I was ready for college! I was such a good girl, achieved enough in high school including leadership positions usually designated for adults, and had been in church my whole life. I knew I could take on college ready to share Jesus and have a little fun.
Well into the first semester of freshman year the InterVarsity staff worker asked if he could grab coffee with me. I knew that he did this often with college students and I knew this was my opportunity to show just how good of a leader I was.
That conversation didn’t go quite as planned. Little did I know that he wasn’t there to be impressed by me, but to show me how much I needed Jesus. The first thing we talked about was my sin!
Discipleship was a key tool the Lord used to turn my heart from a works-based faith into an understanding of grace. My lifestyle was working for my salvation. Everything I did was for the purpose of earning God’s approval. Somehow, I had missed what it means to be saved by grace!
I know discipleship is quite the buzz word in the church these days. We talk about it like it’s another thing that we have to add to the list of things we should do as Christians, but looking back at where I was as an underdeveloped-fresh-out-of-the-nest child, discipleship was exactly what I needed. Perhaps God knew discipleship was the only way change could happen and what I needed to save me from bad choices as I entered into adulthood. Eventually, my works-based faith would have failed. I never would have measured up and might have given up on my faith. There were a lot of opportunities to have fun and my foundation was weak. I needed one-on-one discipleship from an older, wiser person, someone with more biblical knowledge than I.
I’ve seen discipleship work in so many different ways. Now as a 33-year-old mom of two younger children, I have been blessed with friends in my life stage, older women and the Christian community around me who contribute to my walk with Jesus.
Here are some ways I’ve seen discipleship work:
Christian Community: This is the simplest form. Just walking into the church doors and sitting down will be a piece of discipleship in your life, but 99% of the time, not significant enough to make a difference in your life. Building community with the people in your church, knowing the people around you and watching how they live their lives is important. Hearing scripture and life experience from all different generations and working with them in the community will lead to influence, and if we are in the midst of godly people, we will be under a godly influence. Simple church community is important, but it’s not enough on its own.
Community Discipleship: The best way to make Christian community happen? Join a home group! No other place provides life and scripture together in a close-knit and safe space. Participating regularly in home group life will help you connect to the other forms of discipleship as well.
Peer Discipleship: We need friendships with peers that go deep. We need those few trusted friends that we can come to and with whom we can work out our salvation. Basically, these are godly, deep relationships a Christian may have with a few people.
One of my dear friends used to watch my son a few times a week so that I could work. Before my daughter got off the bus, I would pick my son up but arrive 30 minutes early so that I could sit on her couch and talk about life. This was never planned; we didn’t define our relationship this way. We were two Christians who loved Jesus, who talked and shared our lives, and I craved it! Those conversations allowed us to work out whatever difficult situations we were in at the time. We could offer encouragement and truth, asking each other good questions. There was no “authority” but mutual respect and trust. My friend now lives in a different state, but the Lord provided another wonderful, godly friend across the street with whom I can share my coffee and have the same type of relationship on a slow afternoon. God is so good!
Older to Younger (or One-on-One) Discipleship I believe this is the most effective form of discipleship, and it’s the most difficult, but also the most explicitly biblical (Titus 2:3-5). This form raises leaders (2 Tim 2:22), has a trickle-down effect to strengthen the church, and sends out Christians to the world able and stable to share the gospel.
Mark Dever says in his book Discipling, “part of being a Christian is recognizing that sin deceives us, and we need other believers to help us see the things we cannot see about ourselves.” All I had to do with my IV Staff to reveal my sin was to talk! The more I talked about myself, the more he was able to point out my sin. He showed me the ways I was turning from God, so that he could point me back to God, which is the whole point! As I have grown up and am now in a stage of life with kids, husband, and a job I know I need women who have gone before me to help in these ways as well to point out my sin, tell me there is good news and help me think of ways I can be a light in difficult situations. The older woman helps to guide me towards wisdom in practical ways.
Susan Hunt wisely warns in an article she wrote for 9Marks.com, “Someone is teaching women and girls what it means to be a woman. Is it the church or the world?” If the older women of our church are not pouring into the younger women, then something or someone else will.
That relationship my IV staffer developed with me was the beginning of an amazing journey., The reality is as Christians we need at least one of these forms happening always. We were created for relationships, and as Christians we were created for Christ-centered relationships.
Discipleship takes work and sacrifice. What good things in this life don’t? When you find yourself in that relationship, either as the disciple or discipler, you will find that it helps keep your mind focused that much more on Christ. You will notice a deeper sense of accountability and support as you wrestle with sin and deal with the general fatigue that living life brings.
The beautiful thing about discipleship is that it can’t be put in a box. There isn’t a program or model that has to be followed to make it work -- just relationships, just Christ, just caring about someone other than yourself! If Christ has done some good work in your life, you are most likely qualified to disciple someone!
Have I not done great and marvelous things in your past?” His voice resounded in my head, just shy of out loud. “Yes, Lord,” “Can I not do great and marvelous things again?” “Oh, yes, Lord.” “Is anything too hard for Me?” “No, Lord.”
On this cold and rainy day in April, 2008, I stood in line at the Ferguson Center ticket window. I had come to attempt to switch some tickets from a Friday to a Saturday night for a traveling Broadway play. We had good tickets for this production, but now I had a conflict. So there I stood, figuring no way would I be able to switch these tickets. And that’s when God spoke.
Now, as I approached the clerk, wide-eyed and unsure of what to make of God’s words to me, I explained my situation. “You’re not going to believe this” he said. “Try me.” “Did you see that man 2 people in front of you? He had to switch from Saturday to Friday night. In fact, his seats were even better than the ones you originally had.”
For reasons I don’t understand, God chose to use this seemingly inconsequential event to demonstrate His intimacy with all my comings and goings and remind me that there is nothing too large or too small for Him to do. “Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the ages. Who will not fear you and bring glory to your name?” (Rev 15:3-4)
May I never forget.
One morning last week I came downstairs to my chair – you know the one, the one with just the right light, the coaster for my coffee, my bible, journal, and pens. I found my three-year-old daughter curled up with a blanket and one of her play-kitchen mugs. She sweetly said, “drinking my coffee Mama.” I took a picture because it was so sweet to see her imitation of me.
As I have dwelt upon that image, I have been reminded of who I imitate and, more importantly, whose image I bear (Gen 1:27). I could see myself made small in her body: the way she sat with her feet curled up under the blanket, sipping her “cup of coffee”, and her brown hair tousled and unkempt.
There are so many people who I also imitate in small ways – the girl from Kindergarten with the earrings, the friend from high school who taught me to straighten my hair, the co-worker who taught me to bake my Thanksgiving turkey in a bag, my college roommates who taught me to drink coffee with creamer, and I hear my mom’s words coming out of my mouth daily.
Our society also gives us no shortage of images to imitate, but we are not called to imitate the Instagram influencer or the pop stars in magazines. As Christians, we are called instead to imitate Christ. In 1 Corinthians 11:1 Paul says, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” He is telling the church at Corinth that they are to be different than those around them. They are to follow Paul’s lead as he imitates Christ.
We are called to imitate Christ and, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to be transformed inwardly into his likeness; to be holy and set apart for his purposes. “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:18) How do we imitate and image a God whom we cannot see? Similar to the church at Corinth, we must watch and learn from other believers, just as my daughter watches and imitates me.
We can watch other Christians by being in community with them – through discipleship relationships, home groups, serving together, etc... As they imitate Christ in their humility, grace, joy, repentance, and love and point us to knowledge of God through the Word, we will visually see Christ in them and the Holy Spirit in us will help transform our hearts as we “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” (Col 3:10) The more we see God’s grace and love work itself out in the lives of other believers, the deeper we will love God and the more we will desire to imitate him through our own lives.
I’ve been reading Letters To a Birmingham Jail by a number of Christian leaders. It’s a current response to what is going on in our culture right now as the right and the left are polarized on everything from SCOTUS choices to whether you drive a Ford or a Chevy. I wonder if my morning choice of cereal has some sort of political implication.
One chapter that captured me was by Albert Tate entitled, “The Multicultural Church Begins in your Livingroom.” Tate, an African American, was hired to be on the Pastoral staff of Lake Avenue Church, a huge very white Californian church. At times, Tate experienced the hatred of racism, but the senior pastor always had his back.
Tate goes on to describe how Jesus went out of his way to eat with people who were different and despised. He went through Samaria, ate with sinners, tax collectors and Pharisees.
I realize how easy it is for me to have people like me around my table. It’s uncomfortable to invite people who are, well, just different. But I want to be like Jesus who said, “I need to go through Samaria.” I must also be deliberate in who I seek out to get to know, even if it takes me out of my way.
This comes home to me most powerfully in my concern for the poor. I’ve spent most of my adult life working among single and marginalized poor women in the informal settlements around Nairobi, Kenya. They can be a feisty lot – determined to see that their children get food and an education. Abject poverty does not hold them back.
I wonder if it’s possible that the real divide in our society right now is more than black and white, Republican and Democrat, left or right. Could it instead be a great economic divide between the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-nots. Can I dare to say that a person of a different color, ethnicity or religion might be easier to have around your dining room table, if they also live in your neighborhood, in a similar house to yours, and even have a better paying job?
I am grateful for our pastor, Garrett Spitz, who preached this morning (October 4) from the book of Amos, chapters 3 – 6, which was a brave thing to do in our fractured times. His attention to the balance between the gospel and social action – holding us accountable to a biblical perspective of gospel-righteousness and social justice. It was a reminder that in being gospel people, we are also called to love and include the poor, the disenfranchised and the marginalized.
So who should I invite to dinner?