We’ve talked about issues in discipleship in the last ten days (though, honestly, this whole blog is about discipleship), but I wanted to say one more word.
Let’s step into Dan’s Magic Imagination Machine and consider what follows.
Scenario A: A proud father knows his daughter will be beautiful. He takes care of the child and allows her to develop slowly over years. Childhood is encouraged, outside play is cherished, friendships with other children are promoted, and time for rest and recuperation are given. When Dad realizes his daughter is mature enough, he enrolls her in charm school. When ready, the girl is given ballet lessons. Her father also oversees her education, adding one lesson at a time as the girl is ready to receive new knowledge. At eighteen, that young woman is revealed to the world. What a stunning beauty! A woman whose elegance, sophistication, and loveliness capture the hearts of all who meet her.
Scenario B: A proud father knows his daughter will be beautiful. To hasten that day, he has the girl pumped full of growth hormones, with bone stretching rods inserted into her limbs to make certain the girl grows tall. At five, the girl is subjected to calculus and physics classes, plus courses in three languages. The girl is only allowed five hours of sleep each night because her schedule is packed. And because Dad was never allowed to waste time in outdoor play, neither is his daughter. When the daughter doesn’t score well on her tests, Dad berates her, telling her how badly she’s failed and how she’ll never be the beauty queen she’s supposed to be. Then how will her Dad be perceived by the world? And on and on…
I’m sure that everyone reading this will agree that the Dad in Scenario B sounds like a psychopath. What normal person would treat a child that way?
Why is it, then, that Scenario B (the irrational one) is the way portions of the American Church try to make disciples?
And now for the NtBV, the “Not the Bible Version”:
He has made everything beautiful in our time…
— Not Ecclesiastes 3:11a
One word: Unlikely.
As we know, the real verse reads this way:
He has made everything beautiful in His time…
As I’ve gotten older in the Lord, He’s taught a me an inescapable truth: if we try to make disciples in our time (or any other way that is ours and not His), we’ll only break them and make them less than useful to Him.
I see now that we must view disciplemaking with the following understandings:
1. The Lord builds the house. We do not build the house.
2. The Lord builds disciples on His timetable, not ours.
3. The Lord does not break reeds and quench smoldering wicks. We, however, do so with reckless, clumsy abandon.
4. The Lord has expectations. We do, too. Ours, however, do not matter.
5. The Lord sees the final, perfect end-product of discipleship and fully comprehends all the stages along the path of growth. We look in a temporal mirror and wonder why the end-product does not look exactly like we did at every stage of our own personal development.
6. The Lord disciples with love. We disciple with impatience.
7. The Lord disciples perfectly. (You can probably guess by now how we disciple.)
I don’t know how many times I’ve seen a “discipler”—typically loaded down with one agenda after another—run roughshod over a “disciplee.” I’ve lost track of how many people have walked away from the faith or turned irrevocably bitter because a discipler didn’t take the time to ask, “What is God doing in this person’s life?” Asking that question rather than stating, “And now, this is what I will be doing in this person’s life,” would have made a world of difference.
Some disciplers pump their disciplees with more knowledge than they’re fit to handle. Others get upset that the process of growth goes more slowly than they would like, so they ramrod truth down immature throats. Some disciplers are unwilling to be at peace when their disciplees occasionally feel discouraged because the disciplers believe “a true disciple always lives in victory.” Or—and this is one of the trickier ones—the disciplees are actually further along in an area of discipleship than the disciplers and the disciplers are unwittingly asking them to take a step backwards.
You can probably come up with you own “discipleship gone bad” stories. Sadly, those stories should be rare to non-existent.
The other day, I was in an odd position in a group of Christians when each of us was asked to share one area in which we might be disappointed with God. After no one said anything for a while, I volunteered a disappointment, hoping my vulnerability would encourage others to share on a deeper level. I related a tough situation that launched a series of tangential events that I still deal with today. Immediately, several others felt it necessary to tell me why I shouldn’t feel disappointed. (Talk about walking into a baited theological trap!) Needless to say, I was surprised that others felt my disappointment was somehow invalid. Oddly enough, only one other person volunteered to share and that sharing came with trepidations and qualifications to keep the others from repeating their disapproval.
That type of story happens too often in Christian circles today. I know I can handle that kind of response, but what about a more fragile person?
Anymore, I feel that my role in discipling consists of one thing: to be available for other people. Just to be there. When they struggle with an area of life, rather than me telling them, “Oh, you shouldn’t be struggling,” or “You should be doing this, this, this and this,” instead I’ll be asking , “How can I be there for you to help you become more like Jesus?”
Because when it all comes down to it, God makes disciples. And He makes them by His means, in His time, under His conditions. What He asks of me is that I be available for His use as a tool in other people’s lives. “Here am I, send me” is not just a call to the mission field, but the call of one person to walk alongside another.
This doesn’t mean that we don’t teach people the things they need to know. It doesn’t mean that we don’t reprove. Only that we do it in a way forged through that incalculably valuable question, “How can I be there for you to help you become more like Jesus?” I’ve got to believe that such a perspective on discipleship, that availability, that desire to love others no matter their issues, makes all the difference when it comes to making disciples.
Because when God makes all things beautiful, they are filled with a loveliness beyond our comprehension. And that’s how it should be.