My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you. —Galatians 4:19
Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore, I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church. —1 Corinthians 4:14-17
Paul uses the picture of the parent, both the mother and the father, to describe his role as discipler within the early church. It’s a strong image that helps illustrate the Rabbi/disciple relationship to a Gentile audience, and shows that discipleship is your life with Christ, your spiritual DNA, reproduced in the life of another.
If you spent any time with the 3DM Crowd at Exponential Conference in Orlando last month, you might have come across these two little beauties. As their mother, I’m utterly biased, but they’re fabulous girls! These two have taught me a lot about the gritty reality of discipleship. I’ve got much to learn, but here are a few nuggets they’ve given me so far:
1. You’re all in.
The moment the thin pink line appeared, my life changed. Whatever happened from this moment on, I was newly defined. It wasn’t long before the life growing inside me determined what I ate, how I ate, if it stayed eaten … .
My sleeping patterns changed, my shape changed and I had to make room for a new life in every corner of my life. I felt differently about the world. New life changed my expectations and plans, my definition of success, my capacity. The change was total. I couldn’t be a bit pregnant; I was committed. I was all in.
I’ve realized over the years that discipling requires more than involvement; we’ve got to be all in. There have been times when I’ve hoped and assumed that discipleship was purely a class or a program. Good input and teaching would suffice, or maybe a meal here and there. While structured teaching and informal meals are valuable aspects of the organized and organic rhythms of discipling, my approach needed an overhaul.
If I wanted to see the life of Christ that I’d discovered reproduced in another life, I’d need to be all in. It would change my expectations and plans, my schedule, my capacity. It would redefine my values and my definition of success. I couldn’t compartmentalize discipleship to an evening of my week. I couldn’t do it a bit, I’d have to be all in.
2. It’s costly.
Childbirth costs you. I’ll spare you all the details, but epidural or not, it hurts. Like really, really hurts. It’s not just the sweat and the tiredness, the contractions, the pain, the occasional irrational fear that you will be the one woman who carries a child forever …
There are also the days and weeks that follow when you’re still in pain, your body still recovering, only this time punctuated by zero sleep. You are never the same again. But that’s part of the deal, isn’t it? That’s what it takes reproduce a life. Everything. And as you well know, I’ve only described the beginning. Yet because the benefits far outweigh the cost, we carry on.
So perhaps it’s naïve when we expect discipling to be nothing more than a fun chat over a coffee, a deep and meaningful conversation here and there. We expect it to cost the disciple, but it’s also going to cost us. Paul’s words to the Galatians were the words of someone in pain over the people he discipled.
Why are we surprised by the difficult conversations, the challenging times, the sleepless nights, the unappreciated efforts and sacrifices, the blood, sweat and tears? After all, discipleship is new life. Why are we surprised by how painful we find it, how on occasion it leaves us gasping? New life rarely happens by a whisper, but again the benefits far outweigh the cost.
3. It’s hands on.
There’s only so much my kids can learn from me at a distance. We bake together, do chores, sing songs, pray, read the Bible, do laundry together, and it all takes way longer than it would if I did it alone. Sometimes I’m tempted to do these things by myself; it’s more efficient that way. And while efficiency has its place, I have to remind myself what I’m doing this for.
I want to raise healthy, secure women who love and live for God. So I do things with them, because it’s fun and because they see my life close up, they learn what to do and how to do it. They learn patterns and principles that they can imitate that will be useful in the years to come. Sometimes it’s a little vulnerable; it’s sobering when I see them imitate my imperfections!
Sometimes I like doing it all because it makes me feel good as a mom. Perhaps my security drifted to the wrong place if I need them to need me so much. I remember that parenting isn’t just about me being hands on, I’ve got to let them get their hands on all I’d like them to learn. It’s much messier that way, it takes longer, but they’re learning, growing in confidence and skills are being reproduced.
The same is true in discipling. Perhaps we hope people learn from a distance by watching what we do, that way we keep getting the job done on time. But if people are going to see a life worth imitating, they need to see and experience our lives close up. If I want them to develop in character, surely they need to see mine, and not just on the days I’m expected or paid to be on my best behavior.
And who gets to be hands on? If it’s just me, then those I disciple get to see my competence and skill. If I equip and give them opportunity to get their hands on, it might be messy, and it might take awhile. But I also might see the multiplication of leaders, growing in confidence and competence.
4. It’s not about you.
One of my girls intends to be a paleontologist/zoologist. The other recently announced that she will be President of the United States and will ban the world from pulling up nice trees and eating shark fin soup. I love their dreams and visions, and like every parent, I want them to go further than I ever could. I want the ceiling of my life to be the floor they stand on.
So I’m investing all that I have and am so they will become all they are designed to be. I want them to reach their potential. They are not there to fulfill my dreams and make me look good. I’m there (alongside their Dad and our wider extended family) to cultivate and encourage what God has invested in them. I’m there to help them grow and learn. I’m there to help them as they fail and succeed, I’m there to give them skills for life. I’m there to help them discover and follow Jesus.
What about the people God’s entrusted to us to disciple? Are they there to hear our good teaching and wise insights, or are we there to discover their gifts and cultivate them? Are they there to get our jobs done and make us successful, or are we there to help them grow and become all God wants them to be? Do we need them to need us? Are we praying for and investing in their success, even if it’s more successful than we will ever be?
Will we be the floor they stand on, or the ceiling that limits them?
Making disciples is demanding, challenging, time consuming, invigorating, exhilarating and exhausting. Days of bliss and breakthrough and days of despair and doubt. But it’s the call on our lives, and it’s the way Jesus changed the world. The benefits far outweigh the cost. In the meantime, He’s with us in all, always. So Keep Calm, and Disciple On.