I always kind of thought discipleship was a little awkward. The idea that someone tells me what to do because they know more than I didn’t sound like fun. Clearly, I didn’t understand true discipleship; I didn’t know discipleship was about loving like Jesus. It wasn’t until I understood that our hearts always worship something that I realized everyone is also always discipled by something (Romans 12:2). Whether intentionally or not, we all want to be like someone else. We all choose particular things to read and heed. We all listen to certain opinions and adhere to specific perspectives. We’re all being discipled. It’s just a matter of by whom or what.
We’re also all discipling others. It may not be intentional, but whether we like it or not, there are always people who watch, listen and consider the words that come out of our mouths. Whether in the grocery store or in the counseling room, we all impact others. While its direction and caliber can differ, discipleship is always happening.
In the church, discipleship is key to an individual's growth and to the way they are made more into the image of Christ. The way we do this is a matter of life in Christ or death with our flesh. How, then, should we take seriously the role of discipling others? We must remember that discipleship is not about us.
Don’t think (or act) like you know it all.
“Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom” (Proverbs 11:2). If you think that you know everything there is to know about life and godliness, you’re just wrong. If you act like you know it all, you will be miserable. To think and act like you have all the answers as a discipler sets both you and your disciple up for failure. When you show that you don’t have all the answers, it can actually be a helpful teaching moment; show your disciple how to find the answers she seeks. If your disciple has a question about the Bible, teach her how to research the answer by doing it together. When you admit that you don’t know it all, it helps create an understanding that to be older and wiser isn’t to have all the answers. Wisdom is admitting that you don’t know everything (Proverbs 1:5).
Don’t expect them to be just like you.
When we seek to make individuals look like each other rather than to help them look like Jesus, we’re not just doing them a disservice, we’re creating little gods. Little gods made in our own image. God has made us each with different preferences for a reason. It is good to be different one from another, just as the body of Christ was designed to be (1 Corinthians 12). When you push your personal preferences as biblical mandates, you create inevitable condemnation when your disciple misses the mark you made up. Instead, help her strive to meet the mark God has created for her. Show her that it is done by grace with the help of the Holy Spirit. For instance, a woman doesn’t have to enjoy cooking and sewing simply because she is a wife and mom, but she must not be a gossip (1 Timothy 5:13). If something isn’t a biblical mandate, don't teach it as if it is.
Don’t put your experiences on them.
We should not disciple simply out of our own life experiences, but out of the reality of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Your experience of something – even if it’s similar to your disciple's experience – is not the same as hers. That doesn’t mean that a timely testimony isn’t encouraging (Mark 5:19). But it does mean that you can’t understand what someone else has experienced like Jesus understands (Hebrews 4). This isn’t the goal of discipleship anyway. Discipleship is about helping a disciple faithfully relate to Jesus, not to you. To share similar experiences is only helpful insofar as these experiences point to the goodness of God. The testimonies in our lives of God’s faithfulness are only to point to him, not to show how faithful we presume ourselves to be.
Don’t make your voice louder than God’s.
You can be the smartest person in the room, but you’ll never be smarter than God. You can muster up all the gifts God has given to you and discern what your disciple may need to hear, but you’ll never know more than God knows (1 Corinthians 2:10-11). If you don't help your disciples discern God’s Word for themselves, you do them a disservice. After all, you have no power to divide “soul and spirit, joints and marrow” like the Word of God does (Hebrews 4:12). It follows, then, that you must be studying God’s Word for yourself. Motivation to disciple others should be because of what you learn in the Bible and how it changes your own life first.
Don’t stop learning for yourself.
One of the greatest privileges of my life has been counseling older women. They are an incredible example to me. To see an 85-year-old woman willingly come for biblical counsel is a beautiful thing to witness. Most of the time, it is these older women who are the humblest in the way they receive God’s Word. I can only pray that the Lord will give me the grace to seek him in this way when I am 85 years old. Regardless of age, experience, or circumstance, God is able to use whom he desires. If I am not willing to learn from people of different ages or experiences, then I should not be discipling others myself.
Christians should never take the discipleship for granted. When we seek to love one another towards the likeness of Christ, we get the distinct privilege of experiencing God in particular ways, in particular lives, for a particularly sanctified result. How incredible it is to be a part of the process of God’s children becoming like him (2 Corinthians 3:18).