In our earlier years in ministry I was always searching for the key to discipleship. I wondered what type of programs we could institute that would foster real growth in our church. At different times I believed that if we only studied this book or taught this evangelism course or had this women’s breakfast or focused on this mission project that somehow we would hit upon the magic bullet that inspires a change in mindset and a tenderness of heart toward the things of God. I thought that what the people needed from Chad and me was innovation, creativity, and know-how.
Over time, it became painfully clear to me that the answer to the question of discipleship isn’t as easy as finding the right program. This is something that I learned from our church members by watching them live it out: discipleship isn’t nice, crisp books or carefully planned mission trips. It’s something altogether more intimate, more demanding, and more sacrificial. And once I realized that the people around me were showing me how discipleship works, I started to see it everywhere.
I saw it in the way that women spent all morning in a hot church kitchen, preparing to comfort families who would bury loved ones later that afternoon. I saw it in the way a friend wouldn’t allow someone in tears to leave Sunday school without a hug, an encouraging word, and a plan to meet later in the week to talk. I saw it in the way a man counseled his co-worker during breaks at work after a moral failure. I saw it in a deacon’s passion to organize a plan to pick up children for church. I saw it in one woman’s willingness to answer her phone at all hours of the night for those who needed her reassurance and care. I saw it in the hours of conversation, the thousands of thoughts of others, the quiet actions that showed love, the millions of moments of being involved in others’ lives, invested in helping solve others’ problems, in the sitting with the grieving without words, in the planning of a budget with a newly married couple. In so many ways, our church taught us what discipleship really means. It isn’t as clean and neat and tidy as I once wanted to believe it would be. In truth, real discipleship is being there for each other. It’s struggling together to live in obedience to God’s word, and it’s being intentional about lifting each other up when someone needs lifting. It’s about looking each other full in the face and saying: “Here is our mission: to know God more. To live and love like Jesus. How do we do that, this very minute, in this very situation?”
Discipleship is slow. Growth is slow. What I wanted was a quick, cheap roller coaster to holiness. But God’s design is so much more expensive and much less flashy. It costs us more. More time, more energy, more emotional and mental investment. It humbles us more. It looks like hunkering down in the trenches with brothers and sisters, some of whom are exhausting on every level. It looks like serving until we fear we have nothing left, and then serving some more. Books are good. Programs can be great. But they aren’t the key to discipleship. Growth in Christ starts with God’s word and continues through the work of the Holy Spirit and the care and sacrifice of God’s people for God’s people.
In short, it’s a much harder calling than I once imagined.
If we want to grow, and if we want others in our church to grow, we have to invest in each other. This isn’t just “doing life together” in the way that many see it, as if all we need is food trucks in the parking lot and a photo booth where we can hashtag our involvement in our church. True discipleship is so much more, and it is made up almost entirely of non-Instagrammable moments. This is what we signed up for. Jesus told us to deny ourselves and take up our crosses and follow Him. Paul said to regard others as more important than ourselves. This is discipleship. This is love. This is how we care for one another’s souls. This is how growth happens. It’s a whole lot more difficult than finding the perfect book study. It’s a way of life, and by this the world will know that we are his disciples.