As the pastor’s wife of a young church in a young city, I hear and feel the need for discipleship within our church. There are people hungry to be poured into by older men and women, desiring to grow in their relationship with God, and just want some guidance on how to do that. But the overwhelming perception is that there are no older men or women who are available to disciple them. (Remember: our context is in a young church in a young city. They’re kind of right…the older people they’re looking for are few and far between!) So, what do you do when you desire to be discipled, but you don’t think there’s anyone to disciple you?
What is Discipleship?
First, I suspect that perhaps our view of discipleship is more narrow than the full Biblical picture of discipleship. After all, a disciple in the Bible is simply someone who is a learner or a follower. Ultimately, we are disciples of Jesus, but He has also made it so that we can be learners and followers of others who follow Him closely. But, when we narrow our definition of learning and following to look one particular way, we may miss out on how God might want to teach us by other means. If you have ever felt like there was no one to disciple you, it may be time to re-think what it means to be a follower or learner. It’s time to take a look around us and broaden our idea of discipleship.
The way I learned discipleship was to meet up for coffee with someone older and further along in life than you, and to either go through a curriculum, a book of the Bible, or just talk about life and get wisdom and feedback from the discipler on struggles, victories, and next steps of growth. Sometimes it could also look like learning how to share your faith, reading the Bible, or honing in on doctrine. If you have been involved in a Christian community with a focus on discipleship, this may be what you learned, too. This mentor/mentee discipleship is seen throughout Scripture with examples like Paul and Timothy, as well in a group format with Jesus and His twelve disciples. These discipleship relationships can be really beautiful and fruitful, particularly if the goal is not just having someone pour into you, but having someone to learn from so that you too can pour into others (2 Tim. 2:2).
Practical steps to find someone older to disciple you:
- Look around your church community and start introducing yourself to older people or leaders. If you want an older person to disciple you, you have to know them first.
- Ask. Ask God to provide this person in your life. It’s a good gift and certainly worthy of asking God for. Additionally, ask someone to disciple you. Yes, it’s a vulnerable thing to do, but someone has to do it. Besides, the worst that could happen is they say no!
- Make it work. Logistics for meeting can be hard with busy schedules. Be willing to adjust to their time constraints, or ask to join them for discipleship as they fold laundry or make dinner. Group discipleship relationships can also be helpful to make the most of people’s time.
Mentor/mentee discipleship is not the only type of discipleship available to us. In fact, while it can be really effective discipleship, we would be remiss to ignore the “one anothers” in Scripture and how the church at large disciples us. It’s actually the church as a whole that is called to admonish one another, exhort one another, love one another, build up one another, and teach one another. How has your local church body been discipling you, perhaps in ways you hadn’t even realized? When we view discipleship as only the mentor/mentee discipleship, we will surely miss out on recognizing the ways we can be discipled not just by one particular person, but by an entire community.
Practical next steps to cultivate community discipleship:
- Be actively and consistently involved in a healthy, gospel-centered local church. At Sunday worship or mid-week gatherings, be mindful of the ways people point you to Jesus.
- Think through areas of your life where you want to grow. Who is doing that well? Find ways to be around them and to learn from them. That may be through small groups, classes, serving alongside them, etc.
- Do you need wisdom on a specific situation? You don’t have to have a weeks-, months-, or years-long discipleship relationship to learn from someone. Maybe just ask to get together so you can pick their brain about that particular topic, come prepared with questions, and glean their wisdom from a one-time meeting.
Still, there is another form of discipleship that may often go neglected: peer discipleship, or intentional friendship. This may be the last form of discipleship listed, but not for its lack of importance. In fact, for those who have had a hard time finding a mentor to disciple them, this may be the most practical way to have personal discipleship in your life. I’ve noticed that in some Christian communities, we delineate between our discipler and our friends, but let me make a call today for our friends to be our disciplers! Though you may be around the same point in your lives or walk with Christ, there are still ways you can learn from and follow your Christian friends that will deepen your relationship with God. Invest in your friendships, not just on a surface level and not just emotionally, but spiritually. If you have Christian friendships where Jesus isn’t the center of your relationship, start putting Him in His rightful place as the foundation of your friendship. That’s when Christian peer discipleship takes shape.
Practical next steps for forming peer discipleship:
- Find a friend. This seems obvious, but find a friend who’s also trying to follow Jesus. If you don’t have any, start by getting involved in a Christian community by consistently attending worship on Sundays or small groups. As you meet people, ask them to go get coffee, go on a walk, or go do something together where you’d be able to hear their life stories and get to know them.
- Live life together. I’ve heard the phrase, “Discipleship is caught, not taught” and it’s true. Discipleship happens when we live Christ-exalting lives amongst each other. Share meals together, go to each other’s homes, and be around each other’s friends, spouses, or children. I cannot tell you how much I’ve learned just by watching my friends in their normal, everyday experiences.
- Be intentional. Many of my peer discipleship relationships became discipleship because I started asking intentional questions to set the tone for our friendship. When you’re together, ask questions like: What have you been reading in the Bible lately and what is God teaching you through it? How is your heart towards God in this season…really? How can I pray for you? You may also consider reading the Bible together, sharing the gospel together, asking each other accountability questions, etc.
Two Last Things…
I don’t want to miss the fact that, while you may be looking for a mentor, you may actually need to be looking for a mentee (or both!). You may not feel adequate, but does anyone ever really feel adequate to disciple another? You may not know older people who are willing to disciple you, but what about the people younger in their walk with Christ who feel that same way? If you don’t step up to disciple them, you leave them in the same boat as you find yourself in. Look for those people, invest in them, and I bet that through discipling others, you yourself will actually feel discipled as well.
Finally, books, podcasts, blogs, etc. can be helpful resources that can, in a sense, disciple you. Take advantage of these things you have at your disposal that will teach you and point you to Christ along your journey! While I support the use of resources like these, I think it’s more important to seek out the different types of discipleship listed above. Those happen in the context of community. You can’t see the author of a book’s life and you don’t actually know their character. The person on the podcast can’t speak into your specific situation or see where you may specifically need growth. While they’re helpful resources to grow and learn in specific ways, we really need a community of people around us to know us and disciple us.
There’s Some One to Disciple Me!
If you want to be discipled – if you want to learn from and follow other believers towards Christ – just look around you! Discipleship doesn’t have to be as narrow or complicated as we sometimes make it out to be. Look around and see the opportunities in your local church body, whatever it may look like, and take some practical next steps towards learning from others more about what it looks like to live a life of following Jesus, our ultimate Discipler.