It was a spring afternoon when I shared with two men my vision for the work that I wanted to do in the future.
I shared with them my desire to serve leaders through writing books and teaching. Shortly after that day, one of the two men privately approached me and shared that he saw some leadership giftedness in me, and he wanted to coach me to help maximize my effectiveness as a leader. I gratefully accepted his offer knowing little about the drastic change that was about to take place in my professional and spiritual life.
I. MY STORY OF BEING DISCIPLED
For the past three and a half years I have been fortunate to benefit from a discipleship relationship with Steve Elliott who serves as President of Church Assistance Ministry and as a staff pastor at Enclave Community Church. The relationship that Steve and I have enjoyed has been extremely beneficial to me and played a crucial role in allowing me to make a commitment in November of 2009 to follow Jesus.
When Steve and I first began meeting, we only talked about leadership. In fact, the relationship did not start out as a formal “discipling” relationship. However, the topics of our conversations slowly turned more and more towards God over the years. Every opportunity that Steve had to bring up Jesus, he did. Through the process of meeting with Steve I began to realize more and more that Steve has great wisdom to share.
I perceive Steve’s insight and discernment as very valuable. So I work very hard to maximize our time together so I may glean as much as possible from him.
When we meet, I usually prepare for our time the by writing about four topics:
- Here’s What I Learned: I write the notes that I took from the last time that Steve and I met,
- Here’s What I Did: This is a list of the things that I have actively done and experienced since our last meeting,
- Here’s What I Learned: These are the things I have learned since we last met relating to what he said and what I have experienced, and
- Here’s What I Need Coaching On: These are questions and situations that I am looking for him to help me with by sharing wisdom, suggestions, and insight.
These lists tell Steve exactly what I am going through, what I am learning, and where he can help. Recording our time together in this way also helps Steve to see his own words in writing so he knows what he is teaching.
The relationship Steve and I share is a great example of what Greg Odgen talks about when he states that we need people to live with us and guide us in our early years. As he writes, “a necessary and pivotal element in providing the motivation and discipline to grow self-initiating, reproducing, fully devoted followers of Jesus comes only through personal involvement.”[ref]Greg Ogden, Transforming Discipleship: Making Disciples a Few at a Time (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 55.[/ref] Steve provides that investment in me by spending his time, energy, and money on me.
Although Steve and I began meeting in March of 2008, I did not accept Christ until November of 2009. This means he was involved in my life before I was a Christian, when I did become a Christian, and since then. With that in mind, Steve has played a crucial role in showing me what it means to make a commitment to Christ. Steve showed me what it means to be a Christian leader who has had a life of ministry. And, that picture is a picture that I wanted to be part of. It was something that I wanted to be involved and included in because of the unique relationship Steve and I had.
II. THE TYPES OF DISCIPLESHIP RELATIONSHIPS
Characterizing the relationship Steve and I have is difficult to do because it does not fit into one single category.
My professor in a Current Evangelism and Discipleship Class often taught us that rarely do we lock into one category of relationship with someone. Instead, it is very common, as Nancy says, that our relationship with someone discipling or mentoring us will have several different elements and characteristics to it.
In their book, Connecting: The Mentoring Relationships You Need to Succeed, authors Paul Stanley and Robert Clinton outline eight different types of mentoring relationships that someone might engage in. Most of my time with Steve consists of a coach or teacher type of relationship. When we started off our relationship most of the time Steve was coaching me through the new situations I was experiencing and teaching me the skills that I wanted to learn. Through that Steve would coach me and bring out the elements of my character that I needed to have for assertiveness and conflict resolution. Even though Steve does impart a lot of wisdom to me as a teacher, he often says that he learns as much from me as I learn from him. For instance, he often learns about his own coaching and teaching as he sees in writing the things that he often only says.
The model of discipleship that definitely works best for me is when I am able to have a relationship with the other person and ask questions. As I shared earlier, the way I am discipled by Steve is highly dependent on me coming to him with situations and questions. I usually come to him with about half a page of questions. Steve is someone with great wisdom and insight, and I always want to tap into that wisdom for the situation that I am in.
As a young man and a new Christian, I have a strong desire to be a strong Christian leader, but I do not always know what that looks like. Steve has helped me by showing me what I need to do and what habits I need to possess to be a strong Christian man and leader. That is why I always take time to think through what is going on in my life and then ask Steve to help me with that. And, from what Steve tells me, he appreciates that I do that. He does not have to give as much effort to keep me accountable as other men he disciples because I put in the work on my own, and that fosters the positive relationship that we enjoy and each mutually benefit from.
Based on what I have shared thus far, I agree with Ogden when he shares that “Discipleship is fundamentally a relational process.”[ref]Ibid., 67[/ref] I know that Steve has my back. He cares for me, believes in me, and he is going to walk with me through whatever I am going through. When Steve and I get together we start our time by sharing how our month has been going and what we have been up to. In addition to that, Steve and I regularly pray together and for each other.
In a way, we are a team working together where Steve offers discipleship to me while I help him to clarify his thinking by writing his quotes and giving them back to him. Through this process, Steve provides tremendous encouragement to me as a leader. Through Steve’s encouragement, he acts out the same process that the apostle Paul follows when Ogden describes, “Paul’s parental discipling model always had the goal of encouraging people to become all they were intended to be in Christ.”[ref]Ibid., 116[/ref] I feel this type of parental encouragement in Steve’s influence on my life.
He always believes in me more than I believe in myself. He definitely has a desire to see me grow up and flourish as a Christian who has all the tools and practices necessary to be an effective Christian leader.
III. DISCIPLESHIP IS FOR EVERYONE
God is God. He rules over you and me. It is nice to have Ogden affirm this when he writes, “we are kingdom people, which means that Jesus is Lord in our hearts, homes and workplaces; our attitudes, thoughts and desires; our relationships and moral decisions; our political convictions and social conscience” (pg 28). The dilemma is how we use the power of discipleship in triads to help each other make that happen.
Based on my personal story of being discipled before being a Christian, I agree with Ogden on making discipleship not just for “super-Christians” (p. 48). I believe that we should frame discipleship as something that can happen to people the moment they become a Christian, and before. The task for us as churches is to encourage that to happen.
I learned years ago that who you spend time with is who you become. Who you hang around and who you allow to influence you determines what kind of person is modeled for you. Jesus seems to have known that before I did, and Ogden reminds us, saying, “His [Jesus] life and mission needed to be internalized in the lives of the disciples. The way to ensure that they internalized his mission was through ‘purposeful proximity’” (pg 65). Jesus knew that his disciples would be like him and catch on to what he was doing by simply having them around. That is exciting to me as a Christian leader to know that I do not always have to be teaching and mentoring. I can simply allow the people I want to disciple to hang around with me.
I often ponder and write about the purpose of leadership and how to do a great job of it. Ogden offers us great insight when he tells us that, “Jesus staked his entire ministry on the preparation of the Twelve to carry on his mission after he returned to the Father” (p. 95). This is a great call to us as current Christian leaders that we are to stake our entire ministry on preparing the people around us to carry on our ministry for Christ before returning to the Father.
Approaching the end of Transforming Discipleship, Ogden starts to give us a picture of what successful discipleship looks like in a church. He touches on something that seems very important as an implementer of discipleship groups when he writes, “A discipling or training model has a much greater chance of outliving a primary leader than does one built around a leader’s personality” (p. 134). This is big for us as leaders because it is easy to use our charisma to cast vision and lead based on our skills and personal style of discipleship. But if we work hard to develop a “model” for discipleship to take place on a regular basis that might slightly reflect our personality but not depend on it, that model has great chance to continue on after we leave.
Perhaps one of Ogden’s shortest statements in the book is also one of the most moving for me. When talking about training in righteousness through Scripture he declares, “We become what we place our minds on” (p. 167). I believe this applies to scripture and to the discipleship relationships we might engage in. When we commit to meeting with one or two other believers in a covenantal discipleship relationship, we are going to be placing our minds on the right things. And placing our minds on the right things with other Christians is going to help us become the people God wants us to be: solid Christian men and women who are trained to equip other saints and share the gospel.