The problem of “nondiscipleship” has troubled me pretty much all of my Christian life (31+ years and counting). Perhaps it was more obvious to me because I didn't come to Christ in the “normal” way—a much longer story for another time, but it involves re-meeting my dad after 14 years of divorce/exile, and a LOT of Bible reading.
In fact, I didn’t get involved with a church until after I’d come to know Jesus…. In those days, it was what would have passed for a megachurch (and might still). Charismatic pastor, strong worship focus, dozens of people coming up for altar calls every week… everything’s cool, right?
Not so much. Even early on, it was evident that there were as many people going out the back door as coming in the front. People got excited, got the “saved” stamp put on them, and then… nothing. Or worse, stumbling and being summarily abandoned by a church that had so visibly “loved” them months earlier. After a couple years of watching this, my wife (who was one of those who got saved there, after we started dating) were done with the cliques and the aloneness, and found another church… which wasn’t terribly healthy either, and in fact close to dead by the time we left a couple more years later…. It was by more than a little of God’s mercy that we stumbled into a C&MA church plant sometime later, and eventually found ways both to become self-feeding and to help feed others.
But over 30+ years I’ve seen this same pattern over and over, even in emotionally healthy churches (and far too many unhealthy ones). We have programs, services, events, and other “opportunities to connect”… none of which are bad in and of themselves. But actual discipleship? It’s there, but it’s rare, and it’s almost always behind the scenes where people can only hope to stumble into it. And we haven’t made finding it any easier by burying it under all those said programs, services, and events—and calling that “church life.”
And since we so often get it wrong even when we try to address it, I can’t emphasize this enough: Discipleship is not about completing a curriculum (even mine :)), or attending a service, or doing a one-time event. It’s about developing and deepening the most important spiritual relationships you have—first with Jesus, then with those He’s brought you in contact with—because none of those relationships are an accident.
It’s fair to assume that if you’ve read this far, you already care about discipleship. But you may be struggling with actually doing it, and possibly even with being a disciple of Jesus. This blog, my friend, has always been for you. Apply what’s here to yourself, and then apply it to the people God puts in your path. Because that’s what discipleship is. And since this weekly entry—and really, this entire blog—is about helping other Christians grow, let’s talk about you. And let’s do it by reflecting on your own journey so far….
Think of a time where you experienced a huge “growth spurt” in your life. (If you can’t think of a spiritual example off the bat, use an example from your professional life or another personal example. But find one.) Got an example in your head? Good. Now, think about this:
• When did you first realize that you’d somehow taken a giant leap forward? What was different?
• Who helped you most in taking that leap? What did he or she (or they) do to keep you moving forward?
You just reflected about an important time in your life, and the people who helped and maybe even inspired you. It probably felt good just to think about those people again. But as good as those people made us feel, it’s even more rewarding to be that person—to know that God has truly used us to help someone else grow in Christ.
So ask yourself this: How do you take what God’s already revealed to you, turn around, and help someone else walk through those same issues, rather than stamping them with a “saved” sticker and leaving them to drown? To break that down even further, and in a more positive light:
• Who do you know who seems ready to take the next step spiritually—whether he or she’s already growing, a brand-new Christian, or a not-yet Christian?
• If you could help that person understand just one thing right now, what would it be?
• And if you’ve already shared that one thing with him or her, what do you think that person needs to really “get” it? And if you haven’t shared it yet, what’s holding you back?
Then, consider this: How could spending more time with that person help you grow closer to Jesus? Because discipleship is for everyone who needs to go deeper in their faith—that means you, too. As you invest in others, you’ll learn things about Jesus, and yourself, that you hadn’t known before—or at least be reminded of things you’d long forgotten that you need to remember. And you’ll need to start dealing with that.
Some people might hear the words “accountability” or “discipleship” and say, “I’m in. When do we get started?” It’s more likely that many will be intimidated. So don’t bash people over the head with this. Invite them out to lunch or a cup of coffee for starters. Talk about their lives and the things that are most on their minds and hearts right now. Then ask whether he or she might want to make a regular time out of it. Most people will accept if they know you’re serious and don’t feel overwhelmed by the commitment. A weekly time together is best, but if schedules only allow for bi-weekly or monthly, that’s OK. Start there and see where things go.
You can even say something like, “I’ve been reading this blog about discipleship, and I’d like to try out some of the things I’m learning on a real person. You’re a real person—would you mind helping me work through this?” Once they’re done laughing, they’ll probably say yes.
The important thing is to make it happen. Begin to share what Jesus has done in your life. Help people see that a changed life is possible. Starting with yours.