Seeing and Being Seen: The Necessity of Relational Discipleship
In the last year, the various places of our lives have been swept away or altered entirely: schools, workplaces, gyms, team sports, Sunday worship. Like the rest of us, teenagers have spent nearly a year being more deeply formed in a world that is impersonal, digital, mediated by screens or, at best, by masks. The depth of isolation is something many of us have never known. The patterns of life that have come with the pandemic have worked unconsciously to conform all of us, but especially young people, to the belief that our lives are essentially private, that what we feel, think, and do is mostly unseen, and therefore of no consequence or meaning to others.
Scripture teaches us something entirely different. It teaches us the truth we want those we disciple to know: God sees. His seeing is essential to his relationship with his creation. In the first few pages of Genesis, God sees the work of his hands—the heavens, the creeping things, the birds of the air, man and woman—and glories in it; he sees Adam and Eve in the shame of their sin and is moved to clothe them; he sees the blood of Abel which cries out to him from the ground and he confronts Cain; he sees the wickedness of Noah’s day and is grieved to destruction. And this is just the very beginning.
On and on, Scripture is patterned this way: God sees and he cares and he acts. He is never indifferent to us. He is never tolerant of injustice. He is never complacent with our sin. He sees everything and he cares for all of it—every thought, every secret act. It all matters.
But apart from personal relationships which prove to us that we are seen, known, and sought out, it’s hard to believe God sees, cares and acts for us. We need other people to help us believe.
This is why relational discipleship is essential to our faith and maturity. We need eyes and voices outside of ourselves that can see past our present circumstances, reinforce the natural order of God’s will, make clear the boundaries of his law, and finally offer to us the assurance of his grace for our sins (James 5:16). We all need this, and our young students especially need it.
In making disciples we have the opportunity to complete Christ’s sufferings, or as Paul says, “to fill up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions,” both by offering the news of his love to those who need him and by embodying that love in suffering with them (Col 1:24). Our students need for us to show them and tell them how Jesus desires communion with them in all times and places and how he died to guarantee it. They need to hear that disruptions in life are inevitable, but that Jesus’ desire for them is constant. Our presence is proof of that.
We are told in the book of Hebrews to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together” (10:24-25). Fulfilling this is not possible if we are distant from one another, not just physically but in spirit. (It is possible, after all, to be physically near and emotionally detached, just as it is possible to be emotionally engaged and separated by oceans.) In relational discipleship we draw near, making the gospel of Jesus personal, incarnate, particular, and meaningful. We hear the specific concerns of our students, not just the general ways that life is challenging for everyone, but the concrete obstacles to one disciple’s joy in Christ. We get to hear those personal details in the exact words that they have found to share them. And into that one person’s life we say, “I see you, God sees you, and you are not alone.”
Just as we are created in God’s image, we were also created for life with him, to be seen and known and loved fully. Our union with him was severed but is possible again now through Jesus, not abstractly in ideas and words only but also in our presence together with him and with each other. Let’s not neglect to meet together.
Gathering together will hopefully look normal very soon. But for as long as it is not, we should work diligently to meet. There will be challenges, but God will be with us and more so when we are together. For the near future it will continue to be right and good for most of us to follow safe guidelines, and that is okay.
- Meet outside. Six feet cannot stop us from listening well, from counseling, and prayer. Go to a park. Sit in someone’s backyard around a fire in small groups.
- Wear masks. They are uncomfortable and annoying, yes. But they are a small inconvenience in light of an eternity face-to-face with Jesus.
- Write letters. This is not the same as meeting, certainly. However, intentionally taking time and effort to work gospel truth into the particular context of someone’s life can have a lasting effect.
- This should not replace letters. The two are very different in form and meaning. Texts are by nature informal and expendable. But we all need small, daily encouragements in the right direction.
- Facetime or Zoom if you have to—it’s not ideal, but it’s better than nothing.
I often sing the words to myself that the church has sung for ages, “As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.” The times are strange, but they are not excepted from the blessings of Christ’s victory. We need each other to remind us of these eternal gifts. Because they are young in their faith, our students need them even more.