We know the term. We use the jargon in Christian circles. But do we know what discipleship is and why we value it as important? Do we value it as important? Do we see it as a call on each of our lives, or do we think it’s only something that other, stronger, more experienced, (fill-in-the-blank) believers do? What keeps us from it?
Being in full-time college ministry for seven years now, and being heavily involved in college ministry as a student for four years prior, discipleship has been a regular and important part of my life. I’ve so valued being poured into by older women, and I have cherished memories of pouring my own life into dozens of women through discipleship over the years. (I even gushed about my love for it on a recent instagram post.)
Yet, if I’m being honest, I’ve been discouraged at the lack of value of discipleship in the local church. (I will say though, as a newcomer to PCC, I’m so refreshed and encouraged at how discipleship is valued, discussed regularly, and implemented well.) My recent instagram post caused me to poll followers by asking, “If you’re not presently discipling someone, what is your #1 reason as to why?” Answers included themes of not having enough time, not knowing how or where to start, or not knowing enough to lead someone else.
If you’re falling prey to these fears, I hope these thoughts will give you hope & encouragement:
1. Discipleship is for you.
The call of the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18:20) is not optional, but a requirement, for believers. The same is true of discipleship. They’re one and the same (literally in the same verse). We answer the call of the Great Commission by making disciples, and by making disciples, we answer the call of the Great Commission.
There are prerequisites, sure. But they are not unattainable or excessive. Professing faith in Christ yourself prior to investing in someone else and teaching them to follow Him is certainly the most solid place to start. ;) But endless theological knowledge is not required. A seminary degree isn’t necessary. Tons of hours of free time is not mandatory. Simply taking the initiative to invest in someone else, depending on the Holy Spirit along the way, to share your story, life, and wisdom with someone else is enough. Through God’s Word, you have been given everything you need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3, and with His very Spirit indwelling you as a believer, He will do the work He intends to do (and in the life of the one you’re meeting with). All authority in heaven and on earth is Christ’s, and that enables us to go and make disciples.
In her book Spiritual Mothering, Susan Hunt gives a working definition of the discipleship/mentoring relationship: “When a woman possessing faith and spiritual maturity enters into a nurturing relationship with a younger woman in order to encourage and equip her to live for God’s glory.”
She also adds this comment, which I love: “Please note that giving birth biologically or being of a certain chronological age are not prerequisites for spiritual mothering.”
Paul was single with no children, but he was a spiritual father if there ever was one. He invested in and cared deeply for Timothy, even referring to him as his “true child in the faith” and his “beloved child” (1 Tim. 1:2; 2 Tim. 1:2). We know that God grows His family through the regeneration of souls, and that’s something we can each participate in. I want to pass the baton well to those I’m investing in, and I know I need the wisdom of those who have gone before me. Let me speak for myself and other 20-something females when I say to the older women of various other life stages: we need you.
2. Simple is better than elaborate or flashy.
The Enemy will make you feel like the small things don’t matter. Yet that’s the way of the Kingdom, isn’t it? The way of weakness and surrender, allowing the Holy Spirit Himself to work in and through us in the lives of other believers.
When I was in college and was a student leader in my campus ministry, a woman on staff invested in me. Her name is Debbie. She certainly was discipling her own high school-aged kids, but she spiritually mothered me and many others, too. The moments that are the most cherished from my times with Debbie are when she would pick me up at my apartment and we’d go get a treat at McDonalds in my small college town. Or the times she’d have me over and would always make popcorn. I remember eating so many napkin-fulls of popcorn on her couch. I also remember crying on that same couch as I poured out my heart to her when I faced various challenges. I remember her simple statements like, “Jocelyn, just pray that the Lord would make your heart soft and pliable, and that you would gain a heart of wisdom from this.” We’d open the Word together, and I learned so many things from her decades of walking with the Lord. I wanted to know Jesus like she did. I remember her saying, “Hey, I think you should lead a freshman girls’ Bible study during your senior year. I think you would be good at it and enjoy it.” If it weren’t for Debbie taking the time to invest in me and point out a potential gifting, I might not have seen it myself. I might not be able to sit here and tell you that leading other women in Bible study and Biblical literacy is now the thing I’m most passionate about. I stem that back to Debbie.
Sure, a life can be impacted at a big conference with flashy lights or from hearing someone on a platform. But those people on the platforms don’t know me, and I don't know them. We’re not in the nitty gritty with each other. I would argue that true life change comes from one-on-one, eyeball-to-eyeball moments, with conversations over the open Word (& maybe some popcorn or chocolate chip cookies).
3. We get to participate in something eternally significant that is bigger than us and has been happening since the beginning.
One of my favorite books on discipleship is Chasing Infinity by Mark Liederbach. He takes readers from Genesis to Revelation to show the bigger picture of true discipleship. We’re all image-bearers, meant to be worshippers who reflect our God as the ultimate treasure. As we know though, our worship has become distorted, and therefore the mission and the things that we chase. Yet through the power of the Gospel, we get to redeem the chase. In making disciples, both in communicating the Gospel to those who don’t know Him and further investing in those who do already know Him, the mission and purpose of our lives is being restored. We have been reconciled to God and we tell and show others how to do the same. (2 Corinthians 5:17-21)
As we’re in this well-worth-it chase together, glorifying our Creator, let’s look to the ones who are running ahead, grab ahold of the baton, and pass it strongly to those who are behind us. As we “teach others to observe all that [He] commanded,” let us be sure that we ourselves are to be disciples of His Word, not looking to lesser pursuits or watered-down content. The investment of all of this is well worth it.
Some helpful reads:
*trigger warning for those who have had a miscarriage or have lost a child.
Two weeks ago, we lost our third child to a miscarriage.
That is not a line of our story I ever thought I would have to write. And I am sure you are thinking at this point that you didn’t even know that I was pregnant. We were on the verge of sharing publicly when everything changed.
We had kept the secret for weeks. A few very close friends knew that we were expecting (we have always told close friends as soon as possible, if the unthinkable would ever happen…who knew we would actually live it).
As a photographer, I went to family sessions, pregnancy announcement sessions, maternity sessions, even weddings where no one knew I was pregnant. And I was dying to tell everyone. I wanted people to know that my growing belly wasn’t extra Covid weight! We waited and waited to announce. We told family, friends, and eventually our children. We knew I was roughly 8 weeks along. (Some of you are thinking, well that is still early to tell people, but we had two completely healthy pregnancies before, and my belly was starting to show more and more.)
Our families were excited, our kids were thrilled. We bought them “Big Sister” and “Big Brother” shirts. Leland (2) was telling people, “baby in mommy’s tummy.” Kylie (4) was talking to my belly and picking out special items in our house for the baby. We were already thinking of names, thinking through bunk beds and our kids sharing a room, and I even booked a maternity session with a photographer I had been eyeing for a while. We were all in love with the new baby and already making future plans.
The one thing holding us back from announcing publicly was my doctor’s appointment. I went to my first appointment, and everything was normal until they did the ultrasound. The baby was growing; it was the right size for the number of weeks, but the baby’s heart was beating abnormally. They told me to come back again the next day to see the ultrasound technician and to get another ultrasound.
That was the quietest appointment I have ever had. As soon as the ultrasound picture showed up, the technician and I both knew that the baby didn’t have a heartbeat. She didn’t say anything and neither did I.
After that I had to call my husband, text my friends, and tell my parents and children that we had, in fact, lost our third child.
Telling our children was the hardest thing I had to do. Leland didn’t completely understand what happened. Kylie had a really hard time with the news. I had to tell them with tears streaming down my face, that the baby had gone to heaven to see God. Kylie’s (sweet girl) reply was that I needed to tell Daddy (Daniel) to talk to God and to tell God that the baby didn’t need to be in heaven.
After the emotional roller coaster of telling everyone that we knew that we were expecting that we had lost the child, I then had to face what my body was going to do. Unfortunately, your body does the same thing it does after having a healthy baby- it contracts, delivers, and has a long postpartum healing process (on top of the strong emotions of losing a child).
Why am I sharing all this?
Honestly, I was that person at one point who just didn’t understand or sympathize with women who had experienced this type of loss. I just didn’t get it. My brain and heart never understood the physical and emotional hurt that happens when you have a miscarriage.
The Lord is teaching me a lot of compassion for those families who have experienced this type of brokenness. For a lot of families, they are excited for the new life that is growing, they are dreaming of the future, and to hear that your baby, who once had life, is no longer living is heartbreaking.
I also think miscarriages are a “hidden” experience. It is not talked about openly, like women might share their labor stories. But my husband and I don’t want this to be a hidden experience for our family.
I am also sharing because we ultimately know that the Lord is in control. When I went into my second appointment, the phrase “cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1) came to mind. We had a “cloud of witnesses” praying for us and over us. As I sent text message after text message, I knew that we had a “cloud of witnesses” again praying for us. And as I told our kids that the baby was heaven, the words, “the Lord is in control,” came right out of my mouth as though the Holy Spirit was leading me with each and every word I spoke to our children.
So, Baby Flamingo (nicknamed by our 4-year-old…because the baby needed a pretty name and she liked the name flamingo…) was the one that we lost.
Sojourners Magazine came today.
It’s sitting over there on the coffee table and I’m wondering whether to read it.
I’ve been following Sojourners magazine for many years. It began in 1970 when I was in college in Chicago. The mission statement of Sojourners Magazine (SOJO) is “To inspire hope and action by articulating the biblical call to racial and social justice, life and peace and environmental stewardship.” I was a Canadian student trying to find my way in a very volatile time in America when young people around me were protesting the Vietnam War and Chicago was in foment. It was actually kind of exciting for a Canadian who lives under the moniker of being from a “nice” country. I remember looking out my dorm window and seeing military tanks going down LaSalle Street on their way to Lincoln Park where students were protesting during the Democratic National Convention. The founding editor of Sojourners is now a professor at Georgetown University, in DC, and I will admit, he can be radical; but relentlessly seeking to live a godly life in every area.
Politics was HUGE, but, unlike today, lots of conversation went on across the political divide. Civil discourse was welcomed and opinions debated. We went to coffee houses back then in the city, where people were invited to give their opinions on open mic night. Lively and engaging events.
But today, when Sojourners arrived, I wondered if I should read it. I wondered if I should just pitch it. Will it just put another sliver of a wedge between me and some of my dear friends in my faith community – not just the ones here in my local body of Christ, but friends all over the country.
Finally, I asked my husband how to handle my inner turmoil. Was living with so much political angst not good for my soul? Should it really matter that much? How do I do a good job of loving my friends on other sides of the political divide?
As usual, Mark had a wise answer: “Sure, read Sojourners. But read First Things as well. Read them side by side.” First Things, is a conservative religious journal, founded by Richard John Newhaus, that is “aimed at advancing a religiously informed public philosophy for the ordering of society.” Neither magazine is perfect, but they speak from different perspectives. Maybe for you it will be two different magazines, or TV channels, or radio programs in your car. Listening to thoughtful believers from both sides should help me grow.
I feel good about that. Jesus didn’t back down from controversy and debate. Even those with whom he disagreed, knew he loved them and knew they were “seen.” That sounds pretty good to me.
Here you can read perspectives on life, ministry and God's Word from a variety of PCC's female leaders.