Alongsider Briefings: Reflections of a Life Lived with God

The Broken Record of Relationships

(Disciplemaking foundation #1)

I’m a vinyl record enthusiast. Nestled on my office bookshelf is a vintage stereo system. This isn’t a five-channel surround-sound extravaganza; it’s just two speakers, a turntable, and a splendid Yamaha 1970s receiver. I love the sound of vinyl but there is a downside.

Sometimes a needle gets stuck on a scratch, playing the same note over-and-over again. That’s why when people repeat the same thing over-and-over, we refer to them as “a broken record.”

My writing on relational disciplemaking can feel like a broken record; I keep repeating the same message over and over. There are reasons why I keep repeating the importance of relationships. But first, let’s admit that relationships are not in the Bible.

When I say relationships are not in the Bible, I mean the word ‘relationship’ is not found in the Bible. We find plenty of other words communicating the same thing: friends, walking, fellowship, love, to know or be known. The dictionary definition of relationship is “the way two or more people are connected together.” When we’re in relationship with God or with others, we’re connected together. 

What marks this connection — our relationship — and why is it important for disciplemaking?

Mark #1: Relationships are personal. When we say, “That’s personal!” we typically mean that it touches on something private. My dictionary defines personal as “concerning a person’s private rather than professional life.” We become personal when we shed the masks required of us in professional or social settings and reveal the person behind the outward behavior. One way to remove a mask is to let people into our backstories.

Right now, all of us have a backstory happening. Perhaps you’re reading this out of boredom, maybe you’re reading to escape from a tragedy or disappointment, or you’re discipling someone and you don’t know what to do. All of us have a backstory — a life of joy or disappointment, faith or fear, satisfaction or discontentment — hidden behind our exteriors. When we’re in healthy relationship with one another, we know each other’s backstories.

Disciplemaking happens when we move from our exterior behavior and connect Jesus to the backstory of someone’s life. In the reality of a backstory, we talk and pray about how Jesus can make a difference in our joy or disappointment, faith or fear, satisfaction or discontent. It’s hard to do this from a podium or pulpit but it can be achieved when we’re in relationship, personally connected with one another through our backstories.

Mark #2. Relationships require investment. Building quality relationships require an investment of our time, energy, thought, and emotion. Disciplemaking is not a quick fix, a short message, or a one-time point of encouragement. This investment in the New Testament is pictured as “building” (1 Cor. 3:10-13), “strengthening” (Acts 15:32), or “establishing” (Col. 2:6,7). All of these acts require focus over time.

What does investing look like? We invest in people by spending time with them on a regular basis — week-after-week, month-after-month. We invest in people by engaging with one another’s back stories — being transparent and vulnerable. We invest in people by giving thought and Spirit-led planning to practically establish them in Christ. 

Investment is more then reacting to a personal crisis; it’s proactively building, strengthening, and establishing one’s life in Christ .  . . and this requires an investment of my time, energy, thought, and emotions. Relationships require investment.

Mark #3. Relationships have a history. It was another Wednesday night with our discipleship group. Not only did we meet to share our discoveries from the study but we eagerly waited to hear about one another’s week. Over months, we had developed a history with one another by being regularly present over time.

We walked through the challenges of parenting teens, launching college grads into careers, or supporting a couple starting the journey of foster parenting. Time and presence built a shared history.

What’s the difference between a backstory and a history? Backstories take place in the immediate and tell us what happened in the last twenty-four hours. Histories take place over time; they’re the accumulation of one backstory incident after another.

We don’t enter into a shared history with a casual encounter with a restaurant server, a periodic conversation with someone at church, or the stranger we served. History requires time and sustained presence.

Jesus and the twelve shared a history together, being present with one another over several years. We bring the Master’s model into the 21st century by creating a shared history of a life with God with the people we’re discipling. Over time, we share our highs and lows, our triumphs and defeats. The thread of following Christ runs through this history. Without a shared history, we remain “strangers in the night” — passing each other by without connecting.

A stuck record needle requires action. I either lift the needle from the record or bump the turntable so that the needle jumps to the next groove. Either way, I have to take action or it will repeat the same note time-after-time-after time.

I hope I’ve bumped your thinking. Relational disciplemaking is too important to remain a broken record. When the relational record seems stuck, nudge the turntable of your heart and mind with these questions.

  • Are your relationships personal with a knowledge of one another’s back story? 
  • Are you purposefully investing your time, energy, thought, and emotions in relationships?
  • Are you building a shared history of a walk with God?

Jesus played the beautiful song of relational disciplemaking. Don’t let it become a broken record.

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