I have been pondering the nature of discipleship in an effort to do it well. Here are some of my thoughts of late.
When we talk about discipleship most of the time, we seem to communicate this basic idea of how it works. An older / more mature person meets with a younger / less mature person and calls them upward in their maturity. (See image below)
However, when I get in the nitty gritty every day life of this task I feel an uneasiness with this model and have heard it expressed by countless others. “what if I’m not really far enough ahead of the disciple to help them out?,” “What if I am too old and can’t reach far enough back to relate with the disciple?”
Then, when I look at Jesus and how he went about this task, something still feels wrong about the way we look at it. I can’t picture him standing above his disciples trying to reach down with his supernaturally long arms to pull them up to his level of maturity (perfection). Rather, I see him standing with them at every phase of their growth, looking ahead to see how they might grow from every experience. (See image below)
It was not the level of maturity that he was concerned about, but their potential for growth. Think about Jesus’ interaction with Peter at their last Passover meal. (Luke 22:31-34) Jesus knew Peter was about to fall and that both his growth and maturity would plummet in the next few hours, but he also could see past that to his bitter weeping (22:54-62) (an incredible growth point) and on to Pentecost where, having learned from the experience, Peter did not hesitate to risk his life for the cause of Christ (Acts 2:36).
I believe this was because Jesus was more concerned with Peter’s overall direction of growth than his level of maturity and it appears that he was certainly willing to stand with him in every phase for the sake of the next even if it meant losing ground for a while.
It also helps to look at this process as one in which we walk through life’s events together rather than the disciple maker seeing themselves as further ahead in time than the disciple.
The big advantage to this model in my mind is that it is transferable to us as humans. Each of us is walking in our own roller coaster of growth rates. One day it might be going well and the next we seem to plummet, but if we are in the same sort of roller coaster as those we are mentoring, then we aught to be able to relate with them well. And if we have been in it for a while, we can see how each experience can be an opportunity for growth, both for ourselves those with whom we are walking.
“So father, I pray that each experience in my life and the life of those I walk with would be seen as an opportunity to grow closer to you. Not because we are that much closer to the infinitely distant goal of perfection, but because we walked through it with you. Grant me the wisdom and insight to see the potential in every circumstance and the courage to see it through to the point of growth. Thank you for walking with us.
Fine print: For those of you who are critiquing the mathematical accuracy of my graphs, I apologize for their roughness. They are based on the visual estimation of someone who has not taken a math class in 7 years. For those of you who are just confused by the graphs, I’m afraid I can’t apologize because this really is how my brain works. I hope the explanation is sufficient for you to get the idea. I also lay no claim to having “the perfect model” for discipleship. I just find it more helpful than before.