During my teen years and into my twenties I was very eager to share Christ with others. It was thrilling to see friends and neighbors “come to the Lord.” But I began to see that they remained dormant in their spiritual growth. Sure, they attended church and even got involved to a degree. But, over time, many stopped coming and made choices that were detrimental to their walk with Christ.
Then I met a woman who asked me if I had ever been discipled. I had not. As she met with me faithfully sharing in prayer, life, and the Word for several years, I came to see that “being His disciple” and “going and making disciples” was God’s idea. His plan for disciples making more disciples sets in motion a robust spiritual caliber of faith for those who follow Him and ensures expansion of His church through the lives of His disciples.
Jesus modeled making disciples with His disciples. He was intentional and unapologetically intense in his actions and teachings. In fact, His final words to them (and us) were, “Go, and make disciples” (Matthew 28:18-20).
I have been actively discipling women for more than 40 years. Though having had good training and lots of experience, there are times that I blundered along. Here are four mistakes I made — and you should avoid — that began to hinder my efforts at making disciples:
1. Thinking it is all about me
It is so subtle, but we can get involved with people for the wrong reason. “Well, I disciple women because I just love them.” Notice the focus on “me” and not what is on God’s heart. Some might say, “Discipling is fun” or “It is my passion” or “I just love teaching people.” These reasons might energize us for a season, but long-term durability as a discipler requires that we start and continue by embracing three things:
1. Disciple-making is God’s plan for reaching the world.
2. Disciple-making is energized by Christ’s presence and His authoritative power.
3. We are commanded to “Go, and make disciples.” Stepping out by faith and making disciples is a matter of obedience to Christ.
At the end of the day, the onus for making disciples is on God. I have found that when I get “me” out of the way and step out obediently trusting God, I am free in a wonderful way to enjoy, lead, pray for, and love those I disciple.
2. Thinking my discipling efforts make people grow
Very subtly we can begin to think we have something to do with someone’s spiritual growth. Not only is this arrogant, but it is absurd. In 1 Corinthians 3, the apostle Paul pointedly reminds the believers at Corinth that while there are those who led them to Christ and those who discipled them, it is God who makes them grow.
He also stresses that those who help others grow (disciplers) are co-workers with God. As a co-worker with the living God, I realize that ultimately I am to invest like a master builder. Just like an expert builder works from a set of plans, I intentionally build the Word and prayer into a person’s life. For me this means I am to be prepared as I meet with a woman one-on-one and build on the foundation of Christ in her. I am to trust God with my preparation, and then relax, enjoy the relationship, and let God be God. The resulting spiritual growth is God’s doing.
3. Thinking disciple-making is simply having a cup of coffee
There was a period of time when I would meet with women, chat, and drink coffee. I thought that through this engaging activity I was embedded in disciple-making, and the outcome was some really firm friendships. Don’t get me wrong, disciple-makers definitely drink a lot of coffee (or tea), but the end goal of discipling is really about raising up strong disciples who will go and disciple someone else.
In order to build a strong disciple, I must intentionally invest in the life of another woman. This means that I will think and pray about where she is in her path to spiritual maturity. I will discuss with her concerning her felt needs. I will be faithful to find, prepare, and share content based in the Word of God. I will faithfully pray for her and seek to engage with her life.
When you realize that disciple-making is more than just having fellowship, it puts the onus on you, too. It is my responsibility to intentionally “teach them everything Jesus commands us” (Colossians 1:28-29).
4. Thinking I have to be a “forever friend”
Being a friend has many ramifications. I finally came to understand that I could not be the best friend of every woman I discipled. I could not even be a close friend to all of them. This was a scary thought for me, and I found I had to ask myself what lie I believed about my capacity to disciple.
I came to the conclusion that unless I befriended her through every situation for the rest of her life, the woman I discipled would not stay spiritually strong. This erroneous expectation proved draining and completely unrealistic. It also ruefully spoke of my lack of faith.
When Jesus was about to leave planet earth, He let His disciples know that it was best for Him to depart. Of course, the disciples did not fully understand. Still, Jesus left and released His relationships knowing that the Eleven would be lovingly guided by the Holy Spirit (John 16:7). He did not leave them alone. He left them with His presence through the Holy Spirit.
As one who seeks to help a woman become a strong disciple, there is a tension I live with. I am seeking to be a friend, but also release her to live her life trusting Christ through His Holy Spirit. Rather than majoring on a forever friendship, I have learned to build a bridge of trust with those I disciple that will bear the weight of truth. Indeed, a healthy discipling relationship involves releasing those we help to go, live life, and disciple others.
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These misconceptions and mistakes weighed me down over the years. My misbeliefs began to restrain my efforts as a disciple-maker. God helped me to recognize and resolve these four mistakes through clearly identifying them and then embracing His truth. I came to grasp that disciple-making is God’s work.
He is committed to making those I disciple grow — and in spite of my human frailties and wrong doings, He will achieve His purposes. I have learned to trust Him for the outcomes of my discipling efforts, be more courageous in my discipling, and be increasingly thankful for every woman God gives me to help.
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