I read an article this week about how missional communities are sure to fail. It was argued that this was because what sustains and guarantees the focus to reach out is not mission but discipleship. I would definitely agree with this and when I was in church leadership, I was positively boring on this subject! This was because I felt there was a subconscious assumption that once a person got baptised, they were saved from damnation and therefore in. They then needed very little input apart from the Sunday morning lecture to ensure they were being faithful in their Christian walk and fulfilling their obligation to share their faith with others. My criticism appeared justified when someone from a seeker and addict background got baptised in our church and two weeks later had attempted suicide. The church did not know how to respond and seemed embarrassed by the whole episode. But God told me in a dream that He wanted me to care for her and so began a three year journey of discipleship.
Despite my insistence that discipleship is crucial to mission, spiritual maturity and church growth, I did not have a clue where to start! I remember crying out to God and asking, “what do I do?” I felt He responded by saying, “show her how you live.” So I spent a good deal of time in those early days having my friend live with us, on and off, and just listening. I felt given her vulnerability we should just love and accept her wherever she was at. I realised early on that my agenda for what she needed to work on was not God’s. I really tried to keep from forcing an issue particularly if it was something that made me look like I was failing in teaching her to be a good Christian in the eyes of the church! I found it amazing how God would speak to her and then she would seek my advice, we would pray about it together and then work out a strategy to help her be obedient to what God had said. I really believe this is a vital ingredient to discipleship. Christians must be encouraged to be dependent on God for themselves. It is so easy for an unhealthy co-dependence to be created. For me the goal of discipleship is the same as that of a parent – to nurture the individual into being who they were created to be with strong kingdom values and healthy practices that will help sustain them on the spiritual journey for the long haul. Integral to achieving this, I believe, is getting the balance right between allowing freedom while also creating a place of safety. This balance should not be set in stone but needs to shift as we grow and learn and circumstances change.
It is not easy to walk with another no matter what and I have despaired at times when I have seen old patterns returning and really did wonder whether my hope of transformation and healing could ever be realised for her. There have been sacrifices too in terms of time, money and emotional energy but God has used this experience to bless, challenge and change me. I have received so much in terms of the mutual friendship that has developed and so often I am reminded how simple our relationship with God is and yet I let so much get in the way. How easy it is to appear to be doing right and living well, yet Jesus has become a stranger to us and we do without Him. How far am I guilty of the rebuke in Revelation 2 verse 2? “I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men…and have endured hardships for my name and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.” So my prayer this week is that Lord, I might always be motivated by my love for you and an overwhelming thankfulness for all you have done for me and all you are to me. Please God, never let me forget!