How to Raise Up Disciples Who Will Flourish, With or Without You
By Christy Tennant
As I’ve prepared for a two month international trip this summer, I’ve been conscious of the potential impact of my absence on the five women I disciple. We’ve been meeting weekly for more than a year. I’ve tried to be one of their strongest cheerleaders as they struggle and grow. Knowing that Jesus is their perfect shepherd, encourager, and intercessor certainly gives me peace about leaving them for a season. However, I am now more aware than before that part of my role as a discipler is to equip people to flourish spiritually with or without me. With this in mind, I’ve made the following principles an integral part of my ministry.
Encourage them to talk to God.
Disciplers can fall into the trap of making themselves the sole source of answers for a disciple’s questions. While dialogue is vital to discipling, we contribute most to a person’s growth when we encourage her to seek God’s will and hear His voice.
The next time the person you’re discipling asks for advice, rather than immediately giving your personal take, encourage her first to seek answers from God through prayer, the Scriptures, and perhaps even fasting. Then, talk with her and help her to process and discern what she sensed God saying through the Holy Spirit. I’ve discovered that when I have directed individuals I’m discipling to “take it to God” first and then come to me, most often they excitedly report how God has answered. Moreover, they tend to gain insights I would not have offered, which helps me to have a better understanding of the issue at hand.
We will not always have disciplers and mentors in our lives with whom to process our questions and decisions, but we will always have the Holy Spirit. Seeking God for insight and answers is a key practice for all of us who are moving toward spiritual maturity.
Help them discover their spiritual gifts.
One woman I disciple is very timid; it is difficult for her to speak in front of others. However, she prays with deep conviction and is often moved to tears on behalf of those for whom she is interceding. As I was praying for this woman one morning, the Holy Spirit prompted me to encourage her in the area of intercessory prayer. I told her how much I learn about praying for others by listening to her. I began to watch for opportunities to invite her to lead prayer in small-group settings, which she was happy to do. I also recommended books and articles on prayer that I had found helpful or insightful. In recent months, she has begun to minister more and more as an intercessor, praying with strength and insight and encouraging many. As she has gained confidence in exercising this gift, she has shown increasing confidence in other parts of her life. Another woman I disciple began to study the Bible only about a year ago. After a few weeks of Bible study, she started to talk about what she was learning. I was humbled by the depth of revelation she had received from only a few readings. She was grasping truths that had taken me years to comprehend. I have since loaned commentaries to her and shown her how to use a concordance. We have talked about how different Bible translations came about and how to use a lexicon to explore the original texts. Since she already has a God-given passion for studying and reading the Bible, she picks up each of these things very quickly. She now contributes regularly in our Bible-study discussions, offering fresh insights and ideas. Her passion for the Word of God has become contagious, and her example encourages others to make Bible study a priority.
As we help those we disciple discover and exercise their gifts, we prepare them for a lifetime of fruitful ministry, whether or not we are by their side. Drive them to Scripture to shape their theology. Over the course of my discipling relationship with “Sarah,” our running theme has been “show me where you see that in the Bible.” Questions arise as she is exposed to various doctrines and teachings by friends and family members. My constant challenge to Sarah is to evaluate everything she hears according to the Word of God. Through this type of systematic theology, we have both grown in our knowledge of what the Bible says about a wide range of topics. She has thanked me repeatedly for challenging her to let Scripture, not the theories and opinions of others, shape her beliefs and values. By building in her a commitment to conform to God’s Word, I hope to help Sarah hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that she can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. —Titus 1:9
Help them set a healthy pace.
Jesus made it clear that following Him would, at times, be wearying. The Apostle Paul likened the Christian life to running a marathon. It requires endurance to finish strong, and anyone who has run more than a couple of miles knows that pacing is everything if you want to make it to the finish line. Part of living at a healthy pace is discerning what to commit to when your time and energy are limited. Jesus said in Mt. 11:30, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
The things He calls us to take part in will not result in burned-out exhaustion, but trying to do things He is not calling us to do might. The Lord has had to correct and transform my life in this area; now I try to model what I’ve learned for those I disciple. I want them to pace themselves for a lifetime of enjoying God and serving Him. One woman who had asked me to disciple her began our first meeting with a list of the ministries she hoped to take part in. In her final semester of college, entering her second year of marriage, and having just found out she was pregnant, her additional plans included starting a discipleship group and participating in two weekly small groups. I grew tired just listening to her! After commending her heart for service and her commitment to the Lord, I encouraged her to pray through each item she was considering and ask God to show her clearly which commitments He was leading her toward.
Within a week, she had an amended list and expressed relief at having been “given permission” to say no to some activities. Rest is another ingredient of a well-paced life. Jesus modeled the practice of retreating to quiet places for prayer and communion with the Father.
I have tried to teach and model the value of rest to those I disciple. In fact, I’ve been so effective that now, when they see me going too hard, they are quick to remind me to rest. It won’t be easy to say good-bye to the women I disciple as I head out of the country. But as I observe them turning to God with their questions, discovering and exercising their gifts, seeking truth from the Word, and pacing themselves wisely, I know they have embraced the foundational practices that will help them flourish as disciples of Christ—with or without me.