I remember being taught about discipleship in the church during college. I was told “You should always have a Paul in your life, you should always have a Timothy, and you should always have peers alongside of you.”
The intent was good. It was building on Paul’s charge to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:2 “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”
The idea sounds great. You always have someone investing in you, you are always investing in someone else and the process repeats. But what happens when there’s not a Paul in your life? Do you wait for one to come around or do you keep investing in the Timothys of the world while you wait?
Over the last few weeks I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this in regards to creating a discipleship culture in a community of Christ-followers. If it’s the mission of the church to develop disciples of Christ, it’s essential we understand the nature of discipleship.
Timothy Didn’t Always Have Paul
Timothy was discipled by Paul and then commissioned to develop elders and create a discipleship culture. But Paul wasn’t always in close proximity to Timothy.
Timothy had letters from Paul, he didn’t even have Skype-Coaching Paul. He was invested in for a time, but then it was his turn. That can be scary so Paul’s letters are incredibly encouraging to him to live out his calling with confidence in God’s work in him through the gospel.
Timothy had Paul as a loving consultant reminding him of his calling and guiding him toward right action, but he wasn’t present consistently investing in Timothy on a weekly basis going through Grudem’s Systematic Theology and asking about his sin. There were surely men that challenged him, held him accountable, but he did not always have a Paul present.
The Need to Be Discipled
This does not neglect the reality that we need to be discipled and discipling. We need more men and women who are pursuing Christ and investing their doctrine and their lives into other men and women.
But our discipleship begins at conversion in being discipled through the scriptures. If we make it our aim to be intimate in knowledge with the God of the bible, we are already being discipled by God. The example of Paul’s own discipleship from Barnabas or Apollos discipleship from Priscilla and Aquila was of men giving themselves to the knowledge of and mission of God. Then they were invited into relationships to gain a more accurate representation of Christ to the world.
This type of discipleship is Jesus’ method of discipleship. Reaching the many by spending time with the few and letting the few replicate the process. We have the great opportunity of recapturing Jesus’ vision for ministry through discipleship instead of programs. It will take longer to implement starting with a few, but it will always get better results than mass discipleship.
The Danger of Always Wanting Paul
But we must always be careful to guard ourselves from demanding a Paul in our lives. There will be a time when discipleship happens if we pursue the Lord, but after we have had that period of discipleship under a Paul-type figure, there is danger in looking for the next Paul in our lives.
This danger will lead you to bitterness toward those you place expectations on to be the Paul in your life. This type of self-righteousness declares that people don’t understand their responsibility to invest in people (me) and is always looking for someone else to teach them how to live.
All of us must eventually become big kids and stop being little kids waiting for the big brother to show us the way. This is what God has been impressing upon me. There comes a time when you’ve been invested in and sent, when it’s your turn to be the big kid, figure out some of your life challenges on your own and stop demanding that there be a Paul to show you the way.
We have to step away from discipleship myths that sound wise, but are foolish in application. We must look to Christ as our primary discipler through the work of the Holy Spirit in the scriptures, then trust that God has brought a community of Christ followers to teach us, whether young in their faith or seasoned.
We don’t move on from being learners, but eventually we must step into the discipler role. Jesus promises to always be with His disciples, but that doesn’t stop Him from sending them to be His disciplers of all peoples.
Let’s become a community of Christ followers who understand a disciple is also a disciple-maker.