Worldwide Challenge® writer Jess Fong asked Cru staff members Jennifer Hu and Gary Padgett for their advice on discipleship, a commonly used term yet vaguely understood subject.
WWC: What is discipleship?
Jennifer: It’s walking alongside someone; challenging them to study and live out the Bible in their life, and to influence others with the gospel.
Gary: Discipleship is meeting people where they are. It’s [an invitation to] someone who relishes carrying the cross: suffering, sacrifice, service, submission. It’s the highest calling, being a disciple of Jesus.
WWC: Where can I find someone to disciple?
Jennifer: I think a good place would be your church. Talk to the pastor and find out if there is a need. If you are a mom with older kids, maybe connect with a mom with young kids. If you are a young adult, maybe you can disciple someone in the youth group. If you are near a campus, connect with the local Cru staff members and ask if you can help.
WWC: How do you ask someone to begin a discipleship relationship?
Jennifer: I always like to ask the question, “How would you define discipleship?” Some people think it’s just counseling. Some women think, I just want to talk about the boy I have a crush on. I explain the Great Commission in regard to discipleship [Matthew 28:18-20] and 2 Timothy 2:2, about entrusting the ministry to reliable men. Then I say, “I’ve had people pour into me in a discipleship relationship and found it really beneficial. Would you be interested?”
Gary: I say, “We need to have a good understanding of who Christ is and how He wants us to associate with Him and one another, both the church and the unchurched. We’re going to do a Bible study, and get out and talk to others.”
WWC: How do you pick a disciple?
Jennifer: The acronym we use is F.A.T.: Are they faithful, available and teachable? If you are going to be investing time in this person, you want to make sure they are going to show up to the appointment. When you have conversations about what the Bible says, you want to know they will strive to walk in obedience.
Gary: I also say “T” is “telling others.” Even if they are scared [about doing evangelism], or don’t want to, they have a heart for people or want to have a heart for people.
WWC: Should you disciple members of the opposite sex?
Jennifer: No. Discipleship is too intimate, and you get into each other’s business too much.
WWC: What is your commitment to your disciples?
Jennifer: My expectation is you wouldn’t take this information and keep it to yourself, but you would be pouring into other people’s lives.
I sign a covenant with my disciples, which includes [these words]: “I commit to meet at our agreed-upon time. I commit to come prepared and offer you three things in our relationship: grace, truth and time. Grace: I accept you. You don’t have to perform, you have the freedom to fail, and you can be honest with me. Truth: I love you for who you are and too much to let you stay that way. I’m committed to the Bible and will use it. Time: Growth takes time, we are both in process, and neither of us has arrived. I agree to keep things confidential that we have discussed together.”
Gary: I tell them what they are getting into. Like their classes or their guns, we’re not just going to talk and look at pictures. We’re going to do it.
WWC: What would you say to someone who doesn’t think they need discipleship?
Jennifer: We need to be sharpened and poured into by other people. As you read the Bible, [you see that] people were in community together. We all have our blind spots. We are all susceptible to temptations. I’ve been walking with Jesus for a long time, and I need people to refine me. I need people to tell me how I affect them. I need to know when I’m not being fully humble and when I’m not being completely loving.
WWC: What should a discipler never do?
Jennifer: Do not act shocked. When the person is sharing something they are tempted in or did, they’ve just poured out their heart to you. Help them understand God’s best and extend a lot of grace with truth.
Gary: I never tell them [walking with God] is easy. The battle of the heart is the ongoing thing we live with. And maturity just takes time, and is sometimes a painful lesson. Following Jesus is the hardest thing you’ll ever do, and the most rewarding.
WWC: Should there be a life span to discipleship? How should we stop?
Jennifer: Set up a short time initially, maybe three months, and a time you can re-evalute, even just to make sure if the other person is appreciating it. Be a good steward of your resources and time.
Gary: I have no problem saying, “You graduated, and it’s time to move on, and you and I can continue to encourage each other, but we don’t need to be a group forever.”
WWC: How can one be a good discipler?
Jennifer: We have to be teachable. We have to be willing to ask for help. If most of us are honest, the first time we do this, we don’t know what we’re doing. Be available to be used by God.
Gary: It’s the same as being a good disciple. I suffer with pride. It’s hard to follow Jesus, so to humble myself makes me a better disciple.