recently wrote a book on discipling. I am hoping that it will influence leaders and theological students to take up the task of discipling others. I am giving a lot of time these days to mentoring younger Christian lay people and ministers. I realise how hard it is to maintain a discipling ministry and to convince people to decide to set apart the time it requires to devote oneself to discipling. By discipling I mean the work of caring for other Christians and helping them to be fully committed disciples of Christ.
Here are some of the problems the church faces with discipling:
· Discipling is a ministry that does not initially yield impressive statistics (though, in the long run, the results could be impressive). That only a small number of people benefit from such an intense effort suggests that this is an inefficient use of time. Many donors and leaders are not impressed by such an inefficient use of time and resources.
· Discipling is difficult to maintain in our busy world. We have so many opportunities for impressive public ministries that crowd out time from our schedules that could be devoted to personally caring for a few.
Christianity is not an individualistic religion. The Christian life is lived in community and the body makes a key contribution to a Christian’s growth.
· We seem to be greatly enamoured by public displays of talent in our celebrity culture. It seems foolish for people on the upwardly mobile path to celebrity status to jarringly slowdown their schedules to invest in a few people.
Discipling, however, can be the answer to some urgent needs in today’s church.
· Statistics give evidence of an epidemic of loneliness among Christians. The care of a mentor/discipler who is devoted to the disciple can be a great antidote to loneliness.
· There also seems to be an epidemic of insecurity among Christians resulting in people acting in foolish ways that can ruin their witness, especially when faced with challenging situations. Such insecurity could be markedly reduced through the experience of committed loving care and advice by spiritual mothers or fathers.
· Highly talented people are falling by the wayside through missteps at key times in their lives. If only they had someone to guide them!
· Many fine Christians are struggling with huge problems in their personal, family and professional lives. They are making some big mistakes in their responses to these problems. The influence of a more mature Christian on their lives could help them get a handle of their problems and move in the right direction.
· Converts to Christ who are active in church are continuing to do many things incompatible with Christianity (like lying, straying on the internet, and being unkind to their spouses) with no one realising that there is such a problem. A discipler would find out about and challenge such behaviour.
· Talented potential leaders are climbing the ecclesiastical ladder as a result of the church realising their usefulness. And then some experience a really bad fall. There were serious weaknesses in their lives that resulted in the fall which could have been attended to by a discipler.
Small-group Bible studies are an ideal medium through which discipling could take place. But a “pastoral element” needs to be added to the group ethos.
· One of the greatest needs for leaders is to “keep a close watch on [ourselves]” (1 Tim 4:16). Being a discipler helps keep one alert spiritually. We can’t ask others to do what we ourselves are not striving to do. We are pushed to keep ourselves in trim in order to be in a position to truly help those we disciple. Paul said, “Be imitators of me,” and quickly added, “as I am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1).
Christianity is not an individualistic religion. The Christian life is lived in community and the body makes a key contribution to a Christian’s growth. A few members of the body can especially help us deeply and personally. The loving care of spiritual parents (disciplers) could be a key means God uses to make this “body contribution” to our growth. Disciplers don’t need to be older than those they disciple. Some of the most effective discipling today takes place through peers helping each other grow (2 Tim 2:22; Heb 10:24).
Small-group Bible studies are an ideal medium through which discipling could take place. But a “pastoral element” needs to be added to the group ethos. By that I mean that an effort is made to help in the total welfare of the persons in the group and a conscientious effort is made to know about the goings on in each person’s life. Everybody in the group does not need to know everything about everybody. But the members should have a sense that they are being cared for by and are accountable to at least one or a few in the group who are passionately committed to their welfare.
We often find Paul saying things like “Timothy, my child” and “my child Onesimus” in the Epistles. May we too be able to say the same.