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  • Writer's pictureW. Austin Gardner


The Transparent Context is the closest of the discipling relationships that we experience with other people. There is no hiding here; it is raw, life-on-life interaction. All pretense falls away, and we come to see each other, soul to soul. The discipleship we experience in these relationships is the most powerful because we are so vulnerable and open. Comparing public discipling contexts, people sometimes quip, “You can impress people with ideas and words from a distance, but you can truly impact people only when you are close up.” The Transparent Context has the greatest potential for both impact and, paradoxically, disappointment.


In the Transparent Context, we commit to going deeper, getting beneath the surface. At this level, we don’t hide thoughts or feelings or put up barriers. Soon we begin to see each other’s hearts. We meet the naked self, which is often hidden in other contexts.

This is where learning to trust and follow Jesus leads to the biggest change in our lives.

The Transparent Context is where we come face-to-face with the flaws and strengths, fears and hopes, disappointments and joys in our own life and the lives of others. It is a wonderful context for discipleship because this is where learning to trust and follow Jesus leads to the biggest change in our lives.

Discipleship at this level typically involves a group of men or a group of women committing to grow in hearing and obeying God together over an extended period of time. In many of the men’s groups I’ve been involved in, it has been described by the words of Proverbs 27:17: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”

Jesus in the Transparent Context

Jesus chose twelve men as his primary disciples, engaging with them in the Personal Context. Then from among the Twelve, he chose three—Peter, James, and John—and gave them an extra measure of his time and attention. He revealed himself to them in ways the others did not see or experience.

We see Peter, James, and John with Jesus in the Transparent Context at key times in the Gospels:

• At the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law (Mark 1:29–31)

• At the raising of Jairus’s daughter from the dead (Mark 5:37–43)

• On the Mount of Transfiguration, where they saw Moses, Elijah, and then Jesus as God commended Jesus to them and told them to “listen to him” (Mark 9:2–13)

• On the Mount of Olives where Jesus described the destruction of the temple and end-time events (Luke 21:5–38)

• At the garden of Gethsemane, where they were invited to pray with Jesus and see him at his most vulnerable private moment (Matt. 26:37–38)

In particular, the Gospels show us that Jesus seems to have had an especially close and intimate friendship with Peter. Peter, of course, was the one who walked on water in the storm, who swam to shore from the boat, and who confessed Jesus as the Christ. These examples reveal just how much positive growth can happen in Transparent Context relationships. Peter learned that he could trust Jesus during these mountaintop experiences. And Jesus could see the deeper heart struggles of Peter.

As is common in the Transparent Context, the relationship between Jesus and Peter was also filled with tension. As Jesus was arrested and his death approached, Peter had doubts and misunderstandings about Jesus. Whatever the cause, we know that Peter was afraid to associate himself with Jesus too closely. The same night that he said, “I will lay down my life for you,” he also said, “I don’t know the man!” (John 13:37; Matt. 26:72). Not only did Jesus, as the disciple maker, receive great love and faith from Peter, but he also was greatly hurt by Peter’s denials.

At this level, we see the real person—warts and all—because our sin, selfishness, and shallowness cannot be hidden.

Such is the nature of intimate discipling relationships. Ups and downs are to be expected. The life shared in this context is not always appropriate to reveal in more public contexts. At this level, we see the real person—warts and all—because our sin, selfishness, and shallowness cannot be hidden.

Other Biblical Examples

The Bible contains many examples of transparent relationships:

• Moses with Joshua and Aaron, learning together (Exod. 17:9–10, 12)

• Eli with Samuel as Samuel raised up and trained the young man (1 Sam. 3:1–18)

• Samuel with David, guiding him up close and personal (1 Sam. 16:13; 19:18)

• Elijah with Elisha, mentoring him to take Elijah’s role (1 Kings 19:19)

• Paul with Titus and Silas (in addition to Timothy) in the great work of planting and developing churches (2 Cor. 8:23; 12:18; Gal. 2:3; Acts 15:40; 16:25)

• Barnabas with John Mark in their ministries together (Acts 15:39)

The apostle Paul seems to teach the role of transparent discipling relationships in 2 Timothy 2:2. In this passage, we see four generations of disciples:

1. Paul was discipled by visions from Jesus and teaching from the other apostles.

2. Paul discipled Timothy.

3. Timothy is called to disciple reliable people.

4. The reliable people discipled by Timothy are to disciple others.

We believe these relations point to Transparent Context discipleship because Paul’s letters indicate that he had an intimate relationship with Timothy, and in his exhortation he encourages Timothy to pass along the things he has learned from Paul to others in this same context of close, intimate relationship.

Paul goes on to describe the up close and personal nature of this kind of discipling relationship in 2 Timothy 3:10–12.

Paul mentions several of the key elements of the Transparent Context here. He speaks of his teaching, his way of life, and his life’s purpose, including examples of how he exercised faith, patience, and endurance—especially in the face of persecution and suffering. These were things Paul spoke about publicly, to be sure, but we know that Timothy knew Paul intimately, similar to the way in which Peter, James, and John knew Jesus.

This is life impartation, or as some call it, life-on-life discipleship. It’s what Paul was referring to when he told the Corinthians imitate him (1 Cor. 4:16).

In this relational context, Paul was imparting his life to Timothy, not just information about Jesus.

Bobby Harrington, Discipleship That Fits

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