By Suzi Steele
At the end of April 2022, I attended a 50th-anniversary celebration for the campus ministry I served with a decade ago. I was slated to speak for a few minutes and looked forward to reminiscing about my time working with college students. Before I took the stage, a past student spoke first. In fact, I discipled her, then trained her to take my place on the campus ministry staff. As she recounted those days, I took a trip down memory lane, remembering the good times, but also when I didn’t do the right thing, or put my foot in my mouth. Still, she told the crowd that I was the most spiritually impactful person in her life during those years.
Her pronouncement jerked me out of my memories and instantly humbled me. To me, many of our times together were messy, and I vividly remember feeling like I was failing her in my spiritual guidance and personal witness. Yet, this young woman, now licensed as a Christian counselor, counts me as a pivotal part of her spiritual formation during her university years. It wasn’t just that I mentored her, discipled her, and helped train her to disciple others; it was that I was willing to take a very bumpy journey with her in a deep dive of faith, and I didn’t let go.
It wasn’t just that I mentored her, discipled her, and helped train her to disciple others; it was that I was willing to take a very bumpy journey with her in a deep dive of faith, and I didn’t let go.
In the first part of this series, Messy Discipleship: Part 1, I described the top three mistakes I made while discipling young adults in campus ministry:
- Not letting the Holy Spirit do the heavy lifting
- Thinking hanging out is the same as intentional discipleship
- Discipling with an end goal of spiritual maturity instead of multiplication
These mistakes can happen whether we are discipling young or old, one-to-one, or in a small group. What we can’t assume, however, is that discipleship naturally happens through small group facilitation and curricula or that attendance in groups is the best metric of corporate church discipleship health. Campus ministry pulled me out of that mindset. The most traction I saw was through intentional one-on-one and one-on-few relationships. If my older self (who still disciples others) could give my younger self some advice about discipleship, here are a few things I would say.
#1 – Fully trust the Holy Spirit to lead transformation in others. Our most important role is to remain in Christ.
Before we lead others, we must be connected to the source of our life and hope. Jesus told his disciples this analogy, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5 NIV). Just a few sentences later, he reminds them, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love” (vs. 9).
So, what does it look like to “remain” in Christ? Perhaps it’s like the body needing water throughout the day to stay hydrated, keep vital organs going, and be in optimal health. It would be unwise to limit our practice of drinking water to just a few minutes in the morning. We require regular water intake all day long to stay hydrated. We also need frequent doses of Christ throughout our day to stay connected. It’s a life source, an essential habit, and a necessity in doing Jesus-modeled discipleship. Drink Christ in like you can’t live a day without him.
It’s a life source, an essential habit, and a necessity in doing Jesus-modeled discipleship. Drink Christ in like you can’t live a day without him.
One of the amazing results of remaining in Christ is that we’re aware of the Holy Spirit’s leading. We can trust the Holy Spirit when it comes to transforming our lives and others’ lives. The Spirit is the one who convicts everyone concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8), and guarantees our inheritance in God’s Kingdom (Ephesians 1:14). We can know Him because He dwells within us (John 14:15-17).
The Spirit also helps us in our weakness (Romans 8:26), searches the heart and intercedes for us (Romans 8:27, 1 Corinthians 2:10), grants us freedom from the law of sin (2 Corinthians 3:17), and produces fruit in our lives that reflect Christ (Galatians 5:22-23). He even provides the power for us to “abound in hope” (Romans 15:13). In every way, we can trust the Holy Spirit to work in others’ lives.
#2 – Understand the incredible worth of time given to others. Time is a gift from God, meant to be stewarded well.
For a long time, I thought time was my own and should be portioned out to meet my needs. Whatever was left was what I could give away to others. Imagine the disastrous results if Christ followed this example! Instead, he knew what God called him to do and devoted the short time he had on earth to fulfilling his mission. He also trained his disciples to do a special mission in their time. The difference? They, unlike he, did not know the time of their death, but they were warned about the intense persecution coming their way that would likely shorten their lifespan. Even then, Christ’s authority ruled all things, including time.
There’s a world of people that are lost, have strayed, or are currently unconnected to the Triune God. Our directive is clear and action-driven, and God will always bring those who need Him into our lives. Not a day will go by that Christ doesn’t guide our time if we will but let Him. We can trust that all is in Christ’s hands, and his power transforms lives. Our role is to be a living invitation that brings the good news of Christ to others. Therefore, he gives us the precise amount of time needed to do it.
#3 – The point of discipleship is multiplication, not just maturity.
In the past few decades, many Christians shifted from an active “go and make disciples” mindset to a passive “stay and grow developmentally” one. We’ve largely exchanged public, evangelistic Christianity for a private faith of non-disclosure. When discipleship only seeks personal maturity as the end-all, we train others to be self-focused with a constant need to “be fed.” This makes us one generation away from disciple-making obscurity.
When discipleship only seeks personal maturity as the end-all, we train others to be self-focused with a constant need to “be fed.” This makes us one generation away from disciple-making obscurity.
So, how do we move from a maturation model to a multiplication model? While there’s no magic formula to create disciples who disciple others, Jesus’ model works in every era and season. When Jesus called his fisherman disciples, his goal was to make them “fishers of people” (Mark 1:17).
#4 – Jesus’ way of preparing his disciples to be disciple-makers was through shepherding, apprenticing, equipping, and then releasing them.
Jesus never intended for his time spent with his disciples to end at “spiritual maturity” in their personal lives. Instead, he expected their time together to bear fruit through multiplication as they repeated the process with others. As they traveled alongside Jesus, their spiritual maturity naturally grew if their heart and mind submitted to Christ’s authority (we know the disciple who did not). Later, apostles discipled others who became leaders of churches that did the same. Jesus’ model of discipleship is also vital to our active participation and success in completing this same mission.
Yes, discipleship is messy, people are complicated, and disciple-makers are imperfect. Yet, Jesus still chose his followers to replicate his model to have worldwide reach until his return. Discipleship done well has the power to transform people and grow the church to the glory of God. I am amazed we have the privilege to be a part of such transformational change. I’m very thankful others decided to engage in messy discipleship with me, too…bumps and all. Are you willing to do the same?
You can contact Suzi at: Suzi@95Network.org
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