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!