And to conclude these thoughts on discipleship….
One of the biggest problems in the Church today is the spiritual equivalent of a “failure to launch.” Do you know what I am talking about? More and more kids are living with their parents through their twenties and even their thirties. More and more Christians have settled in to the comfortable surroundings of their church, small group, Sunday school class, and maybe the occasional outreach or mission trip. But they never get to the point where they become the rabbi and become a spiritual father or mother to someone else. If we want to be growing and maturing as a disciple of Christ, we need to come to the place where we start discipling others.
Let me close by giving some direction for pursuing both these relationships.
First let me say that all of us should be being disciple by somebody. Right now I am the spiritual son to the Rev. Steve Poole. If you are not currently in such a relationship let me give you a few guidelines for looking for one.
- Pray. Ask God to lead you to the person He wants to walk beside you as you grow in the faith. Keep in mind that the name God brings to mind, may not be the person You thought He would!
- Know what you are looking for. Where do you need help? What spiritual gifts do you need guidance in using?
- Be willing to commit to getting together with that person on a regular basis. Discipleship is a family relationship. You need to be willing to make time to spend together. My mentor Steve lives in North Berwick, Maine. When we meet, I go to him, because that is what is convenient for him.
When you find that person, and for those of you who are being discipled by someone:
- Build your relationship around Ephesians 6:1-3 and treat them as God directs you to treat your father or mother. Look at yourself as a son or daughter to that person.
- Submit yourself to them and to their teaching and way of life. Now I am not advocating a blind submission. After all our spiritual parents are surrogates for Christ. When there is a conflict between Christ and our spiritual parents, we need to follow Christ. But give them permission to challenge you, to hold you accountable, and to get into things that might be uncomfortable.
- Like Timothy, do not think that God will keep you with the same spiritual parent for life. When the time comes you may find that God may replace your Lois or Eunice with a Paul, so that you can continue to grow and mature.
Not every Christian is at the place where they are ready to be a spiritual mother or father. But just because you may not feel ready does not mean you are not already in that position. If, for instance, you are a mother or father with children of your own, you are already being tapped to be a spiritual parent to them. If you are an elder you are being held up as a spiritual father in the church. So those of you who are actively discipling people or who soon will be, let me offer you some direction:
- Pray. Ask God to lead you to the people He wants you to disciple. Before Jesus chose the twelve He spent all night in prayer listening for the names of those He was to commit to. While it is fair to say that Jesus developed close friendships with His disciples, I think we should be wary about thinking that He picked His favorites to start with. He chose those whom His Father wanted Him to pick. We should do the same.
- Don’t think it’s your job to say yes to everyone. Jesus was only able to work with twelve, and He had that “God-thing” working for Him!
- Build your relationship around Ephesians 6:4 (NIV) Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. Be a spiritual father or mother to them. Discipleship, like parenting, can be frustrating. It is often messy. It takes patience, grace, and long-suffering. Even Jesus exclaimed in the midst of His disciples, Are you still so dull? (Matthew 15:16, Mark 7:18). He had to say things like, Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men (Matthew 16:23 NIV). Paul said to the Galatians in Galatians 4:19-20 (NIV), My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you! If Jesus and Paul had thoughts like that, you can bet anyone who is working at being a spiritual father or mother will too!
- Be as committed to them as they are to you. Not everyone you start that relationship with is going to be as committed as you want them to be. They may even fade away. Don’t get discouraged when that happens. After all, even Jesus had a bad apple in His disciples. As with Jesus and Judas, it doesn’t necessarily mean you did something wrong. Allow God in His sovereignty to bring people to you and take people from you as He sees fit.
- And last, remember that just as our kids grow up and start their own families, your spiritual kids need to do the same. The goal of spiritual fatherhood is seeing your spiritual children become spiritual fathers who have spiritual children of their own, who grow up to have children of their own. That doesn’t mean that our relationship with our spiritual children ends at that point, but it does mean that it changes. When Jesus gave the great commission He also said to them, surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.