Yesterday in my disciple-making class, we focused on developing a relationships investment plan for the new year. We plan for a lot of things. There’s financial planning, educational planning, vacation planning, retirement planning, etc. But one of the most important plans you could make as a disciple of Jesus is planning your relationships.
Jesus planned his relationships. He entered into relationships with a specific group of people with a purpose in mind. Those relationships were meaningful and intentional. Those relationships also had a stewardship to them, meaning that the exchange (giving and receiving) of life would carry on into the lives of others. Just a cursory look, for example, in the life of the Apostle Paul you see how sweet and endearing his relationships were with the people of whom he invested his life.
Relationships are the interconnected superhighway for gospel advance. The stronger the relationships in gospel community, the greater the success of the mission. When relationships are not strong (or nonexistent), substitutes attempt to fill in, such as programs, events, or classes. I am not saying those are bad things in and of themselves, but they are inadequate replacements for life on life and handicap the mission of the church when they do.
When making your relational investment plan, I am not talking about adding a superstructure to your life and schedule. Rather, the goal is to integrate your life in the fabric of community so that your relational investments can be intentionally leveraged for gospel growth and missional advance. It is living skillfully (walking with wisdom, as Paul puts it) and seeing all of life along as a classroom to make, mature, and multiply disciples of Jesus.
One way of beginning the planning process is to know who the Pauls, Timothys, and Barnabases are in your life.
The Pauls are the spiritual pacesetters in your life. They are the people who coach, mentor, or disciple you. They are the life templates you want to follow and emulate, who press you and challenge you to greater pursuit of God and practical usefulness in His kingdom. You need the Pauls who go before you to give counsel, direction, and guidance.
The Timothys are the people with whom you serve as a Paul. You pour into them, teaching them, training them, walking with them through everyday life with the aim of applying the gospel and God’s Word to all of life. In terms of parenting, you are like a spiritual father and mother and take personal ownership in their spiritual growth and maturity. You need the Timothys who come after you to transfer the gospel to the next spiritual generation in the family (by that, I’m not talking about time, but the next new believers who will need someone to train them).
The Barnabases are the people who partner with you in gospel ministry. They work alongside you to bring encouragement and edification as you together seek to learn from one another and mutual benefit from the lessons and experiences you have in the process. Opening your life to messes, struggles, disappointments, and challenges is real spiritual warfare, and you need Barnabases around you who will encourage you to keep pressing into the lives of others for the good of the gospel and their advance in it.
Another way to assess your relational investment planning is to begin with the relationships closest to you. Begin with your family. In my case, I am investing my time in strengthening my relationship with my wife and two boys (and girl on the way). From there, I think about my covenant community (local church). God will open doors and create opportunities to invest and be invested in through the fellow believers he has placed in your life. Next is your neighborhood and community. Look for ways to invest in neighbors, to build relationships with them. Finally, work to develop rhythms in your daily life where relationships are forged through a life on mission. You will get to know people quite well after repeated efforts in an intentional plan to press into the lives of people you encounter, whether they be a waitress, a clerk, or anyone else you likely see in the rhythm you have developed.
As a disciple of Jesus, you need to be discipled by somebody (Paul), be discipling somebody (Timothy), and be surrounded by disciple-making disciples (Barnabas). Your relationship investment plan should include unbelievers who are seeking to win to Christ, new believers you are seeking to establish in the gospel, and maturing Christians you are seeking to grow in the gospel.
Do you have meaningful relationships with unbelievers in your community with the intention of seeing them brought to Christ? If not, now is a great time to start. It is very unhealthy for Christians to be disconnected from the world they are called to reach. If the gospel is going to run through the streets of your city, it will happen not through a blimp but beautiful feet. Knock on your neighbor’s door. Invite them for dinner. Invite folks in your community to share prayer requests and commit to pray for them. Who else should care more for their soul than rescued sinners like you and me?
Do you have strategic relationships with new believers in your church community? If not, now is a great time to start. Find someone you could spiritually parent and share life together. Don’t just teach them how to pray and read the Bible. Show them how you read and pray, and how God is using that to change your life. God is our Father, and the church is our family. You are put in this family to become like our elder brother (Jesus) and help others do the same. Make the time to meaningful contribute to that glorious goal.
Remember: relational investments is the pipeline for gospel transformation. To close your life off to others and hold them at a distance is to undermine the change God intends to bring in your life through the gospel and sideline you from being useful for the very purposes God redeemed for you to play a vital role.
May the portrait of our lives be deeply stamped by the fingerprints of others as we are conformed into the image of Jesus, and may we as in instrument in the Potter’s hands be used to help others become healthy, holy, and happy children of God.