Jesus called disciples. He commands His church to make disciples. Jesus is looking for Christians who are not just believers but who are His followers and His messengers.
The preacher and evangelist David Watson wrote, “If we were willing to learn the meaning of real discipleship and actually to become disciples, the church in the West would be transformed and the resultant impact on society would be staggering.”
Twelve Great Reasons for Meeting One-to-One
Disciples are learners. Through the ages disciples of Jesus Christ have learned through the teaching of the church, especially through sermons. And they have learned individually by studying the Bible and the teachings of the church, and by praying. At times disciples have also emphasised the importance of meeting in small groups, from the Benedictine and Franciscan monks and the Methodist Class Meetings, to today’s Home Groups or Cell Groups for Bible study, fellowship, encouragement and prayer. But one way in which disciples through the ages have always learned has been neglected in these self-centred days – the immense value of believers meeting together One-to-One.
Who were the people who have made the most impact on your Christian life? Who brought you to faith in the first place and who has helped you most to grow along the way? It might have been a speaker at a big event, or a memorable sermon in your local church, or the books or music of somebody you have never met. But many people would agree that for them a Minister, a Youth Leader, a Home Group Leader or close Christian friends were much more significant. And the times which have shaped our faith were not so much occasions in crowds or even in small groups, but the times which we spent with those precious individuals One-to-One.
When two or three people who regularly meet to talk about God and pray together are at roughly the same stage in their Christian experience, expressions like “Spiritual Friendships”, “Soul Friends”, “Sustaining Friends” “Prayer Buddies” or “Peer Mentoring” are appropriate. When a more mature Christian helps a younger Christian find their way, a better description might “Spiritual Direction”, “Christian Formation”, “Coaching” or “Mentoring”. Both Spiritual Friendships and Spiritual Direction are immensely helpful in the process of knowing God better and becoming disciples of Jesus Christ. Sadly in this age of individualism there are very many Christians who have never discovered the blessings of meeting with others One-to-One.
There are at least twelve excellent reasons why it is good for believers to get together One-to-One. Some of them relate more to the context of Spiritual Direction, a more mature Christian sharing the spiritual journey of a younger Christian. Others are more significant in Spiritual Friendships as two Christians at roughly the same stage share their journeys with each other. Any one of these great blessings would be reason enough for believers to begin to meet together and share their spiritual lives One-to-One.
1. Anybody can do it!
We can’t all give lots of time to lots of other people – but everybody can give time to just one or two! Even Home Groups or Cell Groups can’t be just right for everybody all the time. But meeting One-to-One will always be at just the right level for both. A meeting of just two is totally flexible – you can always get together when you want to.
Meeting with the intention and the expectation of talking about Christian things gives freedom to actually talk about Christ without awkwardness or embarrassment; because that is the very reason you are meeting. And there are things you would be prepared to share One-to-One which you would never share even in a small group. You can feel amazingly safe. Going on a journey into unknown territory it always feels better to share that adventure with somebody else than going there by yourself, especially if the other person has been there before.
2. Dialogue teaches the parts monologue can’t teach
We learn all kinds of things much better by talking about them and by doing them with other people than just by reading or by listening to a professor or a preacher talking about them. Talking things through with another person brings so many blessings – blessings for you and blessings for person you are meeting with so double the blessings! Talking helps us understand the things we have heard in sermons or read in books. It helps us think through decisions we are making and find ways through problems we face. It brings encouragement in difficult times and helps us keep going when we feel like giving up.
So often Christians only talk to another person about their faith when problems arise. The wonderful thing about meeting regularly making disciples One-to-One is that in times of trial the relationship of “sustaining friends” already exists.
3. Jesus tells us to pray together.
“Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:19-20)
Here Jesus very clearly makes two promises which are tragically overlooked in our individualistic world. The second promise (in order of the saying) is that Jesus the Risen Christ is present when believers meet together in some special way in which He is not present with them when they are apart and alone. And this is linked in some way to the first promise which is that God the Father will answer the prayers of believers who come together in agreement about what they are praying for, more than if they had prayed alone and separately.
If it was not already abundantly clear from other parts of Scripture, Jesus here is specifically promising to bless Christians who meet together and pray together. And that doesn’t have to be at a church service or a prayer meeting or a Home Group. The minimum number meeting together to claim these promises is precisely two. Making disciples One-to-One. Praying together is good. Intercessions carry more power because they are united. Praying for each other is good. Praying through each other’s decisions and problems is good. And having somebody else committed to praying for your personal spiritual growth is guaranteed to be good – because God answers prayer.
4. Opening up to each other is opening up to God
If we really mean business with God we need to open up every part of our lives to Him. And an important way of doing this is to open up our lives to other people. Many Christians are afraid of doing this. I am afraid of letting other people see “the real me” because then they would realise (in the words of Michael Caine’s character in the film Educating Rita) “there is less to me than meets the eye”.
But I really do need to let somebody else in on “the real me” because only then, when I am truly being myself, only then can God really begin to change me. Thomas Merton the 20th Century mystic puts it this way. “When I meet with you, the Christ in you is able to meet the Christ in me in a way that would not have been possible had we not met.” Talking sbout Spiritual Direction, John Chryssavgis writes, “In opening up to a spiritual elder, one allows the divine Other into the whole of one’s life”
Christians need to learn to open up to each other, Sharing emotions, sadness, anger, disappointment or discouragement with each other is the same as sharing these feelings with God. When we have poured out our heart to our friend, and we know our friend understands, then we can be assured that God also has heard and understood us. British Christians especially are so practised at bottling up our emotions. It is very healthy to have a spiritual context where we can uncork the bottle!
5. Confession and absolution helps deal with sin
Especially in the battle against the world, the flesh and the devil, having a Christian friend standing with you can make all the difference. Through history the church has known the value of confession and absolution. Jesus has given to all Christians the authority to declare sins forgiven. So James 5:16 makes this invitation. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.In the process of Christian holiness, turning away from sin and being transformed into the image of Christ, every Christian would benefit from having a friend to whom he could confess his or her sins. That friend could offer the blessing of declaring those sins forgiven. More than that, the friend would be there to pray alongside against those temptations in the future. Too many Christians walk the road to holiness alone. We do not need to be alone!
6. Discipleship, like salvation, is intended to be shared
In twenty-first century Western Christianity the focus in our understanding of salvation is almost entirely individual. We are concerned about our personal relationship with God. Biblical salvation is very different. It is corporate. We are saved into the Body of Christ of which each of us is only one single part. We are part of the family of God, being built into the Temple of the Holy Spirit. We are saved together and being disciples is something we are supposed to do together. In his excellent book Invitation to a Journey M.R.Mulholland writes, “Spiritual formation should never be merely individual but social and corporate.”
Christians can be so individualistic. “It’s my faith and my life, and I can live it as I want to.” That is NOT true. That is the attitude of the footballer who hogs the ball instead of passing it around the team. It’s the attitude of the tuba player who plays in any key he chooses, any notes he wants, ignoring the conductor and the rest of the orchestra and thinks it doesn’t matter. Richard Foster has written, “None of us is supposed to live the Christian life alone. We gain help and strength from others.”
7. It is good to be in a COVENANT relationship with each other
There is a place in the Christian life for discipline. For making promises to God and to each other, and for allowing others to call us to account for those promises. In essence most spiritual promises of value are wrapped up in the promise made in many traditions at baptism, “to follow Jesus Christ all the days of my life in the fellowship of His church.” It is valuable to allow other Christians to encourage us in keeping our promises.
We know we should be more motivated and committed than we are. It’s good to pray when we feel like it – it is even better to pray when we don’t feel like it, and even in times when we feel we cannot pray at all, because we have made the commitment to God and to the other person that we will meet.
8. Being accountable is a good thing
Being accountable helps us keep learning and praying and it helps you stand firm against temptation. Accountability means we can’t cheat ourselves, or God. Richard Foster commends this idea of “loving accountability”. He says, “I need others to ask hard questions about my prayer experiences, temptations and struggles, and plans for spiritual growth.” Any Christian who is serious about being a disciple of Jesus should not be afraid of searching questions. “How is it with your soul?” “How are you experiencing God this week?”
Christians have the right and the obligation to “watch over each other” and support each other in Christian life. If we see a brother falling into sin, all Christians, and especially those in leadership are obliged to try to rescue them (Acts 20:28; James 5:19-20; 1 John 5:16). And every Christian is obliged to allow others to help us on the road to holiness.
9. Seeing Christ in each other
Imprisoned for his faith and tortured for Christ, Romanian pastor Richard Wurmbrand saw the suffering of his fellow prisoners and asked, “If that were Christ, would you give Him your blanket?” The parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25:31-46 reminds us that when we love and serve our neighbour we are loving and serving Christ Himself. Somebody once asked Mother Teresa of Calcutta how she could work with the untouchables and the sick and the dying? Her answer was that she sees Jesus in each one of the people she helps. So as she serves and cares for those who are dying she is serving and caring for Christ Himself. The best way to learn to see Christ in others is to develop a close relationship with a fellow Christian. Meeting with Christ in another person is a wonderful way of experiencing the presence of Christ in ordinary everyday life.
10. Things “better caught than taught”
There are many things in life which we learn by watching others. The piano teacher, the driving instructor, the personal trainer and the life coach all show us HOW TO do what we want to do. The best way to learn to speak French is to spend time with a Frenchman. So also in the Christian life there are individuals who inspire and encourage us by their passion in prayer, their boldness in evangelism, their commitment to holiness and their complete devotion to God. From their examples we learn skills, attitudes character. We learn hospitality, patterns of prayer and devotional reading. We learn how to cope with life. We seek to imitate their work/life/church balance. We are fired by their wisdom, zeal and love. They are our role models. We catch their faith. And as other people share their lives with us, we learn from them how to share our own life with other people. And the best place for this kind of Christian learning and growing is One-to-One.
11. Exercising Spiritual Gifts
The safety of a One-to-One relationship is the perfect context for learning to recognise God’s voice and deliver God’s messages. The Bible teaches the prophet-hood of all believers. Every Christian has received that Holy Spirit who inspired the prophets so potentially all may exercise prophetic gifts (Acts 2:17-18; 38-39). Where better than meeting One-to-One to begin to explore spiritual gifts especially prophecy?
12. God gives us other Christians so we can practise His kind of love.
A very good way to learn to love your enemies is to practise by loving your friends! God gives us other Christians so we can learn to love and accept and forgive. The challenge of just making space for somebody else in our busy lives is good. Learning to really listen to them so that we will better at listening to others. Practising helping others – learning to be Jesus to other people. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. (1 John 4:20)
Then many of us find it incredibly difficult to talk to other people about Jesus. Sharing our story One-to-One is good practice for sharing with Home Group, then with other friends, then with strangers.
With so many great reasons for meeting together One-to-One, it is hard to think of any excuses why every Christians should not be meeting regularly with a Spiritual Friend.
This sermon appears in my book “Making Disciples One-to-One” – more details at books.pbthomas.com
After a distinguished career as a performer, one famous virtuoso violinist became a professor of music. Somebody asked him what had prompted his change of career. The violinist replied: “Violin playing is a perishable art. It must be passed on as a personal skill; otherwise it is lost.” We can’t learn to live the Christian life just by reading books or even by watching others. We need instruction in the “perishable art” of Christian living. We need discipleship One-to-One.