What does discipleship really mean?
SO, WHAT IS DISCIPLESHIP?
Actively living God’s will (whatever), helping those he loves (whoever), in any way he calls me to (however)
From the beginning it was God’s intention to draw people to Him, through us, using discipleship. This process allows healing and growth in our relationship with God while teaching others about Him. All throughout the New Testament Jesus and the apostles clearly state and implement discipleship as the core mission of the local church.
A short paragraph about our journey:
In 2015, Pastor Jen was invited to attend Exponential. Exponential is a multi-denominational, multinational conference that focuses on championing church multiplication and equipping church planters and multipliers. During this conference, she was convicted that it’s God’s job to build the church (Matthew 16:18) and our job to make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). Which began our journey on discipleship and a complete paradigm shift for how we “do church.”
What is discipleship?
Simply put, discipleship is learning to become like Jesus. From the beginning, it was God’s intention to draw people to Him through disciple making. He does this by using us, imperfect as we are, to share Him through our lives. We have learned that this process not only allows others to fall in love with God but it also allows healing and growth in our relationship with God (making us the disciple as well). All throughout the New Testament Jesus and the apostles clearly state and implement discipleship as the core mission of the local church.
This process is not a program. It is lead by the Holy Spirit, as Jesus' disciples us and we in turn disciple others. Each person’s “discipleship plan” is different because everyone we touch is different. The key is to be in relationship with Jesus and listen as the Holy Spirit guides us along the journey. This is not a method to get people to attend church, although they often end up there. It is a lifestyle that invites people first and foremost to fall in love with the Creator.
There are a few skills that we are learning to use in this discipleship lifestyle:
- One is a continual conversation with God (Spiritual Conversations) asking him how to proceed and letting the Holy Spirit lead in people’s convictions. To capitalize on spiritual conversations you need to learn the art of asking questions. Jesus was asked 181 questions in the gospels and only directly answered 8. In turn he asked 307 questions. Questions not answers are an important skill for us to learn. This takes a lot of pressure off of us to know it all.
- That being said you can’t give what you don’t have, meaning you have to spend time in God’s word, learning more about him and falling in love with him. Then as the Holy Spirit leads you can share those biblical truths in the appropriate way.
- For a very new believer you share the concepts without ever mentioning God (milk version) for someone more open to God you can directly talk about Him and share scripture (meat version).
- Thankfully we are not responsible for converting people, it’s God’s job. Our job is to be a vessel that God can use as we meet people where they are.
Pastor Jen returned home and brought the concept to the Living Faith leadership. We unanimously voted to adopt this as our path forward. Since we’ve begun implementing this in our church, we have seen God move in unbelievable ways. We have watched him put people in our lives that are hungry for him. As we’ve let him lead, the stories have been mind-blowing.
Personal Discipleship Stories:
One thing stands out to me during the discipleship process. As we leave this in God’s hands, he connects us with people that we can identify with and that identify with us. Many times God has impressed me to go talk to someone and they have needed to hear my journey in a certain area. God doesn’t waste any experiences we have. He uses them to disciple other people. Our job is to listen to where his voice is telling us to serve. Recently, God told me to go talk to someone and get to know them. I was reluctant but did it. It turns out in our conversations that we have so much in common! There are a lot of ways I can share God’s love in this relationship that is relevant to this person. God is the ultimate discipleship match-maker.
I’ve learned that one of the main purposes of true discipleship is simply focusing on the relationship with that person, being fully invested in their lives and where they are. We are foster parents, and have felt called to care for children in our home and share God’s love with each of them. Until one of our more recent placements we didn’t realize to what extent He had called us, calling us to be His disciples in this area of life as well. Being a part of a community that focuses on discipleship and building a relationship with the person first has provided the opportunity to share not only with the children in our home but also the biological family involved in their lives. We have had the privilege of witnessing healing and growth in relationships, becoming a mentor and role model for family members, while also seeing them choose to step out and realize there’s more to life – God truly loves them and wants a relationship with them too. We have begun talking about God in our time together – allowing them to lead in the conversation, they have begun to realize how far He has led them and continues protecting them. It’s amazing to be a part of His story in these lives, we can’t wait to see where He leads!
I first met my best friend on Instagram. She's a photographer, and I, a fashion blogger. When she reached out about shooting together, I felt God nudging me to do it, even though I was shooting regularly with another photographer.
When we got together to shoot, I knew I'd found a forever friend...we spent the next few months getting to know each other. I invited her to events and introduced her to my friend groups. On a trip to NYC together, we had a deep conversation about the loneliness she felt from a bad relationship. I shared that I'd once felt that way, and how Jesus came and filled me with love like no one ever had before.
Over the next few months, I watched her change. Her mellow disposition started melting away and in its place, a happy girl who loved God and felt confidence in herself. I watched as she started being a spiritual light to a few friends in her life, who in turn, started being a light to others. Who knew investing in a friendship could result in such a radical wave of enthusiasm for Jesus?! Now we don’t get to see each other as often, every few weeks or so, but I know she’s spending that time investing in others as I did with her. Nothing makes me happier.
My student and mentee has had some troubles in her life. As my violin student we meet every week for lessons and a lot of times just to talk about the troubles she was having (bipolar disorder, depression, drug/alcohol use, relationship with her parents, "wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people" scenarios, and generally feeling unfulfilled). One day she asked me why I seemed so happy and joyful and fulfilled in life. She knows I have also struggled with depression in my life. It opened an opportunity to tell her that it was God in my life that was the key. She then said "You know I'm an atheist, right?" God spoke to me in that moment and gave me the perfect response, which was, "I know. But I feel you are an atheist with questions." She said, "I think you're right." That interaction was the start of a year and a half discipleship journey. Each week we sat and talked about life, God, Bible principles, and really just whatever it was the God wanted us to talk about each week. Each topic was something that meant something to her. I made sure I did not lead, but let God lead. She has completely fallen in love with God, loves to pray and study the Bible, and is getting baptized in two weeks, and has even started discipling others in her life. All praise to God! When you do it His way, it works!
I used to think that "discipleship" was an event or a program that I would participate in for a discrete amount of time, while going on with my regular life. However, as I began to study Jesus and his method of discipleship, it became clear to me that we should be focusing on this everyday, in our "mission field" wherever we are, by developing relationships with people and listening to their needs. Rather that having the pressure of trying to "evangelize", I now focus on listening to the Holy Spirit in every conversation I have with others. When I ask God to provide me with the right words for my conversation, it's amazing to see how he shows up. Now I am able to integrate God stories into my conversations with others in a way that has opened their eyes to Him. I now have spiritual conversations with many people that has led to deep thoughts about God and who he is. It is amazing to be able to point people to Jesus just by being there for a chat! It has led to discussions on God's word, prayer, and how to cultivate a relationship with Him.
One of my colleagues seemed very down after returning from a vacation. Rather than just saying "I hope you had a good vacation" I actually was impressed by the Holy Spirit to ask "how come you seem down even though you just came back from the beach?" At first he didn't want to discuss it, but later in the day he pulled me aside and told me his wife moved out and was filing for divorce. During the conversation I asked the Holy Spirit for his guidance on listening effectively and being able to show God's love. I mentioned prayer to God as a way to get guidance and comfort in tough times, and gave him some of my relationship experiences. My colleague was actually open to this and said that he wanted to improve his spiritual life and that he often forgets about God. We had many follow up conversations about God, prayer, the Bible, and life in general. If I didn't listen to the Holy Spirit by asking him a simple question, I would have never known about his situation or that he was really in need of connecting with God. Just being available to others for conversation and sharing was really helpful in developing a relationship where I shared many examples of God's love. I am really encouraged that we all can be used to point people to Jesus!
This experience has radically changed how I minister as a pastor and how I live my life. I have gone from talking about how God wants to use you/me to change people's lives to actually feeling the exhilaration of being part of real life change. I have learned to spend more time with people and watch how God leads. I began spending time with two of my neighbors, both of which came to church (a huge win before this paradigm shift). Then one of them stopped coming. I chalked it up to a busy summer. I kept feeling impressed to ask her why but I didn’t want to be pushy about church so I let it go all summer. Finally at the end of summer she brought up church and I said I know you haven’t come because you’ve been busy, but we miss you. To which she said, “No, my husband can’t come on Saturday so we chose to go on Sunday instead. But I’ve been trying to figure out all summer how to ask you to teach me how to read the Bible.” I then realized if I’d just listened to the Holy Spirit earlier I could have been having a bible study with her all summer. This was a major learning point for me, to realize that following the promptings of the Holy Spirit pay off even if we don’t see how.
We decided to start a bible study and invited two other neighbors. We did not study anything doctrinal, we started where they were and just discovered God together. Through the study one of the ladies was convicted she needed to be baptized but all of us grew in more ways than I can share in this time together. Then much to my disappointment two of the ladies moved and the study time ended. I wish I could have spent more time with them but I have to remind myself that it is God who is drawing them to him and he just used me for that time. After that ended I began to pray that God would reveal who else I should invest in and he brought two other ladies to mind. I am currently engaging in both of their lives and watching God show up in amazing ways. I’m so excited to be part of God’s plan for drawing others to him and I can’t wait to see what else he has up his sleeve!
List of resources:
- Starfish Movement “Unleashing the Unstoppable Mission of Jesus”
- Just Walk Across the Room by Bill Hybels
- Jesus is the Question by Martin B. Copenhaver