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:
Here you can read perspectives on life, ministry and God's Word from a variety of PCC's female leaders.