the weblog of Alan Knox

Discipleship takes time…

Posted by on Jun 11, 2007 in blog links, discipleship | 6 comments

Mary, at “One Thing is Needed“, has written a post called “Hit and Run Christianity“. In this post, she discusses the practice among some believers of doing short term projects. She recalls a conversation with a Native American pastor on a reservation that had just received assistance through a 1 week missions project:

During the week the pastor invited my husband to tour the reservation with him. They began talking about the various outreach teams that the reservation had already hosted. The pastor was thankful but lamented the lack of relationship that was built with the visiting church teams. He said that the reservation was used to teams that came down, built something, dropped off some clothes or food, and then left thinking that they’d served the people and made a lasting difference in their lives. He said that what the people really wanted and needed was believers who would come and play with the kids, spend time with the people, eat with them, and then come back again and again. What they really wanted was relationship. Instead what they got was a bunch of blitz building projects and a storeroom full of food and clothes from well-intentioned people but with no continuing relationships. The church groups came, and then they went.

The believers chalked up their 1 week missions project as a good deed done, and went on about their business. Meanwhile, the hurting, poor, immature believers on the reservation desired and needed long-term, mature relationships.

This Native American pastor knew something about discipleship that the church groups did not know: discipleship takes time. People cannot be discipled in a 1 week intensive, and people cannot be discipled in an 8 week class. Discipleship takes a lifetime commitment, and a “living life” commitment. Discipleship takes place as two people walk together through their lives, as we learn from another person’s words as well as their actions, attitudes, and priorities, which we recognize as they live their life. (I’ve discussed this previously in a post called “Discipleship in 8 weeks…” and in a series that begins with a post called “Disciple making 1: The command…“)

As we consider making disciples, we should not ask ourselves who we occasionally interact with or teach. Instead, we should recognize that we make disciples only with those with whom we share our lives consistently. As my family has considered how to better serve our community, we have looked into several opportunities. Primarily, though, we recognize that we will not truly serve disciples by dropping in on them every month or so, or even once per week for a few weeks. (Note: I am not suggesting that we should not interact with and exhort towards maturity those who we only see occasionally. I am only suggesting that this is not the same as discipleship.)

So, we are being careful, listening to God’s prompting, as we determine how God wants us to serve those around us. We are already in several discipling relationships, but we are waiting to see if God would have us share our lives with others – particulars with people who may be different from us. Some friends of ours have been good examples to us in this by getting involved in the lives of some people are are very different from them and by remaining consistent in this. This is our desire as well.

So, if discipleship takes time and if it requires sharing your life with other people, are you discipling someone?


6 Comments

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  1. 6-12-2007

    I agree 100%, but I would add that this does not mean that we should cast aside the 1 week missions trip as vanity. Often, it may be God’s call on the individual going to disciple them as much as anyone. I don’t think many think of those 1 week mission trips as times where the ones going are going to make disciples. instead, it is a taste of what going means, often a taste that will stay with them to go again (often to that same place and resume building relationship) or to go longer term.

    The reason why that one example (of thousands of examples) may be one of lament is more likely the fault of those who organize the trips rather than those going along. Whoever coordinates with the tribe should ensure that relationships are built and not have a haphazard way of, in effect, giving people a meaningful vacation.

    Just as that one tribal leader lamented, many others around the world could give good testimonies of people being saved, lives being changed, and new relationships being started, both with and through those who have come short term and amongst their own people because of such short term trips.

    (Ok, having said that 1 week probably is too short and all too often people from America aren’t willing to give up 2-3 weeks of vacation time to do it or longer by taking a LOA or simply quitting their jobs.)

  2. 6-12-2007

    “…we make disciples only with those with whom we share our lives consistently…” This has been our experience in our own ministry here. Discipleship is that continuous relationship with those we have won to the Lord. Much like Jesus and the Twelve spending three years together. Discipleship can take place within the context of a local body of believers, and is not necesarily exclusively one-on-one mentoring. The key is spending time with the new disciples in its various forms.

  3. 6-12-2007

    I agree with what’s been said, both in the post and comments so far, and I’d like to add that serving someone, or doing something for them, even something as simple as “giving a cup of water” to them, doesn’t necessarily mean that discipleship is taking place or needs to take place. I do indeed hope that relationships and discipleship are part of everyone’s lives, but even as I look at Jesus’ life while in the flesh, I don’t see Him discipling everyone He came into contact with. I see many instances where it seems that He did what He did, and then moved on.

  4. 6-12-2007

    I agree that everything that we do does not have to be part of a discipleship relationship. This is why I said, “I am not suggesting that we should not interact with and exhort towards maturity those who we only see occasionally. I am only suggesting that this is not the same as discipleship.”

    This post was not meant to disparage short term or intermittent work – although I can see looking back how it might seem that way. Instead, I intended to point out that these brief encounters with other people is not the same as discipleship. So, while Jesus did interact with those he met on the road, he also discipled others by living life with them. We should do the same.

    -Alan

  5. 6-16-2007

    Alan,

    You have hit on something here that I think about a lot. The Great Commission is all about making disciples. We have many in the States (and other places as well) who are more and more open and interested in doing short-term missions trips. I applaud this openness and interest. But, when all is done and said, we need to carefully evaluate to what degree all the resources and time invested are really contributing to the making of disciples.

    I wish there were some better ways to take all this goodwill and generosity and transform it into actual strategic usefulness for Great Commission Kingdom advance. And I am sure there are.

    I think coming up with creative solutions to this dilemma is among the most important items in world missions today.

  6. 6-16-2007

    David,

    Thanks for the comment. I also wish we saw more energy and resourcefulness going into discipleship. I know more and more people actually attempting to make disciples, so perhaps change is starting.

    -Alan