Relationships—as we know—are messy affairs.
With the necessity of relationship in discipleship, messiness spills in.
Left on our own devices, we’re messes that need a celestial fix. Stopping the “self” from interfering with what God is doing is the most difficult thing in my discipleship journey.
When we get the wrong idea
At aged 22, I started the journey of Christian mentoring. Armed with a typical parachurch enthusiasm and conviction to see changed lives, I dived into the call to “make disciples.”
I remember the naivety of believing that it’s as simple as following a fixed material and getting mentees to do ministry together. Throw in a few mission trips and—voila! —you get “discipleship.”
My first mentee was an overseas student who needed care and support. I gave him spontaneous lessons on eschatology and left him on his own the rest of the week.
I didn’t think much about cross-cultural discipleship. Neither was I thinking about helping him feel at home as a foreigner . I was more concerned about Christian indoctrination.
No surprises here, he disappeared from the discipleship group after one year.
“ME” is the elephant in the room
Realising my folly, I gave “discipleship” another shot. I invited four wonderful gentlemen into a discipleship relationship.
That year was the first time I had to attend a mentee’s parent’s wake, with little understanding of grief and loss.
Seeing Alex* cry and having him thank me for coming made me think, hey, I think I’m getting ‘discipleship.’
(*not his real name)
And I aimed to be the “Uncle Agony” to everyone in the group, the confidante for all. I felt valued, appreciated, celebrated—but, of course, it’s all self-centred endeavors.
By God’s amazing grace and loving mentors' guidance, I was blind but now I finally see.
Followership and apprenticeship
A disciple (“ma-the-tes” in Greek) refers to a “follower” or an “apprentice.” In the context of Christianity, discipleship is the process of following Jesus and helping someone else follow Him, becoming like Him.
It is impossible to guide someone to follow Jesus when we secretly do not desire to do so. Lip service in apprenticeship of Christ is a glaring epidemic in an age of upward mobility.
Our discipleship journey sets the tone and paves the way ahead for the discipleship of others. It’s a journey we can’t fake, lived under the watchful eyes of those whom we mentor.
The more honest we can be with God and fellow sojourners in our own apprenticeship, the more wisdom we accrue for passing on.
Facing mental health in discipleship
In loving our flock, it’s impossible to hide from mental health issues.
The clarion call in parachurch discipleship has traditionally been strong towards outreach and missions. Yet, the increasing complexity of mental health matters catches Christian activism by its horns and calls us to re-examine discipleship fundamentals.
How does one disciple a community in the wake of suicide cases? How do you reach out to mentees who struggle with deep depression due to gender identity?
How do you face the demands of ministry needs while seeing disciples burning out? How does one mentor youths through manic episodes and help them face the arduous process of diagnosis, and recovery?
A former mentee battling depression had been unfortunately told off by well-meaning local church leaders that the only way out is through exorcism and confession of sins. After many rounds of it, it pushed him to despair and further away from community, eventually leading to his own departure.
When discipleship gets messy, we’re often tempted to find simplistic answers. It’s time to acknowledge that evangelistic fervour alone can never get the Church to shine.
No longer easily satisfied
In recent years on campus, we’re seeing three growing Christian movements: those who only want to be part of something that makes a real tangible impact; those who desire deep spiritual encounters with God and; those who hunger for solid education in Biblical literacy and Christian catechism.
The young generation used to be captivated by the opportunity to undertake faith exploits. Now, they deeply want to know that the Christ they worship is real and the Church is the real-deal—a place where their friends can also find a home in.
Mentoring the young requires greater tenacity, courage and wisdom from us as Christ disciples.
Tough as it seems, the call to disciple in Matthew 28:18-20 and 2 Timothy 2:2 remains unchanged.
When discipleship gets messy, it’s comforting to know that our Rabbi, our King and Saviour is in charge and knows His sheep well enough.
“1You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, 2 and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men,[a] who will be able to teach others also. 3 Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. 5 An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. 6 It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. 7 Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.
- 2 Timothy 2:1-7 (ESV) -
David ministered for 8 years as a campus staff worker in NUS, NTU and SMU. Currently serving in the Corporate Communications team, he carries a burden for youth discipleship. A father to two preemies, David's favourite office equipment is his trusty French press in the pantry.
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