When women think of discipleship relationships, we often think of Titus 2:3–5:
“Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self–controlled, pure, working at home, kind and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.” (Titus 2:3–5)
Although it is good and right to think of this passage when discipling women, there is a danger in taking one passage of Scripture and zooming in on it; the danger is in missing or excluding the whole. For example, before there was Titus 2:3–5, there was Titus 1:1–2:3, and after Titus 2:3–5 there is Titus 2:6–3:15. And before the book of Titus, there is the entire Old Testament and the majority of the New Testament canon. And after the book of Titus, we have Philemon through Revelation. I think this mistake has the potential to rob women of the richness of the Scripture. It is unhelpful to bind women’s discipleship to these three verses to the exclusion—or to the flattening—of the rest of the Bible.
It is because I know the dangers of thinking in an exclusively Titus 2 category that I put such emphasis on gospel-centered, whole–Bible discipleship in my local ministry. I may write on a more public level to encourage the broader Church, but I know the power of local discipleship relationships and that’s what I try to cultivate in my daily life.
I’m also convinced that life-on-life discipleship is the way that Jesus discipled his followers. He not only taught them the Scriptures, but he invited them to watch him live a life of servanthood, modeling the gospel to them in the everyday of life. If we focus on gospel-centered, whole-Bible discipleship fostered in organic relationships, we are modeling what I view as Scripture’s version of discipleship.
Gospel-Centered Whole-Bible Discipleship
You may wonder why I am using the terminology “gospel–centered whole–Bible.” First, if discipleship is not “gospel-centered,” it doesn’t qualify as discipleship. Without that intentional center, it inevitably begins to drift away from Christ. If it’s not centered on Christ, it will inevitably lead to setting something at a higher value than Christ. Whatever that “thing” is which becomes the focus, it will eventually become an idol. This idol will enslave the heart and marginalize the life, work, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Second, I use “whole–Bible” because focusing on narrow passages can blind us to the work of God in the rest of Scripture. There is potential to flatten our faith and stunt our growth. It can make us biblically illiterate or eventually twist our understanding of God’s work in the gospel. It does this by setting the passage in focus up and above the work of Christ in the gospel. It puts us at risk of almost pitting Scripture against Scripture.
By centering on the gospel and expanding our discipleship to the entirety of Scripture, we encourage other women to understand and experience Christ in all of life. It keeps a woman’s zeal for Jesus while tempering the pendulum swinging on other issues (e.g. singleness, marriage, work, children, etc.).
Although discipleship is more than just studying the Bible together, I prefer to couple the organic relationship with studying the Scriptures directly. This can happen in an organized women’s Bible study or it can happen in a small group of women studying God’s Word together or it can happen in a one–on–one relationship.
Another benefit of whole–Bible discipleship is that it sets all of God’s Word as an arc over the relationship so that anything and everything can be talked about in light of the entirety of Scripture. This robust exposure to the Bible as a whole will spiritually feed the single and the married woman, those with children and those without, the young and the old. Whole–Bible discipleship strengthens women as women.
There are various ways to teach and train women, and many have proven useful. One of those ways is teaching books of the Bible, as we’ve discussed. Through the exegetical teaching of God’s Word we can work through faith issues, home issues, personal sin issues, and even marriage issues. Exposure to the direct Word of God opens women to the direct work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. It’s crucial to foster discussions of the Word of God, and as women talk and think and share and cry, the Holy Sprit actively works in their midst.
The second method which has proven to be fruitful in my life is organic discipleship relationships. These are relationships which form and are sustained naturally from common local life. I am not against organized discipleship teams, or assigned groups or pairs at all. I know they can be a useful tool and a blessing to people’s lives, but I personally prefer to practice a more organic approach. That does not mean, however, that I don’t employ deliberateness.
These can be very deliberate; you can set a schedule and meet on a regular basis. Sometimes these relationships are less formal friendships—women who come over for tea, coffee, or lunch and we talk. I try to make sure that these relationships don’t devolve into an “I have it all figured out, so let me download all my wisdom.” These women are my sisters in Christ. I have just as much to learn from them as they do from me because we all have our strengths and weaknesses. Discipleship is more about inviting a woman into my life to know me for who I am, how I pursue God, how I serve my family, and all the faults and failings that go with that. Reciprocally, I aim to know who they are, how they pursue God, how they serve their family, and to learn from them and hopefully to sharpen them in return. One of the things that blesses me deeply is the young moms. I oscillate between feeling unworthy to give them advice and wanting desperately to bless them with wisdom I wish someone had given me when I was young. One of the greatest blessings of keeping my eyes on Jesus is seeing the variety of beautiful ways he works in other women’s lives. And then he blesses me by letting me share in that work.
How do we intentionally build these types of relationships in a culture which fosters an individualistic lifestyle? It’s helpful to look at relationships and community examples in the Bible. Not necessarily as a one–to–one analogy to today, but as examples of how God works through “one–anothering.” When we look at Scripture we see the Christian community shared meals, shared their goods, sacrificed for one another, sang together, prayed together, exhorted one another, and so on (see: Acts 2). Maybe they even had their version of a “wine and cheese” night. No, they didn’t do this perfectly, and there were surely a few squabbles. This is part and parcel of being in each other’s lives. We have squabbles, but by the grace of God through the work of the Holy Spirit, but we overcome with our relationships stronger than before.
Where to Start
If you are unpracticed at this kind of “life together” type of discipleship, it may be difficult to think of ways to start. It’s certainly not a 0–to–60, speedy relationship-building technique. It’s deliberate, time consuming, and requires longsuffering. It’s deliberate in that we have to put effort into praying and looking out for people who need to be loved, cared for, and mentored. It may mean inviting singles over to spend time with you or to share in your family time. It may be serving the less fortunate together. It could be a variety of things, but the point is to disciple them through letting them into your life. Treat them like family.
Edith Schaeffer used to say a family is like a door: a door that has hinges and a lock. This door should have well–oiled hinges and can swing open, like a hospitable family inviting others into their life and home. The door/family also needs a lock, for those times when the family needs to be alone together as a family. Living fruitfully means learning the balance. It’s time consuming because these types of relationships aren’t built overnight. And when they are built they require consistent care, which leads us to longsuffering. In an instant-gratification culture, this can be one of the most difficult parts of living within these organic relationships. We need patience with ourselves and others. This is not a McDonald’s drive-thru type of discipleship; these are human beings who we are investing in, and who are investing in us. This is the Christian life lived out faithfully together and within communities.
Gospel-centered whole-Bible discipleship is about women pursuing Jesus together in light of the entire Word of God through the real-life power of doing life together. It’s about seeking first the kingdom of God together and letting him add whatever he wills to us.
Luma Simms (@lumasimms) is a wife and mother of five delightful children between the ages of 1 and 18. She studied physics and law before Christ led her to become a writer, blogger, and Bible study teacher. She is the author of Gospel Amnesia: Forgetting the Goodness of the News. She blogs regularly at Gospel Grace.