Disciple-making confidence?

Listen to Jana Sundene in Shaping the Journey of Emerging Adults (Dunn and Sundene):

Because I have been a disciple-maker for many years, mentoring hundreds of women…and leading countless fruitful small groups, I can start to feel pretty confident in my abilities as I see my life impact others.  I cannot, however, be sure that I am making a spiritual impact that will truly lead someone to Christ-filled abundance or that my efforts on their behalf will stand the test of time.  I cannot be sure that I’m helping someone truly become a disciple of Christ and not merely my disciple.

When I started out with the mentoring thing, it was a bit of a disaster.  I was on the receiving end of an initiative in the church to raise up five young leaders and, as it happened, three of us five young leaders now constitute the church’s leadership team.  So, in one sense, it was a very successful effort in the development of emerging leaders.

But there was one sense in which it didn’t quite fly.  You see, even as we were receiving a mix of coaching and mentoring input from the church’s founding leader, we had also been asked to mentor one younger believer each.  But not one of us, to my knowledge, did that.  We were scared; we felt out of our depth.  In particular, even assuming that I could have been intentional enough to invite my proposed mentee to spend some time with me, I could not imagine what on earth we would do when we met up.  I had visions of us staring at each other, slightly hopelessly, as she wondered why she was there and I wondered what on earth I had to give to anyone!

It wasn’t ever going to be a good start.  And, in fact, I think all of us emerging leaders managed to get through the year without investing in anyone else.

But then three of us were invited on to the leadership team, a team which our founding leader eventually left.  And it was then that reality hit me.

If we didn’t get serious about making disciples and raising leaders, we couldn’t call ourselves leaders in any sense of the word.

So, I began to meet with a few young women in their early twenties.  At first, our relationships were a little halting.  It takes time, after all, to grow in confidence as a disciple-maker.  But we grew in this together, me believing them into becoming all that they weren’t yet, them hardly daring to believe that ‘an older middle-class white woman’ would show any interest in them when they had no one else like that in their life.  (Yes, pretty much a direct quote from one of them.  Never mind that I was still probably just about in my twenties at that point!).

And the years went by.

I don’t want to pretend these were one-year commitments.  Whoever told you that you could make disciples in a year of solid investment was probably naive – or maybe just lying to convince you to get started on making disciples!  Some of these relationships have been there for six years and, though our contexts have changed in that time, the essence of disciple-making hasn’t.

These young women still have no idea how many tears I cry over them or the pride I feel for them when they begin to fly.  They don’t know even now, mostly, how often they have broken my heart with their stubborn determination to do it any way but God’s way and they don’t know even now how often I nearly avoided confronting them with the truth out of a desire to take the easier path myself.  They still don’t know, the one or two who have begun to make disciples themselves, my delight in being made a disciple-making grandmother nor what a source of joy their ministry has become to me.

But, though the disciple-making has not changed, in this case the disciple-maker has.

I have grown more confident; it does not faze me to initiate a new discipling relationship, to invite someone for coffee, to push them to explore their relationship with God and the gifts which he has so generously given.  I know that I can bring a positive influence.  I know that I can teach, give wise advice and listen for a young woman’s heart.  I know that, in tandem with my husband, I can provide a place of safety and strength from which young women can risk new steps in discipleship – so much so that one even said we were her mum and dad in London.  (Not delighted by this one, by the way; the age gap is less than ten years!)

Things have changed in me, if not the context.   I have spent six fruitful years making disciples.  And so, whilst I have nothing like the level of experience that Jana Sundene has, still I know that I must heed the same warning which she heeds.

Can I be sure that I am making a spiritual impact that will truly lead someone to Christ-filled abundance or that my efforts on their behalf will stand the test of time?

It’s an interesting question, isn’t it?  Because confidence in disciple-making, though in one sense the necessary precursor to stepping out in this ministry, is also a hindrance.  I need to believe that I have something to give in order to invite someone into a discipleship relationship with me.  Yet I also need to fear that over-confidence in self which leads me to make disciples of me rather than of Christ.  I need to know that, though I have confidence enough to start out in this holy calling given to all believers, I am also humble enough to know that Christ is the one who knows how to form each disciple, that I am only one of his tools in that process, and that my only task is to lead those disciples to him, before slipping quietly into the background.

I’m grateful to Jana Sundene and her colleague, Rick Dunn, for writing so honestly in Shaping the Journey of Emerging Adults.  Their disciple-making wisdom is a wisdom from which I want to learn.  Their disciple-making encouragements have stirred my heart again for this ministry.  And their disciple-making warnings are warnings which I want to heed.

What about you?  Are you taking seriously the commission to make disciples?  And those disciples whom you are making, are they disciple-making disciples?  Last of all, have you become over-confident, jaded even by this ministry or are you still refreshed daily in the intimacy of relationship with the One in whose name, and for whom, you are making these disciples?

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