Less than a year ago, I helped organize a women’s ministry event focused on discipleship. During this hour-long event, we offered women the chance to ask anonymous questions to a panel of female leaders in the church about the practice of discipleship. It went well. Frankly, a little too well. The five of us participating on the panel ran out of time long before those in attendance ran out of questions.
While I was encouraged by the interest women showed in the topic, I left the panel feeling somewhat burdened by the trend I saw in the questions women were asking us. Many women in my church seemed to struggle with the essential rhythm of discipleship, mostly because they had unrealistic ideas about what discipleship should look like in the first place. They were frustrated by their lack of theological prowess or their inability to squeeze a group Bible study into their schedules, and rather than doing discipleship “wrongly” they were just foregoing discipleship completely.
In his book Discipling, author Mark Dever offers a to-the-point definition of discipleship as “helping others follow Jesus”. This doesn’t seem to be the definition many women are applying in their personal lives. If Instagram is any clue, most Christian women think discipleship is limited to hosting thoughtfully curated Bible studies in tasteful homes where shrieking children and dirty dishes don’t exist. This glossy ideal sits like a yoke on many women’s shoulders rather than spurring them onward in Christ’s Great Commission.
That yoke leads to many problems, all of which could be rectified by letting go of perfectionism and getting real. Here are three ways to start getting real about women’s discipleship.
1. STOP SEARCHING FOR THE UNICORN DISCIPLER
The most common question I hear in women’s ministry is some variation of “where can I get a Titus-2 woman to disciple me?” This isn’t a bad question, but it is sometimes asked with something unhelpful in mind. I’ve watched repeatedly as Christian women adopt a heavy-handed application of the passage in Titus 2:1-5. In these verses, godly, well-respected older women are instructed to teach younger women in the church. While this is clearly the Father’s intended model within a congregational family, sometimes our expectations are more detailed than the text itself!
I know too many women who are desperately holding out for a discipler that looks more like a unicorn than an actual human being. In our minds we sometimes conjure up this image of what sort of woman we want pouring wisdom into us: at least twenty years older, maybe she’s the pastor’s wife or women’s ministry leader; she’s got kids, preferably a lot of them. Yet this older woman with a pastor husband, a women’s ministry to run, and a bunch of kids to raise can magically find the time to meet with us three times a week at a coffee shop to read the Bible.
Not only do we sometimes have unreasonable expectations for those we want to disciple us, but sometimes we find ourselves unintentionally ignoring women in our midst who already want to pour into us. That single sister or college girl is just as capable of reminding you of the gospel as anyone else, and may be the very woman God has put in your life to help you grow and mature as a believer. Let go of the unicorn, and praise God for any woman of any age or life stage who is willing to disciple you.
2. SIMPLIFY DISCIPLESHIP RHYTHMS
Another concern women have about discipleship is about “how” to do it, with many convinced the only acceptable way to disciple someone is to have one-on-one Bible discussions. Interestingly enough, the Bible shows us that discipleship takes many forms.
The book of Acts describes the death and resurrection of a disciple named Tabitha (Acts 9:36-43). She specifically cared for women in Joppa who lost their husbands. As this community was grieving the loss of their beloved sister-disciple, nobody mentioned Tabitha’s hostess skills or if she coordinated the best Bible studies. Instead, these widows wept into the clothes that Tabitha made for them in their time of need. With this simple, unflashy act of faithfulness Tabitha deeply influenced the women of her church community. So much so that when she died two men ran to another town to find the Apostle Peter and ask for his help.
Peter raised this woman who was “filled with good works and charity” from the dead so that she could continue discipling and serving her sisters in the church. She may not have led a Bible study, but Tabitha was a discipleship powerhouse by simply living alongside these women, observing their needs and doing her best to meet them in Jesus’ name. Our own discipleship can be that simple too.
However, the practical servant discipleship of Tabitha is not our only example. In the first Epistle to the Thessalonians, the Apostle Paul writes a letter to the believers in Thessalonica. Paul is actually engaging in discipleship just by writing this letter of encouragement and instruction to other believers. In chapter 5 of this letter, Paul gives the church some specific charges in discipleship; “admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all”. All of the things Paul detailed here are considered discipleship actionables, and all of these things are incredibly powerful in the life of believer.
Think of the last woman you spent a significant amount of time with. Did she have a physical need? How could you meet that physical need and use it to remind her of her great need for a Savior? Is she experiencing a personal trial? How can you encourage her and remind her of God’s goodness? Are you aware of any sin patterns this woman may have in her life? What words and approach should you use to gently admonish and restore her?
Asking yourself these kinds of questions and letting the answers guide your interactions is discipleship in its simplest form.
To be clear, there is great value in dedicated time for discussing scripture with other women. But if you want to develop a rhythm of discipling others and being discipled, you are also going to have to embrace the messiness of life, and that often means organized study sessions take a backseat. You will have to talk over screaming kids. You will have women flake out because of other responsibilities. You will often talk about scripture while one of you folds laundry or finishes up a work project. All of these things are okay. There is a lot you can learn from another woman just by observing her in her daily routine without any special appointments or studies.
3. KEEP IT ALL ABOUT JESUS
Ultimately the kind of discipleship women need is the kind that stirs their affections for Christ and encourages them to become more like him. But many women worry they aren’t theologically capable of discipling or teaching someone else.
Luckily for believers, there is no prerequisite for discipleship. If God’s word is living and active, then God’s story has the power to challenge and mature believers independent of our abilities or intellect. Your job as a discipler is to simply show others who Jesus is and remind them what he did for them, over and over again. When they are hurting, remind them. When they are angry at their co-worker or spouse, remind them. When they are sinning, remind them. When they need grace, remind them.
The simple message of the gospel is what changes our lives both in the temporal and eternal sense, and the gospel didn’t lose its power after that happened. To assume that God cannot continue to change a person’s heart or sanctify them despite our bumbling words or lack of apologetic knowledge is to underestimate his power. The good news of Jesus Christ and someone willing to speak it is all that is truly necessary for discipleship.
Rachelle Cox converted from Mormonism six years ago and is now passionate about helping women understand God’s good word and good theology. She is a women’s ministry intern at Karis Church, and is beginning her theological education at Boyce College. She loves serving her husband and two children, and writes at http://eachpassingphase.com .