I homeschool my kids, and my oldest was recently learning how to use Venn diagrams to break down information and see how it relates to other things. I started thinking about how I would “Venn diagram” my life and what overlaps, what’s separate, and, maybe, what should be overlapping that currently isn’t.
When we think about discipling in the Christian life, we are often tempted to put it into its own little bubble. We think, “Over here, on the fringes of life, when I have time, I’ll disciple someone.” Or perhaps, “When I’m more experienced in my Christian life, I’ll mentor someone.”
What we do in the home with our children and spouse should be levels of discipling. Interactions with friends from church should naturally lead to discipling opportunities, with husband and wife, discipling and being discipled by others in our local churches.
Discipleship shouldn’t be separate from our regular life. Discipleship should intersect and overlap with everything we do. The best way for this to work is to have strong relationships with people that naturally flow into discipling one another.
One lie about discipling people is that it has to be formal, and there needs to be someone who approaches you for the reason of being discipled. The truth is that discipleship can happen without completely realizing it! When we are discipling others either informally or in a more formal setting, we point people to Christ.
Think of Apollos in Acts 18. He didn’t realize he needed to be discipled in the truth. But Aquila and Priscilla took him in, taught him the doctrine he misunderstood, and Apollos went out, spreading the truth. We don’t see in these verses that Apollos asked to be taught, but when approached, he was a willing and faithful student and disciple (vv. 24-28).
Keep in mind that before we can adequately disciple others, we must be disciples of Jesus ourselves and growing in our personal relationship with him. Then, as we learn and mature, we can pour into those around us. I love Paul’s reminder to the Ephesians on this: “I, therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3). Paul was not instructing a select few Christians in Ephesus to walk after Christ. All Christians are called to do these things and to help others follow them also.
The first thing that comes to my mind as a homeschool mom is my children. I’m with my three kids all day; they are in my life more than they are with anyone else. While it is a privilege to have children, it is also a huge responsibility to train them to follow God. Even if you don’t homeschool, your influence and guidance in your children’s lives should be greater than anything else. In Deuteronomy, we read the last words of Moses before the Israelites go into the Promised Land. In Deut. 6:7, he charges parents to teach the Lord’s commands diligently to their children, reminding them of everything the Lord has done for His people. But he doesn’t prescribe a certain formula for sharing these teachings. Rather, he encompasses daily life. “You shall teach them [God’s laws] diligently to your children and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” As you go through life, teach your children to love the Lord.
You might not think of raising children as a discipling opportunity, but it is the greatest discipling you can do! According to the dictionary, the verb form of ‘disciple’ means to teach or train. And isn’t that what Deut. 6:7 is telling us to do with our children?! In whatever we do in life, we are to be teaching our children about God and training them to walk in His ways.
If you are married to a Christian spouse, discipling can take place in this relationship also. When you lead in a godly way, submit in humility, gently rebuke sin, you are discipling your spouse to strengthen their walk with God. As you read the Bible and share what you are learning, you are encouraging your spouse to do the same.
If you don’t have children or are an empty nester, you don’t get off free! Grandchildren, nieces, nephews, siblings, you can encourage anyone in your family to follow Christ and grow in their relationship with Him. Consider writing a note with things you learned about God in the last few years and asking the recipient to do the same and send it to you. When a family member calls to complain, you can point them to Bible verses that remind us of how God cares for us. Pointing people to God and His Word are crucial parts of discipleship; it’s not our wisdom or thoughts that change people; it’s God.
Church is probably the place we think of the most when we think about discipling others. We form relationships through Bible studies, Sunday School classes, fellowship times, and service opportunities. I’ve learned from so many women in our church, not only through formal teaching but by observing how they live and act and speak around others.
The passage that immediately comes to mind here is Titus 2:1-8. This specifically breaks everything into ‘younger’ and ‘older’ but not because young people have nothing to teach. Rather, the implication is that those who are older have experience following the virtues the younger are supposed to learn and are therefore are to model in their own lives by example.
If you are in the younger category, don’t settle in and wait to become old! You are still able to disciple others. When my husband was a youth pastor, I would routinely remind the high school girls that any girl younger than them was looking up to them and watching their attitudes, actions, and lives. This is a true yet sobering reminder. Discipling often begins before we realize it. You don’t need to wait until a woman is married with children to teach her how to love and care for her family. It begins much earlier by talking about selfless love, encouraging patience, and practicing kindness.
One thing to keep in mind is that there is a danger when we relegate ourselves to only coming under the influence of those similar to us. While there’s nothing wrong with asking a fellow mom for advice, we should be careful not to ignore the input of a grandma simply because we don’t think she has anything to contribute. Also, remember that the ‘older teaching the younger’ isn’t just about physical age. Even if you are the oldest member of your church, you can still learn from others.
Of course, these are probably not the only relationships you have, but hopefully, these will help you start thinking. We all have spheres of influence where people look to us or are more experienced in biblical knowledge than others. We must see these relationships as opportunities to encourage and help grow others in their walk with God. Discipling isn’t something extra we put on the calendar when we have time. Discipling is living with those around us and continually seeking to point them to Christ.