Having just extolled the benefits of being mentored, you’d think I would consider anything shy of one-on-one, regular, intentional, growth-centered discipleship a sham. But, as is often the case, we tend to cut ourselves more slack than we do others. Perhaps I need to be the mentor I wish to see in the world. Or maybe there’s more room for my understanding of the concept and practice to grow.
Discipleship is one of my two favorite ministry activities. I chuckle now thinking back on early 20s me, meeting with women only a year or two younger, ensnared in industrial-strength legalism, yet convinced I had something to offer. What a difference a decade makes—now two career changes, fourteen unreciprocated crushes, two and a half valleys of the shadow of death, seven Christian communities, four moves and two friend breakups wiser yet apprehensive about being of much help to women eight to ten years my junior. I suppose now I’m intimidated by how much I know I don’t know. Back then, I had no idea.
Discipleship combines two of my animating passions: teaching and the Bible. In high school I did an internship and a summer program geared toward prospective teachers. In college, I studied music education and my favorite class was educational psychology. The textbook for that class has moved with me to every place I’ve called home. When my percussion techniques teachers asked if music was our passion and teaching our vehicle or vice versa, I answered without hesitation that teaching was my passion. I would have taught anything. I just happened to be good at music.
As college went on, a new passion emerged: the Bible. You couldn’t tear me away. Before the days of the smart phone, I used to write scripture upside down on my thighs so I could meditate on it when I went to the bathroom. This was where I found life (in scripture, not the bathroom).
When I served on student leadership in my campus ministry my junior and senior years, we divided up ministry areas and I got discipleship. I was responsible for coming up with the curriculum we’d use to train mentors with a staff member’s supervision and I myself mentored five women. After joining staff that remained a favorite way to serve along with language training.
In a professional settings I held mentorship and training roles: I managed staff training at the museum I worked at in Laos and at my last job I oversaw the internship program and had two interns a semester. I enjoyed mentoring them almost as much as my other work. In general, I saw my work in museums—informal learning centers—as an extension of my interest in education. In my current job, I’ve joined a new professional development initiative that, among other things, is attempting to pilot a mentorship program. Given my experience being mentored spiritually and assuming mentor-type roles professionally, why the disconnect when it comes to being a spiritual mentor? Or am I just getting caught up in semantics or too narrowly defining it?
What I engage in now could be best described as discipleship by spot, sprinkler or stealth.
Just as you might spot treat a stain on an article of clothing, spot discipleship is limited and targeted in scope either by life season or a current challenge. Someone identifies me as an ok person to help them process through an issue they face and they come to me asking for prayer or advice. I differentiate this from a friend asking for advice by scope and reciprocity: friends may ask for advice about many topics and over a long period of time and I do the same with them.
Anyone else love playing in sprinklers growing up? Sprinkler discipleship works like its namesake, reaching broad and aiming for even coverage. To me this looks like having an open life. My blog, the panels I’ve spoken on, the times I’ve shared publicly through storytelling or in front of my church fall into this category. This is the opposite of spot discipleship because it is specific neither to a single person nor to their specific need.
When you’ve identified someone you’d like to make yourself available to to support in a certain area and you then proceed to do so but never let on to them officially what you’re doing, that’s stealth discipleship. There are some women I just think are so cool and I see a match between an experience I’ve had or something I’ve learned and an experience they’re starting or something they’re challenged by and I reach out to listen, to ask questions, to pray and maybe eventually to offer a suggestion or two at the right time. I’m intentional but haven’t DTRed. Contrary to spot discipleship, which is initiated by the one getting mentored, I’m doing the seeking out here.
To fight the temptation to think these are not good enough, I look to the ministry of Jesus (both for settling the issue of my enoughness and for providing the example). By looking at his life I can affirm that these methods do have their place. Jesus made disciples everywhere he went and used a variety of means. Jesus was sought out by people needing his assistance, he gave sermons on hillsides before crowds, he initiated with people and spoke to the intersection of their need and his work, and he continues his work in his followers even now often without us knowing or recognizing it as such. Jesus did discipleship in many ways, no, in every way. In fact, he lived and died it. This also included inviting some into close relationship with him to teach, equip, and provide an example.
Pacemakers for the race
A month ago I ran my first half marathon and was introduced to the practice of pacemaking. These are people who help runners keep to a certain pace. They carry a flag or have markers on their back and when you know how and when to use them they’re quite helpful. This is what disciplers do. Paul puts it this way in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “ Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” Christ ran pace for us, we in turn do our best to run pace for others.
Discipleship is journeying with people to the cross. I started to say running, but in reality, sometimes it’s a walk, other times a crawl, and even on occasion it’s being laid out on the side of the road recovering from injury. The point is the direction. On one end you have the cross and life and on the other self and death. The closer you get to the cross the more potent the power of the resurrection.
I’m horrible at Mario Kart. I got second to last place in my friend’s Worst of the Worst Mario Kart competition (the people who always finished last got to play each other to see who was the actual absolute worst). I inevitably do the course driving the wrong way and the screen continues to show me the “reverse” arrow. We can do this with our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ as well. We can and we should (though with perhaps less insistence than the game). Ezekiel 3:21 says, “But if you warn the righteous person not to sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live, because he took warning, and you will have delivered your soul.”
A life of discipleship
I am grateful for Paul’s reminder to the Christians in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 3:6-9, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.” He also reminds them in 2 Corinthians 3:5-6, “Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God.” Our competence to minister comes from God and others’ growth comes from him too. From the beginning to the end God is building up his people. If we run with people towards the cross and let it do its work, keep our eyes open to see who could use a pacemaker, and make our pace clear to fellow runners on the course we do what we can.
What does being a spiritual mentor look like for you? How have you thought about it and how has that played out practically?