Church people use the word “discipleship” a lot these days, but not like they used to, and I have to say that I’m kind of glad. Five to ten years ago, it was a buzz word that carried with it a long list of ambiguous and unspoken expectations.
Frankly, it made me nervous.
I couldn’t tell for sure because I’d never been formally discipled by anyone, but, depending on whom you observed, those expectations seemed to include spending concentrated time with one specific person of your same gender, discussing predetermined curriculum at length, laying your heart and soul bare by confessing all of your mistakes and doubts, asking for and receiving constructive criticism willingly (if not eagerly), and patterning your life to a certain degree after the example set by your mentor.
To be honest, none of it appealed to me—I’m an opinionated and passionate introvert that would rather breathe peanut butter than participate in such a suffocating ritual—and yet I felt left out, envious, less spiritual somehow.
No one wanted to disciple me, or if they did, they didn’t say so. Of course, I probably would have taken such an offer as personal criticism. No matter how sweetly they might have phrased it, I would have heard, “You look like you could use some serious help, and I am way more spiritually mature than you are. Can I disciple you?” That would not have gone well for the person asking, I’m afraid.
Now, several women did ask me to disciple them, but I said “no,” probably making them feel just as insecure and left out as I felt. In my defense, I didn’t know what else to do. Girl world has always been a bit of a mystery to me, a backdrop against which I have always felt like an ogre let down in delicate Munchkin Land, and this whole “disciple me” craze felt a bit like sorority rush, something I opted out of in college with no regrets. Besides, I didn’t want to put anyone in a position to have to say to me, “Hey, you are not as cool as I thought you were. I am breaking up with you now.” I had enough of that in junior high!
Rather than participate on a formal level, I decided to lay myself low and “keep on plodding” just like my friend Mich Dershem once advised my husband and me to do. I focused my attention on knowing Jesus, loving others, taking every opportunity to speak the Truth, and doing my best to serve as a living illustration of that Truth in case anyone was paying attention.
Many women in my life have done just that, and each has had a profound impact on my life just as surely as if we had set out to check off a formal list of discipleship requirements together. Momma taught me to forgive and to serve. Mema taught me how to love my husband. Grandmother taught me that passion and emotion, kept in check, can be good things. My sister taught me to look for the best in people and love with my whole heart. The list goes on and on and includes many women outside my family. My only regret in never having formalized and/or labeled my relationship with these women is that they probably don’t even realize what a blessing they have been in my life.
Please don’t get me wrong. I recognize the value in formal discipleship. Done well and in the right spirit, it’s a good and potentially beneficial way to pass on the Truth we’ve learned to the next generation, perhaps sparing them some of the grief and pain we experienced while learning it.
I get it.
I simply want to encourage those who, like me, find formal discipleship intimidating, a little forced, and sometimes stifling by pointing out that effective discipleship is not a one-size-fits-all garment. You are no less spiritual than anyone else if your mentor doesn’t know who he/she is. What’s more, you are loved whether you feel like it or not.
My advice to you? Watch. Learn. Love. Invest. In short, keep on plodding, friend, and God will use you. I promise.