I originally wrote this as a guest post for a friend‘s blog (check her out!) and thought I would share it here as well…
DISCIPLESHIP: n. the process of learning about the teachings of another, internalizing them, and then acting upon them
Growing up, I have many memories of my dad sitting at the dining room table with guys of all ages. Bibles open. Reading. Talking. Listening. Praying.
I watched him work on cars with them and cheer on the sidelines of their football games. I heard the phone ring years later when they had a crisis or just needed some encouragement. I saw him hurt when they hurt and celebrate when they celebrated. I listened to my dad point them to Jesus.
I didn’t have a name for it then. I didn’t know it as a philosophy of ministry or a method of mentoring. I hadn’t heard it tossed around as a buzz phrase in the church or a class in seminary.
But now, any time I hear the word discipleship, these are some of the images that come to mind.
When I was 16 years old, I was preparing to be on a summer ministry team for which one of the requirements was to find someone to disciple or mentor me. I asked a lady from my church if she would be up for the task. I didn’t know her well. I had never spent much time with her. I didn’t pick her name from a list. But I remembered one particularly difficult Sunday 3 years prior when she had put her arm around me and prayed with me. And I never forgot it.
Lucy was intimidated by my request. She had never formally mentored someone before. She didn’t have a seminary degree or counseling training and had never helped with the youth group. Neither one of us knew what to do or what our time together should look like, but she humbly accepted the task. It didn’t take long for a relationship to form.
Once a week I would go to her house and sit at her kitchen table. She always had a pot of hot water on the stove and a plethora of hot chocolate flavors waiting for me to choose from. Her husband, who affectionately called me “the hot chocolate girl”, would visit for a few minutes and then slip away so Lucy and I could chat.
We read through a book together and talked about what we were learning in God’s Word. She would consistently have her small 3 ring binder prayer journal open on the table turned to the page with my name gracing the top. Over the years I watched her write down my requests and worries and struggles…then I’d watch her cross them off one by one and draw a smiley face when God provided.
I was a priority to her and she reminded me of it often. There was something special about seeing her write my name on her kitchen calendar. Not like I was just another thing to add to her “to-do” list, but an important part of her life. I was valuable to her – even worth scheduling time for.
Eventually our time together became less “formal” and more conversational. We met all through high school and even when I was home on breaks during college. She became like a 2nd mom to me and listened intently to my heart. She shared her struggles and weaknesses and allowed me to watch her life. She prayed for me and I prayed from her.
And we learned from each other what following Jesus looked like.
She walked me through my dating relationship that turned into engagement that turned into marriage. She read Scripture during my wedding ceremony, visited me in the hospital when my first child was born, and cried with me when I miscarried my second.
Almost fourteen years have passed since my initial request for her to mentor me and she still holds a special place in my heart.
In college I was part of a ministry called “Discipleship Council” where we were consistently challenged to follow Jesus’ example of focusing on a few and impacting them up close.
Sure, Jesus ministered to the masses, but a great deal of His time was spent walking alongside his 12 disciples and sharing an even more intimate relationship with 3 of them.
John 3:22 says that…
“…Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them…”
The Greek word used here is diatribō, which means “to rub” or “to spend time”. Jesus focused on His disciples to spend time with them and, literally, to rub off on them. They listened to Him, learned from Him, watched Him, internalized Who He was and what He said, and then went out and did it. The time He spent walking with them changed the way they would walk when He was no longer physically with them.
Likewise, Paul urges the church of Corinth in 1 Corinthians 11:1…
“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”
Essentially he was saying, “You’ve watched my life. You’ve seen how I walk, how I’m following Jesus. Now take what you’ve seen and do the same.”
Howard Hendrix said,
“You can impress people from a distance, but you can only impact them up close. The general principal is this: the closer the personal relationship, the greater the potential for impact.”
This, I believe, is what discipleship is all about.
Following hard after Jesus. Pursuing meaningful, purposeful relationships with others. Allowing someone to get an up-close view to see how you walk. Gaining a mutual fascination with God and His Word. And simply sharing life together.
I’m certainly no expert on discipleship, but there are a few things my husband and I have learned over the years of mentoring teenagers, young adults, and young married couples. Unfortunately, there’s no perfect “discipleship formula”, as every relationship looks different. And we’ve had our share of attempts at both being mentored and mentoring others that have fallen flat. However, these are a few things that have been helpful for us to keep in mind while we strive toward effective discipleship…
1. Effective discipleship may not always follow a particular formula, but it always involves following Christ.
Whether the relationship you seek to build is formal or casual, structured or fluid, organized or organic, Jesus mustbe the center. Sometimes it involves sitting and studying through a Bible study other times it’s simply chatting over pizza or working on a car. Regardless of the recipe, God’s Word must be the main ingredient. It should come up in conversation, influence decision making, and characterize your actions and your prayers.
Another mentor of mine consistently reminded us that the only two things that will last forever are people and God’s Word. The challenge of discipleship should be to live your life investing in both.
2. Effective discipleship does not happen in a classroom but out in real life.
Chuck Bomar calls it “non-mentor mentoring” because he believes we need to shift away from the tendency to view the relationship from centering on gaining information to placing the emphasis on actually living out the information we (and they) have been given. It’s not that learning and studying isn’t important. But wisely living it out together in real life is what true discipleship and following Jesus is all about.
This also means that your relationship should not be built on you doing all of the talking or trying to always “teach”. Effective discipleship involves a great deal of listening and looking for teachable moments to impart wisdom, rather than constantly talking at them.
3. Effective discipleship involves vulnerability and sharing your life.
I’ve heard that one of the truest test of an effective mentoring relationship is that they know where the dishes are in your kitchen. I loved that! As we’ve sought to disciple younger people, one of our main methods has been getting them into our home. My husband says that one of our strategies in college-age ministry is feeding their bellies so that we can also feed their hearts.
They’re in our home enough that they know not to ring the doorbell after 7:30 because our kids will be sleeping. They know where to find the dishes, the garbage bags, and how to make coffee. They’ve watched our marriage and entertained our boys. We’ve allowed them to peek in as we dealt with the grief of losing a child and shared the struggles we’ve faced in marriage and ministry. We’ve had to confess sin when we’ve exhibited pride or let our tongues lead to gossip. They’ve slept on our couches, laughed with us in our family room, and cried at our dining room table. And hopefully, because of that, they’ve seen a clearer picture of Jesus, just as several other couples have done for us.
On the other hand, effective discipleship also involves sharing in their lives. It means meeting them on their turf and entering into their worlds. Years ago while implementing a discipleship program at our church, we paired one man up with one of our teens that had seemingly nothing in common. As time went on, however, the older man learned of the teen’s love of technology and knowledge of computers, so he asked if the boy would teach him some things. Because of his willingness to enter into someone else’s world, an effective mentoring relationship began to form.
4. Effective discipleship doesn’t see the person as a project to be “fixed”, but a person to be loved.
True discipleship points to Jesus as the only one who can rescue and transform. In and of ourselves, we don’t have much to offer. But we have been called to love and to serve and to pray. Effective discipleship does require confrontation and speaking the truth in love. It does require helping others in their weakness. It does require setting up healthy boundaries.
Your role as a mentor is not to take the place of a parent or a spouse or of a personal relationship with God. Our desire should be for your discipleship relationship to be a catalyst to make all of those other relationships stronger. Kind of like John the Baptist, I see it as my role as a mentor to lovingly prepare the way for them to really see Jesus. “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30).
5. Effective discipleship will only go as far as you allow it.
If you are not sharing what God is teaching you personally or actively living it out, it’s not likely your discipleship relationship will reach much depth. It’s essential that they see you being challenged and learning and growing and working hard at your personal relationship with God. After all, Jesus not only taught his disciples, but He modeled getting time alone to pray, forgiving his enemies, and submitting to His Father’s will. He was such a sharp contrast to the other leaders of His day because He actually backed up His teaching with His life. And people were drawn to that.
And it’s crucial that you be connected to the true Vine so that you have anything at all to give.
Passion for Jesus is contagious. If they see you running hard after Him, chances are they will want to try to catch up.
“Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God.
Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.”