What Comes First? Relationships or Discipleship?

Here’s a chicken/egg question for you:

What comes first – relationships or discipleship?

handshakeRelationship building is one of the most important things we do as youth workers. In a sense, that’s our job — we exist to build relationships with students and our adult leaders in order to see these young people impact others.

That’s what discipleship is all about right there.

But does discipleship only happen when you have a relationship established?

Think about this… Jesus was a master discipler. Throughout his life on earth, he gave us the blueprint for how to “go and make disciples.”

He spent three years pouring his heart out to his followers, focusing especially on three of them, giving a good amount of attention to the 12, and then also discipling the 72 followers, too. Relationships were a huge part of his ministry.

But building relationships wasn’t the main goal for Jesus. Discipleship was, and it wasn’t necessarily about getting to know someone.

If you look at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus was all about giving people a task first and letting the relationship develop after that. His first words to Peter, Andrew, James, and John?

“Follow me.”

With Nathaniel, Jesus meets him for the first time, they have a two-verse exchange, and then Nathaniel becomes a disciple. He makes a declaration then and there before leaving to follow this guy he just met.

How much time as youth workers do we devote to pure relationship-building in lieu of taking the next step and moving towards the actions of stretching and discipleship?

Sometimes (I’m completely guilty of this), we make the relationship the priority and might be missing opportunities to disciple. We do the one-on-one chats, the pizza runs, the coffee shop visits, and bowling alley trips.

But do we stop there? Or do we take it to the next level by encouraging our kids to pick up their faith, own it, and in turn take it to the next level?

The question remains, do you need a relationship first to make disciples?