November 29, 2022

By Chad Merrell

I hate to admit this, but I am not a person that naturally seeks out time with people. I love people. I really do! But the truth is, I am content by myself. So when I see that a third of the formula for relational discipleship is “creating a relational environment”, I sometimes feel like I am starting from behind.

In my thirties, I found out that I am what is known as an “extraverted introvert”. In other words, I love people and have great people skills, but I don’t have an underlying felt need to be with people. I didn’t know this about myself until my friend, a psychiatrist in the school system, told me. It was out of the blue, but it made so much sense! I remember thinking, “Maybe I am not a jerk, maybe I’m just an introvert!”. I had thought that in order to be a disciple and a disciple maker, I had to be available to people all the time. And it was wearing me out! I simultaneously felt guilty for wanting time to myself, while also feeling the pull to be better at creating relational environments.

I didn’t know it then but what started that day was a journey of increasing self-awareness. I began to better understand who I am and how I relate to others. As an Intentional Leader, I want to continuously grow in being an effective disciple maker and creating a relational environment was an area of need for me.

Through the years, I have found Three Primary areas of Ongoing Growth to be Necessary for Building a Relational Environment. Maybe you can relate…

1. I need A Better Definition of Hospitality:
At the heart of discipleship is the repeated command to “love one another”. I just don’t see how we can love others and build relationship with others without opening our homes and our lives. I live in the south. I’ve lived in the south most of my life. We are known for southern hospitality, a slower speed of life and higher sense of family. BUT…
I have a hot take for you: Southern Hospitality isn’t really a thing!

Don’t get me wrong, we do say “Yes Ma’am” and “No Sir” (especially when addressing our elders). It is true that if we are eating, then of course, you are eating too. However, I have noticed something. Often what we term as “hospitality” would be more accurately described as “host-ability”.

Hospitality must start with the needs of the other person. Too often we start with our ability to host. We want to have people in our home, but only when it is perfectly cleaned and decorated “just so”. We want to open our home but we do so when it is most convenient, to us.

The truth is, we often are so worried about how WE will be perceived that we miss how best to meet the needs of others. So, we fail to meet them where they are. Why is that? Too often, it is simply that our focus is on ourselves, and is not fully turned toward the other person. We will never build a truly relational environment until we most from a desire to HOST into a heart to be HOSPITABLE.

2. I need A Growing Willingness to be “Interrupted”:
We live in a world of immediate information and constant connectivity. An entire generation has never had to wonder who was on the other of a call or whether their party was at the restaurant before they enter. People don’t come over without texting first. Many people don’t even call without texting first! We share calendars digitally and blur the lines between work and home through remote work situations. None of this is inherently good or bad, but it is important to see how it is changing us in some ways that make building a relational environment more difficult.

One such way is in how uncomfortable we are with being “interrupted”. How is it that in a world where there has never been more ways to communicate, we can still find ways to insulate or even isolate ourselves? While sometimes this is intentional, resulting from personality or even unhealth, most times I find it is an unintentional result of how we live. We don’t like to be interrupted.

Relationships are built on interruptions though, aren’t they? The best stories are the ones that came unexpectedly. The sweetest moments are the ones we didn’t see coming. And the best friends are the ones that don’t have to knock. To build relationship there has to be an increasing level of proximity and access, comfort and intimacy. We will never be able to vulnerable in relationships if we can’t be vulnerable in our calendars and spaces.

Obviously, we have to healthy boundaries and defined relationships, but think about it: How easily do allow yourself, your plans to be interrupted? How often do you do things by yourself that could easily include someone else? Could this be a growth area for you as you seek to build more relational environments for those you disciple? Could your unwillingness to be interrupted be elevating Your Part of the discipleship process and serving to stifle God’s Part or Their Part?

3. I Need a Less Compartmentalized Approach to Discipleship:
Too often in my life, I have looked at discipleship as one more thing I have to do, instead of how I do everything that I do. At times, I have viewed discipleship as the thing I do on Tuesday evenings with my small group or Thursday mornings at breakfast with a man I am discipling. But the command in scripture is not just to “go make disciples”. The command is “as you go, make disciples”.

Deuteronomy 6:5-9 is a great example:5. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. 6. These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart. 7. Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8. Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them be a symbol on your forehead. 9. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your city gates.

If disciple is who we are, then discipleship is what we do… All the time! (Mealtime, bedtime, work-time, playtime, downtime) So “as we go”, our car becomes a relational environment when we are willing to share a ride to work or carpool to the game. Our office becomes an open door for people who know we care. Our workouts, our hobbies, our favorite grocery store or coffee shop all become places where we see opportunity to love others and make disciples.

Parents, you already have kids. All of us already have friends. If you have a job, then you have coworkers. If you are in school, you have peers. On a team, you have teammates. In the life you already live, in the places you already go, what if you adopted an “as you go” mindset. You don’t need to find another open slot for discipleship, maybe you just need to do a couple things a week, with someone else. Giving them proximity, access, and time!

Chad Merrell is pastor of North Rock Hill Church in Rock Hill, SC. This article originally published by Relational Discipleship Network

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