One of my focuses this year has been Christian discipleship. It was something I became a bit more familiar with towards the final years of university; and it’s funny thinking back to when I was in first and second year, where the idea of sitting down with one person and having deep conversations about life, God and the Bible seemed very uncomfortable. In third and fourth year, I started to see the value and importance of building those sorts of “intimate” relationships with Christians and non-Christians and the way it impacts our growth as Christians, and those investigating Christianity. This year I have tried to embrace it as much as I could, as part of the way I would undergo ministry in the long run; there were still so many things to experiment with in making one to one discipleship more effective. And then of course there was also a need to see how I might be able to fit one to one discipleship into my full time work routine (I’d like to order the words the other way, and have work revolve around ministry, but time-wise it still seems apparent that I spend more time doing full-time work than ministry).
The more I met up with people on university campus over the years and the more I read the Bible and learnt about God, the clearer the goal of discipleship was to me. One to one discipleship is for the purpose of proclaiming the Scriptures to one another to learn how to live and grow as Christians, in a one to one setting. Of course, most of us should hopefully understand that the purpose of any “Christian activity” is centred around the Word of God so that people can learn about God and what it means to follow Him. The simple difference of one to one discipleship from other activities like church service and Bible study groups is the “one to one” setting. Having led various Bible study groups for various age groups over the years, one of the benefits I found in one to one discipleship was that I could get to know someone on a deeper level and encourage them with the Bible on a more personal level than I could do when administering to a group of people at the same time. By removing the barriers to sharing personal information in a group setting, it was much easier to address the deeper concerns that linger in our hearts in a one to one setting, thereby making it easier for the Bible to really convict the parts of our heart which we try to hide from one another and from God.
The other urgent desire I had for discipleship was the need to help other Christians grow and become mature in their faith. It caused me much shock over my university years and even this year, to see people who proclaimed themselves to be Christian but didn’t actually know what it meant to be Christian. Even worse, there were those who were placed in leadership positions (for whatever church or organisation they were a part of) who seemed severely lacking in their understanding of the doctrine of the Bible. Just as an example, it brought me “grave fear” to see that the person in charge of evangelism of a large Christian event confessed to not know what the gospel was and how to teach it to non-Christians. The real problem isn’t the leader who has bad doctrine; it is the many people who will come into contact with this leader, who will then receive this bad doctrine from them – almost like the spreading of a plague or a virus. A misalignment of the gospel brings about death, not life; and so therein lies the need to properly train Christians with the Bible so that they can understand it correctly, and teach it to other people correctly. And whilst discipleships seems to be a slow process that doesn’t really reach out to many people, I personally would much rather a few Christians who were solid in their faith and could teach others the Bible, than a room full of shallow Christians who didn’t understand what they believed in and wouldn’t be able to teach the truth to anyone.
On a daily practical level, I aimed for the goals described the above through reading different parts of the Bible with people to add to our theological thinking and then often times would look at situation we were currently experiencing in our lives (whether it be university exams, work, friends, things on the news) and thinking through how we could apply that theological thinking from the Bible into those situations. In essence, it was never a scripted plan on what we would go through when we met up because it was training for us to realise that we are always called to be ready to live out our lives with the theological thinking we get from the Bible in any unpredictable or unexpected situation we come across.
One to One Dynamics
It should come to no surprise, then, that the dynamics in a one to one setting vary dramatically to that of a group setting. A much higher level of trust is required because meeting up one to one is much more personal than meeting up in a group – you can “fade” away into the background or “zone” out when in a group, but this is not easy to achieve when you’re only engaged in a conversation with only one person. I suppose to qualify the difference in level of trust required for a one-to-one/group setting a bit more; it would be extremely difficult to have the same deep level of trust with every single person in a group all at the same time. The chance that you’ll say or do something wrong to at least one person in the group is so high that it would seem impractical trying to represent yourself on a deep level to multiple people at the same time. Therefore, we don’t open ourselves on that intimate level in a group level and it would be much more practical and appropriate to do so in a one to one setting. Going on a quick tangent though, perhaps one of the ways to be really open with a group of people (as you would one to one) is to build up those one to one relationships first and then “join” them together, like links in a chain. It would not be practical to try and build those levels of relationships by first starting off with a group.
Anyhow, coming back to the topic, trust was something I had to learn to build with the people I wanted to encourage and help grow more in a one to one setting. Admittedly, it was a struggle building and maintaining that trust over time. Relationships are hard after all, and getting close to someone is no easy feat. Nevertheless, every single one of the discipleship relationships I have tried to build this year – whether they are good or bad right now – all taught me more how to build better and effective relationships. It trained me to work on my integrity as a Christian and the effort it takes in being a trustworthy friend over time. Over the year, I’ve gained a lot of confidence from the “good” one to one relationships that I have, and this drives me to work on learning how to better love the other people that I meet up with where the relationship isn’t as “good”. I suppose by “good” I’m referring to things such as:
How well we communicate and coordinate our times around one another to meet up
How effective we are in encouraging one another through the Word of God (i.e. how much Biblical truth/wisdom do we manage to discuss and think through)
How Long to Meet up For?
One of the habits I used to be stuck with in university in my different ministries was sticking to a set time when I was “on duty” to lead a Bible study group or something. At the time, most of these activities, including one to ones, generally went on for about an hour, but it would seem that I had kept my interaction with those people limited to that allocated time slot. I did not really chat with the people in my Bible study groups outside of Bible study, and the same would be true of some of my one to one meet ups. Perhaps it was the sheer number of people I was ministering to from all the groups I was leading in a week that made it feel daunting to contact every single person throughout the rest of the week. But this year, I’ve focused more on an approach to stay in contact with the people I was discipling over the week. This generally came in the form on meeting up with that person face to face once a week, and then keeping in contact via various forms of instant messaging.
My meet ups in person generally went for 1.5 to 2 hours; I had felt that an hour didn’t really give enough time to read and reflect on the Bible and to share parts of our lives with one another, and often times the conversations I had were going so well that it would be a shame to abruptly stop it because of a time constraint (though sometimes this did happen because I had to go meet up with the next person I had scheduled for the day). My approach with instant messaging for discipleship was for short messages here and there just to stay in touch and point out things that were happening in our lives over the week. A lot of the time, it was an effective tool in gathering the things we should reflect and discuss about at the next time we met up. This made organising an agenda for the meet up easier, because it would generally follow the structure of “oh you know how you mentioned [this] the other day, did you want to talk about it? Have you thought about it more?” and another D&M would be underway.
To me, the importance of staying in contact more than once a week is that it’s the fundamental building block of relationships, and discipleship is more than sharing one hour a week with another person, but rather that we should share (to some degree) our whole lives with one another. I suppose in reflection, this point is more to mitigate my inability to share my life with the people I was ministering to in the past, and so this year was spent learning how to manage my time and how to better invest my time in relationships.
Overall, I have been greatly encouraged by the people I have had the opportunity to regularly meet up with (hopefully some of you will be reading this). It has brought me great joy in learning about their lives and being able to share our life stories with one another. I could see that they had learnt and grown a lot as we read through the Bible and reflected on our different circumstances in life, some people having grown more than others; but the important thing is that we both grew as Christians. There is still so much for me to learn about in terms of building relationships with different people with different personalities and backgrounds, as well as ways to teach the Bible in a way that helps them understand and share it better. Discipleship is something I will definitely continue to pursue and do with more people as time goes on, having better understood the value it has for the life and growth of a Christian.