I would love nothing more than to have you believe I am a discipleship expert.
Undoubtedly, I’m not. I’ve made, and will probably continue to make, innumerable mistakes in helping women root themselves in Christ.
However, there is one failure in particular, that haunts me. And each time I step forward to lead women in discipleship or to open my Bible to share a message to women’s groups, the memories of that failure are called to my mind. It has taken a lot to heave those heavy burdens of pride and guilt from my shoulders and leave them at the foot of the cross.
A number of years ago, I had the privilege of discipling a woman who was new to Christ and his church. Bright-eyed and beautiful, the woman was fresh from her salvation experience and eagerly entered into a discipling relationship with me, and I was excited, too.
For the first month, we worked through a bright yellow discipleship booklet that outlined a believer’s next steps in her journey of faith. Each chapter covered a basic step of obedience – praying, attending church, Bible reading, tithing, etc. The material was dry, but we worked through each chapter together over coffee.
Over time, however, I noticed her waning interest in delving into anything substantial, including reading her Bible on her own. We started and stopped meeting consistently together due to her schedule, and each time I let her set the terms on when we met. I tried to encourage her by continuing to text her and even offered to come pick her up for discipleship sessions, which she agreed to a few times.
Eventually, we stopped meeting altogether. I was embarrassed that I had failed so miserably, but mostly I was sad, because I knew that the joy of her salvation had long since subsided. Much of her life decisions were geared toward obtaining and sustaining that elusive emotion, instead of learning to abide in the strength and wisdom of Christ.
As she operated on the fumes of happiness, a few more women tried to come alongside her. Eventually, however, she became uprooted from the church altogether. She became what Barna calls many of the women in our church culture, de-churched. There isn’t a passing day that my thoughts don’t return to this lovely woman, praying for our Maker to call her back to him gently, asking that the seed he planted in her heart long ago will one day take root and bear fruit in spite of my ineptitude.
WHERE I WENT WRONG
I could give you many reasons our discipling relationship fizzled out, and they all begin with me. Don’t get me wrong, I know this woman is ultimately responsible for her actions and attitude toward the God of her salvation. But as a discipler, I believe I, too, bear a great responsibility in her inability to grow and thrive where she was planted.
Here’s where I went wrong.
First, I assumed I knew what she needed. I failed to take into account that discipleship would look differently for her than it did for me. Instead of taking the time to evaluate her needs, I discipled her according to mine. I discipled her the way I was discipled (using the little yellow booklet). While she was drowning in a pit of uncertainty over her personal purpose and identity, I was busy giving her a to-do list for being “a good Christian.” In assuming I knew what she needed, I inadvertently made discipleship about me instead of Christ.
Second, I failed to speak the truth in love. Whether I was guilty of extending too much grace, or I was simply too scared to speak truth, I never lovingly confronted my disciple about her growing spiritual apathy and the behavior that ensued. Instead of being a teacher and leader, my passive role took the shape of a friend rather than a teacher who held her student responsible for sin. I wish I had asked better questions sooner in order to draw out the lies her heart was pursuing and to push her toward Christ.
Third, I sought help too late. By the time I reached out to my pastor for wisdom and guidance, it was already too late. Discipleship is a function of the body of Christ; it is the mission of the church. This truth sheds light on the ugliness of my failure in two ways. In proceeding as I saw fit, I was cutting myself off from both help and accountability. I discipled this young lady without a circle of support from the church to pray for me and to whom I also should have been held to account. In doing so, I made myself, and my disciple, vulnerable to Satan’s attacks in the process. I failed to impress upon her the necessity of being rooted to the body of Christ.
what i should have done
Shortly after our discipleship relationship came to an end, I realized my church was brimming with women like her. Women who had recently received the seed of salvation, yet still lacked the robust roots of a Bible background or Bible knowledge needed to survive in hard soil. I watched as a few more women became uprooted from our church soon after their conversion experiences because they weren’t discipled or they weren’t being discipled adequately.
Because the soil in which these women had been planted was rocky and bereft of any nutrients, they needed more than simply a to-do list for how to act like a plant. They needed real training on understanding their purpose and place in the body, how to draw nutrients from the Scriptures, and the importance of their spiritual health for the other lives around them.
From these observations, I outlined three key areas of instruction that women from unchurched soil desperately needed in order to develop a healthy root system:
–Who she is (identity in Christ)
–What she believes (how to study God’s Word)
–What she does (kingdom living)
We covered the first topic (a woman’s identity in Christ) as a five-week class, following Ephesians 2:1-10. The quickest way to build healthy roots is by teaching women what Christ has done in and for them, NOT what they are supposed to do next. This helps ground women in truth before rushing them to the fruit bearing phase of discipleship. Giving women a to-do list immediately after their salvation event too easily tempts them to manufacture the fruit of obedience in their own strength, without first understanding the purpose and power for such obedience.
We offered this class over five consecutive Sunday nights, intentionally keeping the class duration short so as not to flood newer disciples with knowledge. However, there was an additional benefit to keeping our class length short. I hoped the class would be simple enough for them to replicate with their own disciple at a later date. In this class, we had many mature believers who had never discipled anyone; they, too, benefited from learning some new tools for helping the women around the flourish.
We offered the second topic (how to study the Bible) as a weekend retreat that included five teaching sessions based on Psalm 19:7-11. There were benefits to this format as well, particularly for busy moms who had trouble committing to a weekly study.
The third area (kingdom living) followed the final chapters of Matthew. I taught it at a weekend retreat, again in five sessions.
The progression of this training was very intentional. We wanted to ground the women in the truth of who God is and what he did in their lives through salvation so that when the positive feelings of their conversation experience evaporated and difficulty came their way, they would be anchored in the Word and the church. Next we moved to how a woman can nourish herself on the Word so that she can further cooperate with the Spirit’s growth in her life. Lastly, we sought to open her eyes to her greater role in the church and how to walk in obedience through his Spirit.
Because I couldn’t find teaching material specifically for unchurched women, taking into account their need for simplicity and clarity, I ended up writing my own and publishing it on Amazon as a discipleship series. I’m including it here because many women enjoy a guide to discipling others. However, simply following the passages we used would work as well – Ephesians 2:1-10, Psalm 19:7-11, and Matthew chs. 19-28.
Crowned: Created for Glory, Called by His Name is the first study on a woman’s identity in Christ and outlines five truths of salvation in five short chapters. More than simple doctrine, Crowned looks at the larger story of the Scriptures (Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration), outlining God’s redemptive plan for us and the world.
Sweeter than Honey: Cultivating an Appetite for the Word of God is the second book in the series. The first two chapters cover the trustworthiness of God’s Word and how it transforms us into his image. The final three chapters outline an easy, replicable three-step method to studying God’s Word. It ends with a 31-day Bible reading challenge of the book of Matthew. The Kindle version of this book is on Amazon now, and the paperback copy will be available next week!
Kingdom Hearts: Becoming a Servant Who Lives and Looks Like the King is the final book in the series and will be available next year. This study looks at how modern women are called to live as servants in light of their identity and role in the church and the kingdom of God.
I am the last woman qualified to write any of these books. In fact, if I were to write a best-selling book, it would probably be titled: 101 Discipleship Mistakes to Avoid. Looking back, there are a million things I would do differently in discipling many of the women God has placed in my path.
Mainly, being a disciple has impressed upon me the greatness of my need for him and his church. Being a discipler is costly. It will cost you time, energy, and most certainly, your pride. Being a discipler means standing ready to be used and reproved at the same time. It means, never ceasing to live as a disciple yourself as you learn from failures and mistakes along the way.
What discipleship failures are you struggling with? What helped you place them at the foot of the cross and what have you learned from them? I’d love to hear so we can encourage one another in this messy thing called discipleship.