By Tara Jane Often when people speak of discipleship, they are talking about meeting up individually with someone, usually an older Christian, and learning from them. It’s not the only form of discipleship, but it’s a great way to grow in faith and maturity. After reading blogs and books like The Trellis and the Vine, which emphasize the importance of people ministry, there can be the temptation to look at your church with bitter disappointment. Perhaps you are asking why your church isn’t more people focused, and why people aren’t meeting up with each other. Don’t they realise that this is the heart of ministry? How can I be surrounded by such heathens? (Okay, maybe you’re not quite that extreme.)
But what if I suggested that you had been discipled all along?
When we have a particular understanding of what discipleship or being mentored should look like, it can be easy to search for one expression of discipleship. Sometimes we have people investing in us, reaching out to us, mentoring and training us, and we can’t even see it.
If we are in Bible teaching churches, we can have access to people in our lives who can be considered mentors without us even realising.
If you have a tough question about the Bible, who do you turn to? If you’re unsure about making life or ministry decisions, who do you turn to? If you’re working out how to respond to something as a Christian, which people do you seek to learn from or request their advice?
These people are already playing the role of mentor. In one sense, none of us are without mentors in our lives.
What are we expecting?
If we have a rigid understanding about what mentoring is, then we will miss chances to be thankful for the many varied ways that people are trying to teach and disciple us.
Are there people who make themselves available for conversation after church? What do they share with me? Can I see how the gospel impacts their life decisions? If they’re sharing life, often they’re sharing how Jesus impacts their life. The decisions they make can be great decisions to learn from.
Are there people who ask how they can pray for me? Being prayed for is a wonderful way to be cared for. Someone is taking time out of their day to speak to God on your behalf. They are pleading with God that he would grow you, strengthen you during hardship, give you opportunities to learn and share the gospel, and asking that he would make you like Jesus.
Are there people who are asking to catch up who are spiritually mature and wise? They might not outright suggest busting open the Bible over coffee, they might not propose a six month meeting plan, but they might be willing to share through a series of informal chats. There is plenty to be learned through gospel conversation. And they might keep seeking to do these sorts of informal ministry minded catch ups because that’s what comes naturally to them.
Are you turning up opportunities to learn from others? Twice a year, our church runs a prayer and a Bible reading month, where materials are supplied and we are encouraged to read/pray daily. We are also encouraged to either find a partner, or sign up for a partner to read and pray with. Perhaps your church has other groups, such as Bible studies, prayer triplets, Christian book clubs, or other cases where people are encouraged to share and learn from each other. These are great ways to learn from other Christians.
That’s what friends are for
Discipleship is never a one-way street. The Bible speaks of sharpening one another and being church family. Our friendships with others in church should always be opportunities to learn from one another, places where we can be trained, corrected, rebuked and encouraged to serve. I have learned many hard lessons from the rebukes and words of friends. Sometimes we end up being discipled by the people who we have genuine friendships with, and that’s okay. That’s the beauty of Christian friendship. Our friends in Christ should be of all ages and stages. There should be the common goal to see God glorified in each others lives. Your Christian brothers and sisters can and will play a role in discipling you at times and shaping you to be like Christ.
So be thankful for the people in your life who you can approach with questions and for prayer. These people are a gift from God. Look for ways in which people are already trying to mentor you and reach out to you, and make the most of those opportunities. Work on growing friendships with people of all ages and stages, because we’re all working together to help one another grow in faith. Continue to do these things to others as well, be on the lookout for who you can mentor and pray for. Above all, continue to praise and give glory to God, because ultimately it is God who is changing you and shaping you to be like Christ.
N.B. I’m not saying that there’s no place for formally meeting one to one to read the Bible, however I’m asking why we sometimes think that is the only form that discipleship should take. Both are valuable and useful for helping people to be more like Jesus.