Relational discipleship was the primary approach to spiritual growth in the early church. There were no church buildings, hymnals, financial campaigns, or even creeds. The church was just people. And people grew closer to God as they grew closer to one another. Relational discipleship continues today through small groups, campus ministries, and mentoring. Dawson Trotman championed relational discipleship and founded the Navigators.
Dawson Trotman (1906- 1956)
Dawson Trotman, founder of the Navigators, experienced the power of relational discipleship early in his ministry when he was approached by a young sailor in the U. S. Navy. Daws, as he was called by his friends, began to invest in that sailor over a period of several months. One day, the sailor brought a shipmate who hoped Daws would disciple him, as well. To their shock, the answer was no. Daws was adamant that if the buddy was going to be discipled, then the young sailor would have to do it himself. A chain of one-on-one discipleship relationships started and multiplied as sailor after sailor passed their faith on to others. Over time, the atmosphere on the ship changed so significantly that the F. B. I. was called in to investigate the strange behavior of these formerly normal sailors. Tim Elmore shares the story in his book Mentoring, and he states that it took the F.B.I. six months to peel back the layers of discipleship relationships to find its origins with Daws.
At one point, there were Navigators in over 1,000 U.S. naval ships and stations. His friend Dr. Billy Graham said, “I think Daws has personally touched more lives than anybody I have ever known.”
To read more about relational discipleship, check out Sacred Roads: Exploring the Historic Paths of Discipleship.