Spring is all about planting seeds. Even though most of us don’t live in farming communities, many of us still plant seeds in the spring. We plan ahead, envisioning what we want summer to look like, and taking steps to make that a reality. Yet it’s not really us who brings about that reality, is it? We can plan and plant, water and weed, but the seed needs to sprout and grow according to what God has placed within it. The same is true of healthy discipleship.
When is comes to discipleship, too often we try to force it. As senior leaders, frustrated with lack of apparent fruit, we are sometimes guilty of trying to force discipleship. Then when it doesn’t work anyway, we become all the more embittered. What if we stopped trying to force discipleship, but rather took steps to cultivate the ground for it and release the results to God.
Are you forcing discipleship when you can instead create the conditions for it to flourish?
Let’s break it down as clearly as we can. Healthy Discipleship occurs when we do our part and make room for God to do what only he can do. Our part: preparing the ground, planting the seed, watering it. God’s part: creating the seed in the first place, placing within it the potential for sprouting, causing it to sprout–or not, causing it to grow as it soaks up the available water and nutrients, causing it to bear fruit.
4 Outcomes of Healthy Discipleship
1. Healthy Foundations
Ask any gardener for their key to a successful crop and they will say, “First, care for the soil.” Soil is foundational for healthy growth but what does that look like for people who are trying to grow as a disciple of Christ? Following the example Christ set for us, healthy discipleship cultivates a foundation of love and service.
As leaders you can provide resources and demonstrations but the real work has to be done by the individual. And they will do it in their own time. As their understanding of the depth and breadth of the love of Christ grows, they will start experimenting with ways to demonstrate that love to others in service to those around them. The eventual outcome is growth through the relationships they nurture as they go.
2. Seasonal Growth Patterns
Different crops thrive in different seasons. If you plant lettuce in the heat of summer any growth you get will be weak and will wilt. Likewise, people cannot be forced to grow on your schedule. Encouraging them to do so can actually be harmful to their spiritual growth. Instead, healthy discipleship raises up people who learn how to discern and obey the prompting of the Holy Spirit—for themselves and for others.
It is the job of church leadership to discern direction for the body. But the truth is that not everyone in your congregation will be ready to go there. You can provide instruction in the person and work of the Holy Spirit, listening prayer sessions, and prayer for individuals. But the growth oriented leader does not practice authoritarian leadership but instead empowers people to listen and obey the voice of the Holy Spirit. In this way, you nurture a church body who is aware of the Holy Spirit and looking for where God is at work in themselves and the community and eager to join in that work.
3. Visible and Beautiful Growth
Drive by an abandoned lot and you will see growth but chances are it’s not pretty. If you have been listening to culture at all you have heard stories of evangelism that has hardened hearts to the church instead of softening hearts toward God. Does this mean we should not be evangelistic? To shut down evangelism would be in disobedience to the Great Commission. But we do need to learn from past mistakes and change the manner with which we evangelize. Healthy discipleship invests in the health and spiritual wellness of others.
As leaders, you can be intentional about caring for people of all walks of life, you can work to grow compassion for hurt that you may not understand, you can demonstrate timely rejoicing and mourning (Romans 12:15). When people are in tune with the Holy Spirit and able to discern God at work in others they can confidently plant the right seeds at the right time.
4. Nurturing Community
Gardeners love to be amongst their seedlings. They visit their growing harvest daily, check on the soil, cover them if the elements get harsh, and marvel aloud at signs of growth. They wait, watch and water. Healthy discipleship does not force matters but continues in relationship, engaging in ongoing spiritual conversation as needed.
As leaders, you can grow in your own pastoral skills including active listening. Spend time getting to know the people you are leading and the people you are trying to reach. The people you invest in will pick up what you model and nurture the people within their own sphere of influence in kind. Healthy discipleship is doing our part and recognizing when God is doing and joining in that work.
Every person is different and we all reflect God in different ways. So why is our typical approach to discipleship the same across the board? The Discipleship Difference lays out an intentional, holistic, and relational approach to discipleship that is individualized to meet each person wherever they are.
Guide for Discipling covers the 8 areas that Jesus helped his own disciples to grow. There is room to choose the area that you feel God is asking you to lean into and offers you guidance in to help you determine your next steps toward Jesus. To learn more about the 8 areas of discipleship download the free Map of Discipleship.
Help others through Christian Coaching
Coaching is an effective tool for healthy discipleship. By learning the basics you can come alongside people and help them identify key areas for growth, implement spiritual practices, discover their gifts and talents, and lean into the calling God has on their life. Christian Coaching Tools has 2 ways you can quickly learn the fundamentals
- Christian Coaching Essentials– this brand new book includes bonus materials to help you put what you learn into practice!
- The Christian Coaching Essentials Cohort- if you learn best an interactive learning environment this is for you. Learn more at christiancoachingtools.com.
Photo by Daniel Öberg on Unsplash