How to Bring Discipleship Out of Bible Study Into Life
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“What are you going to do to change the world for God?”
I blinked across the table at Ken Bevel, leading actor in the then soon be released movie “Courageous”. We were talking about the weather and where we were all from and then, all of a sudden, that question.
Stunned, I scrambled for words, searching my heart. What did I want to do to change the world for God? As the waiters brought out dessert, I answered something about helping people find their identity in Christ.
But Ken’s question continued to rattle around in my very heart and soul, embarking me on an uncomfortable but holy journey.
I knew the gospel, forward and back and yet my heart hungered for more — more of something, that I wasn’t even sure I had words for. Could an ordinary someone change the world for God? And if so, how? As I looked at my life it felt sacrilegious to wonder what was missing. After all, I had Jesus! And yet I realized I didn’t want a gospel message that I only knew about; I wanted the gospel to touch every part of me, inside and out, as well as those around me. I wanted to know who I was in Christ. But even more than that, I wanted to live what I read in the Bible in a way that it transformed my everyday life. What if the gospel changed how I did the dishes as much as it affected where I would spend eternity?
I began devouring books on evangelism and purpose. And one day, one sentence arrested my heart. I was reading a story that David Platt shared in his book Radical. An African man told David: “I’m going to change the world for God through discipleship”.
Tears crept into my eyes as the Holy Spirit nudged me. This was it. Discipleship was how I was going to change the world for God. But I didn’t know anything about discipleship. I had been in church my whole life but had never been in any type of one-on-one discipleship context. Where should I start?
That was the year of questions multiplying questions. Then a friend connected me with an older woman and she began to disciple me. We met weekly to study 1 John, pondering the meaning and context of each verse and then how it applied to my life: not just to life in general, but to me, Katie. My everyday life began to change, just as I had hoped, and I discovered with joy that the gospel was indeed meant to be studied, but even more to be lived.
It was a beautiful time! But that taste of formal discipleship began to awaken in me a hungered for even more. I wrestled and prayed over this angst, not fully understanding it. For years, I had longed to be discipled and mentored, and now I was! Why wasn’t it enough for me to go to church on Sundays, a small group on Tuesdays, and meet for discipleship on Tuesdays? Was this a selfish dissatisfaction, or a holy one?
Despite my growing dissatisfaction, I began to disciple other women as I had been discipled. It was beautiful and fruitful. We met weekly and discussed Scripture, praying for eyes to see and ears to hear what the Lord had for us. One of these women had several small children. It was difficult for her to find a weekly hour or two of concentrated time to meet with me. Since I was a single gal, without the same demands on my time, I started driving out to her house whenever I could. We would read through 1 John and talk about it while we scrubbed dishes, broke up fights, and bathed little ones.
This. These talks, these tears, and the gospel, smack in the middle of all the chaos and rawness of our humanity, felt so right. The hunger grew stronger. This. This was it. This messy chaos was exactly what my spirit had been longing for! Our unassuming friendship was so raw and real. We went from just talking about how to live out the truths of Scripture, to living them out in front of each other.
What I didn’t have words for then was what I have come to know now as “Lifestyle Discipleship”. The Bible describes it wonderfully in 1 Thessalonians 2:8. Paul writes here:
“So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.”
Discipleship as a lifestyle is simply sharing our lives with those whom we are discipling and teaching. It’s bringing the gospel out of a set-aside time and into the nitty-gritty of crying children, broken relationships and unpaid bills. Lifestyle discipleship brings us out of the classroom or counseling setting and into the living room: it is a glorious mess of humility, sacrifice, and dirty hands.
“Discipleship is truth transferred through relationship.”
Lifestyle discipleship is an invitation to see the mess and to see Jesus in both of your lives. It means walking in humility, grace, and transparency. It doesn’t fear or shy away from sin and wounds. In lifestyle discipleship, sharing “not only the Gospel of God but our lives as well” (2 Corinthians 1:4) means authentic vulnerability with one another. It’s losing it and yelling at your children, and then kneeling down and repenting to them in front of the other person. It’s teaching out of your own life and struggles, inviting others into your journey as they invite you into theirs.
Discipleship is just that: it is a lifestyle. Discipleship was never meant to be segmented only into specific meeting times but should be an overflow from your life and relationship with the Lord. Lifestyle discipleship leads others to the Throne of God by going there with them. It is as much about caring for the other person in the process as it is about the solution.
There is a place for formal, structured, discipleship and mentor meeting times! I still meet frequently with people for coffee, prayer, or counseling. But the discipleship that Jesus modeled was never meant to be separated from relationship. People in formal counseling who have an advocate, friend, or supporter have a much higher percentage of lasting, healing change than the people with no support system. We were not meant to do life alone (Genesis 1).
Discipleship is as much of a journey as life. If you are wrestling with questions about discipleship, if your heart longs to be changed, if you want to be a part of a changing the world for the Lord, don’t give up. He is faithful and will show you!
“What are you going to do to change the world for God?” It has been almost six years now since I was first asked that question. I now help run a discipleship house for young adults where we disciple students through both formal teaching times and relationships.
This past week I needed to plant spring bulbs and invited a student to join me. We worked in the backyard for a few hours, sometimes talking deeply about challenges in our lives, other times just enjoying a laugh or companionable silence. I pushed another bulb into the ground and thought about how often the Lord plants little seeds in us that hibernate for a time before they germinate.
I looked over at my young friend raking the leaves. The Lord had planted so many things inside of her, things she was just beginning to see.
Perhaps soon the time will be right to ask her what she will do to change her world for the Lord.
Photography: JenniMarie Photography
I love this, Katie. Thank you for unraveling this for me. When I think of discipleship, what used to come to mind was rigid, formal instructional-type settings. But viewing discipleship as a journey never separated from relationship? Ah, yes, that was Jesus’ way.
“What if the gospel changed how I did the dishes as much as it affected where I would spend eternity?” <-- Plus, this line is gold.
Oh, Katie. This is beautiful. So, so good.
I am thankful for the time we did discipleship together, and for posts like this that spur me on. xoxox