By Jim Feiker and Steve Meeker — Discipling must begin with an incarnational relationship. It is essential that it be in an alongside style (not coaching over the phone or in a large group setting). Only in an authentic, loving relationship does a person recognize the power of life-on-life modeling as it moves into transforming the heart. 

Be disciples. Make disciples. In cross-cultural discipling, relating in person becomes even more crucial. This approach fosters greater understanding since we can observe the person and listen to their emotional language in real life situations. It builds credibility and trust so that the mentor can effectively speak into a person’s life at crucial times.

Coaching from a distance should only be done when the people already know each other and when the focus is on ministry skills and competence. It is very hard to reach the heart of a person without the trust and love of relationship and the physical power and presence of relating and sharing life together.

Although proclaiming God’s truth in a large group context (whether evangelistic or teaching) is vital, nothing can replace our Lord’s command to go and make disciples.


Three marks of relational discipleship

Good questions for deep learning: Relational discipleship is designed to facilitate learning rather than telling others what to do. In this framework, relationship is fostered and those being discipled actively and personally get involved in the learning process. The mentor’s role is not to be heard, but to develop skills to listen and draw others out with thought-provoking questions as we walk alongside them.

Character change: In this context, those whom we disciple take ownership and integrate biblical truth that changes their character — not just fills their head with knowledge. It equips them to adapt and apply principles and skills as they step forward in life and provides them with a safe environment to process what they are learning.

Sharing insights: To be clear, relational discipleship is not just listening. It involves reflection and loving confrontation when needed as permission is asked to share insights that God provides. Because relationship is fostered, the mentor gains discernment on how to tailor learning opportunities to the learning styles of those whom they are discipling.


Through relational discipleship that spans longer seasons of life, we taste the joy of watching God develop his people with the vision and direction of the call he has on their lives. As we join with them in the process of becoming followers of Christ, ours is not the role of being seen. Rather, we move to the background in order to support, encourage, and resource disciples as they step forward in faith to participate in all God has prepared for them before the foundation of the world.


Steve Meeker runs Leadership Lab International in Croatia. LLI believes no young leader should be thrust into ministry without being mentored and trained. LLI prepares a new generation of leaders to serve on multicultural ministry and church-planting teams through its summer study abroad program. Learn about LLI on its web site. 

Jim Feiker was Steve’s mentor. He wrote that though the relational discipleship model can be difficult for others to understand and measure, those who experience it not only value it, but their lives are changed forever.


Leadership Lab renovation.


You can help LLI reopen this summer

The young people who go through LLI come away changed. In testimony after testimony, they cite the power of a summer spent in relational discipleship and practical ministry. Like Johann, who said, “When I first came to LLI, I had two questions in mind: What does God want me to do? And how do I do that effectively? Those two questions were answered.” Or Amy, who said, “It was refreshing to not only be instructed on how to lead in a practical way, but to also have a clearly defined example before me. We watched our mentors depend fully on God for everything that they needed. … I envy anyone who has the chance to experience this program in the future.” 

A new law in Croatia means that the LLI facility needs $50,000 worth of renovations in order to open in time for this summer’s session. God has already provided the first $10,000, which allowed LLI to begin the demolition phase (pictured above). Please prayerfully consider whether you can be part of how he provides the remaining $40,000, so that more young people like Amy and Johann can be prepared for cross-cultural ministry. Click here to give or to learn more.

Be disciples. Make disciples. Let’s do both, together. 

  • SEND International’s internship programs, like Leadership Lab International in Croatia, include both practical outreach and personal growth through discipling relationships. We also offer discipleship-focused internships in East Asia, Japan, Ukraine, Southeast Asia, Spain, Macedonia and New York City. Find one that suits your interests. 
  • SEND offers more than 200 opportunities to make disciples around the world. Explore them here. 
  • You can use this set of resources and stories to grow in your own discipleship and to disciple others, whether at home or overseas.
  • Sign up for On Mission, SEND’s monthly guide for people who want to become missionaries. Subscribe here, and as a welcome gift, you will receive a free download of a world map that highlights today’s unreached people groups. Together, we can bring them Good News. We can’t wait to join you on the journey!