My husband and I have a belief that everyone should have people "up, across and down" in your life. What does this mean? You should have someone older or further along in their Christian journey pouring into you. You should have someone at the same stage as you (a peer) who you're doing life with. And you should have someone younger who you're pouring in to and discipling. This blog is a window into a few things I have learned about the later on the side of discipler. Stay tuned for the "Other Side of Lessons in Discipleship" that is part 2 of this blog that'll be written and posted later this week from the perspective of the discipled.
In 1999ish I began discipling a young woman who was in High School. She was new to the Lord and went through the usual grieving of giving up unhealthy relationships and breaking patterns. Even when she was in her mess, I knew she was a born leader. Tenacious. Fierce. A warrior who knew how to battle even before she realized it. I was in law school and working full time, but every moment I got, I spent pouring my life into this young girl. She and her sister were in the youth group I helped facilitate in an urban community on Chicago's North side. We spent countless hours talking over meals, going to concerts, events, and having sleep overs at my condo. She became like a daughter to me.
Now years later we have a bond and friendship that is truly only built over time. Those who know and have watched Stephanie and I, know we have something some people go an entire lifetime and never experience. We were joking around recently that we should write a book together about discipleship because what we see taking place in churches pales to what we have lived together and experienced. Yet, it's difficult to put into words how we got to where we are today. Even though we are now miles away, we talk every day.
This is my meager attempt to try and capture just 5 things I've learned through discipling Stephanie, who is now my closest woman confidant and is discipling me. We have gone full circle.
1. Discipleship takes intentional effort, consistency, investment, and commitment
Stephanie and I are both intense. There were times in our relationship when she was going through a battle that was reoccurring for over a decade and took constant commitment. It often meant being available to answer the phone at two in the morning and listening, yet again, to her sometimes unrecognizable screams and cries of frustration and loneliness. I invested hours and hours and years and years of listening. I spoke life into dead situations, shared every wisdom I had in me, and filled her with the truth of the word of God. I invested time, money, and tears being there for her. I could've easily declined countless calls because I was tired or busy with law school. But I intentionally and sacrificially prioritized her in my life. She came to my house, met my family, came to holiday events and celebrations. She became part of my family and felt included and valued. I was committed to seeing her succeed and succeed she has! I have personally witnessed her graduate high school, college, school of ministry, Chicago Master's Commission, get married to her soul mate and is now pregnant with her first baby. AHHH. I'm gonna be a grandma! And to think...there is so much more I get to witness because of our consistent investment into each other.
As the discipler, I wasn't the only one who invested in our relationship. She chose to allow someone into her life and to be discipled. Stephanie was just as invested and committed in our "discipleship relationship". In order for discipleship to work, you have to want to be discipled. I hate to say this, but discipleship entails so much more than merely running short term church small groups. It's being present even when you have no reason to, it's texting that person and not letting them fall off the radar and noticing they aren't around, its investing yourself into the life of someone else for the long hall.
2. Discipleship takes vulnerability and honesty
One of the things Stephanie told me recently was how she learned from me, not just in all of our talks and deposits of wisdom, but some of the most valuable lessons she learned were by watching me fail and how I responded. I've never been a leader who towers over people I minister to or lead, like I am "better than" them. I was vulnerable with Stephanie and shared things I also had to overcome. This honesty and vulnerability helped speak life and give hope to her. She was able to see the other side of where she was heading if she stayed grounded in following through on the hard things. I was honest about my past and current struggles and how God was faithful to bring me out of compromising positions when I was obedient. With time, I allowed Stephanie inside to see the good, the bad, and the ugly. In fact, when she was still in High School or early college years she witnessed a time in my life where I fell into sin. I could've easily buried that brief period, but she saw me go through the healing process and learned so much about not staying down when you fall. She learned how to war because I was vulnerable and honest with her. So one of the greatest things I've learned about discipleship is to be real, genuine, vulnerable, and honest. It'll connect you to the person you're discipling and create a space of learning. No, you can't have this level of intimacy and vulnerability with everyone. You need to use discernment and wisdom in who to pour yourself in to. Jesus didn't share His deepest intimacies with everyone. He had a public and private life. He chose 12 people to replicate Himself and allow in His inner circle. Jesus' inner circle saw Him at weak moments (in the garden of Gethsemane) and strong moments (when walking on water). His disciples would need all these encounters for what they'd experience after Jesus' death and resurrection.
3. Discipleship takes courage and boldness
Wow! There were many tough conversations I had with Stephanie through the years. It took boldness and courage to have those conversations to help guide and direct her to paths of righteousness. I didn't tell her what she wanted to hear. I told her the truth, in love. Never to condemn or put her down, but always to empower and lift her up. And when she fell, I loved her through it and even cried with her. I was a bold voice of reason and truth in her life.
If you don't know how to confront people with a genuine spirit of love and compassion, it'll be difficult for anyone to want to be discipled by you. Discipline and rebuke never feels good when you're going through it, but on the other side, there's such victory and a deeper level of intimacy. Look at how Jesus dealt with one of His disciples, Peter in Matthew 16:23 and Mark 8:33 when He said: "get behind me Satan." Sounds like a strong rebuke, but Peter needed that level of intensity because he was stubborn, prideful, and intense...yet, teachable! Peter was in a place of being taught and rebuked by Jesus because going back to point 1, Jesus took time to invest in to the relationship. Peter walked with Jesus. He talked with Jesus. He spent time with Jesus. Jesus had access to Peter's life, and Peter had access to Jesus' life. So those bold conversations were a natural extension of the investment and commitment they both made.
4. I've grown just as much, if not more, than the person I'm discipling
There's a saying that you learn so much from your kids, even though you're there to teach them. The same is true in discipleship if you have a heart to learn and not always be the one teaching. Discipling Stephanie has taught me so much about myself, about relationships, about commitment, about friendship enduring through seasons, and so much more. It's truly a book! She's taught me how to love. She's taught me how to war. She's taught me how to travail and weep. She's taught me how to not quit. She's taught me how to pour out wisdom. She's taught me how to walk in my gift of healing and deliverance...she's always the one I would call when a woman at the Dream Center needed deliverance. I could go on and on about how I grew in the process of our "discipleship relationship". I am so blessed to have shared a season of discipling Stephanie and now be on the receiving end of being discipled by her, which brings me to the last lesson I will share that I learned.
5. If you remain steadfast and consistent, the relationship develops over time from discipleship to friendship and armor bearer
When my relationship was formed with Stephanie in the late 1990's she was younger and new to the faith. I was an older woman pouring into her. There were boundaries in the relationship because I was more like a mentor than a friend. I didn't go to her about problems and ask for advice. I may have shared my past or current struggles as a point of connecting, but there were boundaries. As she got older there was a marked shift in our relationship. I'll never forget the day when I was introducing her to someone with my usual statement of: "this is Stephanie who is one of my youth in my youth group." With her now being 20 something, she said: "Kaitrin, when am I not going to be the girl in your youth group?" I realized we were going through a transition. I remember slowly beginning to confide in her about problems or seeking advice. We gradually shifted from me discipling her, to us sharpening each other. I'm so glad we both recognized the need for transition and allowed it. There was a point in her life where I was the voice of wisdom. However, as she matured she became a voice of wisdom far exceeding the wisdom I was pouring into her. Isn't that what we want for our children or apprentices? To do greater things than we do after we pour ourselves into them? There's something so amazing and joyful about seeing them sour in their God given gifts and the fullness of all they were created to be. Stephanie went from being a mentee, to a friend and also an armor bearer. She knows me better than any other woman. She can read me and knows what I need sometimes even before I need it. She is always looking out for me and is connected to my life in a supernatural way. Our lives have become so interwoven that we now tend to go through things at the same time or one right after the other, which makes it great because we have each other's experience and strength to pull from.
I'm so grateful we both intentionally invested into years and hours of building the relationship we have. It's my prayer that everyone gets to experience the joys of discipling someone and investing all you have in to someone else. Your life and theirs will be richer for it.
Again, make sure to check back later this week to read her lessons in discipleship from the perspective of being discipled.
Some memories with Stephanie through the years of milestones and every day life: