The Seasonal Nature of Discipling
Ecclesiastes 3:1 says, “There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the sun.” The longer I live life, the more I find this to be true.
This made me think about the concept of “discipling” and how often in my spiritual context and culture, discipling is looked at as a linear need and practice. For instance, we will hear things like, “Who is discipling you?” or “Who is discipling that person?”
Now, I agree that discipling is good and biblical, and that we ought to practice “one another” relationships throughout our entire Christian walk. (Just search “one another” in the New Testament in any concordance and you will see what I’m talking about.)
However, it is possible to feel the need to be discipled when it might be time to become the discipler.
The problem with this is that it does not reflect the nature of training and “one another” relationships in the New Testament. Jesus, Paul, and other disciplers in the New Testament taught and trained others for a season and for a specific purpose. Then once that purpose was achieved, they released them into maturity and ministry.
This of course does not mean they never learned, grew, or matured in any way after that; it simply means their “discipling” was for a season, and for a reason.
“Biblical discipling is for a season and for a reason.”
Ironically when we teach Christians to have an expectation that someone should be constantly teaching and training them throughout the course of their Christian life, we can be subtly instilling patterns of immaturity and unhealthy spiritual dependence.
The problem isn’t the general concept of continual growth (c.f. 2 Peter 1), but rather a lack of being able to train one’s self. For example, consider the words of Hebrews 5:12:
“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food.”
Spiritual immaturity comes in the form of being perpetually dependent on someone else, as well as completely independent of others’ help. The goal is interdependence (c.f. Hebrews 5; notice the writer’s emphasis on training one’s self).
A picture that is helpful here is an adult still needing to be spoon fed by someone else in order to survive. We immediately recognize if this is the case, there is some great deficiency in the person, and that he cannot be considered healthy.
I also think the dandelion is helpful at this point. I love the illustration of the dandelion which sprouts its seed and it clings to the bud of the flower in bloom. Then, when it is mature, it is released to reproduce itself. (For a great book on this concept, see Real Life Discipleship).
“Spiritual immaturity is marked by the inability to train one’s self.”
If you have been a Christian for a while, ask yourself these questions:
- Are you still dependent in an unhealthy way on others for the basic survival of your faith and Christian living?
- Are you unable to consistently practice godliness and walk with Him faithfully without someone having to constantly “check in on you”?
- If your answers are yes, think about what it is that you need in order to move forward to maturity.
If you have been a Christian for a while and you find yourself at a place of spiritual maturity, then ask yourself this question: “Are you discipling anyone?”
If not, why not?
If so, what does that look like? Do you have a plan to train them for a season and for a specific purpose, then release them to go and do likewise? Or do you find that you have them stuck on your “spiritual umbilical cord”?
How can you come up with a plan to help the person grow to Christian maturity?
A good place to start is to clearly define for yourself what is Christian maturity and what it looks like. (Again, Real Life Discipleship is helpful here.)
Please don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that we should not seek out relationships in which we are discipled. What I am saying is that the training and teaching we need should be seasonal and for a specific and intentional reason (for instance, like when we are new in the faith learning and practicing the foundational teachings of Christ), not just so we can feel more “secure” in our spirituality.
Our Christian lives are varied, full of ups and downs, and we should strive to reach a point where we are able to feed ourselves with “solid food.”
(For more from Jon, visit jonsherwood.com. Used with permission.)