living together in the mess of everyday life—the stuff of real friendship—is not at the core, then it subverts Jesus’ model. I don’t believe we can approach discipleship differently than Jesus, ask for whatever we wish, and still expect to receive what we ask for.

If we do not follow the Master’s model, we will make something. It just won’t be disciples.

I like to say, “Discipleship is friendship in a Christ-ward direction.” Hopefully, your gears are turning now. Mine are. In the next post, we’ll dig deeper into what discipleship as friendship really means (and doesn’t mean), and I’ll share some tips for how to make this a reality.