When I ask women in our church if they would be willing to invest in a discipleship relationship with a younger woman, I am usually met with hesitation. “Me?” their eyes seem to ask. “Me? Disciple someone else? You must not really know me. I don’t think I’m qualified.”
The conversations take different forms, but the responses are often the same. Again and again, I hear women voice a sincere doubt that they have anything worthwhile to give. Even if they are willing to give a discipleship relationship a try, deep down they are thinking with something akin to panic, “I’ve got nothing!”
I know how they feel. I feel the same way every Sunday afternoon. I have three young women who come to my house to engage in a small discipleship group. We often discuss what we’re learning from Scripture or a book we’re reading together and how it relates to the gospel and our lives. But every Sunday afternoon, in the couple of hours before they arrive, I hear the same refrain in my head… “Who am I to disciple these girls? I haven’t spent good time with the Lord at all this week. I snapped at my husband this morning and am irritated with one of my children for not sweeping the floor. I’ve got these girls showing up in 30 minutes to a dirty kitchen, and I haven’t even read my chapter yet! Lord… I’ve got nothing!”
The Unqualified Disciple
How do I answer the women in my church, when I know exactly how they feel? When they express doubt about their qualifications, I’m tempted to say, “That’s not true! You’ve got a great marriage and are raising some stellar kids. You’re hospitable and easy to talk to. You’ll be fine!”
Though my praise might convince them, that response won’t do. It certainly doesn’t help me on Sunday afternoons when I feel neither great nor hospitable. I’ve had to go to the Scriptures to search out the truth. What does God’s Word have to say about how we feel?
To some degree, what we are feeling is true. We don’t have anything, in ourselves, to give. We see in the Scriptures that our hearts are deceitful and desperately sick and even beyond our ability to understand them (Jer. 17:9). We also see that anything we call righteousness basically amounts to a bunch of dirty rags that are only fit for the fire (Isaiah 64:6). In fact, there is not one of us who can claim righteousness on our own (Psalm 14:3). Jesus tells us unequivocally, “apart from me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). So if we’re trying to dredge up righteousness and truth from inside ourselves in order to give that away to others, it’s true. We’ve got nothing.
I think Moses felt the same way. When God approached him in the wilderness and instructed him to go and speak to the most powerful man in the land, Moses must have lifted his eyebrow just as I’ve seen the women in my church do. He said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Ex. 3:11) Moses was wanted for murder and had been tending sheep for most of his adult life. I’m sure inside he was screaming, “Me?!? I’ve got nothing!”
But God doesn’t assure Moses of his qualifications as I’m tempted to do with the women I talk to. No, on the contrary. God assures Moses of God’s qualifications. God answers Moses’ question of “Who am I?” with a resounding “I AM.” This is the response we need to hear.
When women raise their eyebrows and express doubt about discipleship, my job is not to convince them that they are equal to the task. My job is to convince them that God is equal to the task. “You’re right,” I need to reply, “You’ve got nothing. Neither do I. But God has everything.”
We can’t forget that we’re branches. By ourselves, we will bear no fruit. Worse than that, we will die. But attached to the vine, we feed off the life of Jesus and become healthy, bushy branches, laden with fruit to nourish others. Attached to the vine, we have a lot to give.
Jesus says it this way, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:8). And as we bear fruit, we share that fruit and make more disciples, all the while bringing glory to the Father. You’ve got nothing, you say? Oh, no. If you’re attached to the vine, you’ve got everything.
The hesitancy that we feel when it comes to engaging in a discipleship relationship is real. We know ourselves better than anyone. We know our past mistakes and our current failings. We think that these disqualify us from leading anyone in discipleship, but actually the reverse is true. Our very hesitations are gospel opportunities.
When we remember that we’re branches, we remember that what is flowing through the branch is the life of Jesus, the gospel itself. The gospel! The good news! The gospel reminds us that we don’t have to live a perfect life in order to engage in discipleship. Jesus lived the perfect life in our place. He died to take the punishment for all our mistakes and failings. Then, praise God, he rose from the dead, canceling our debt and disarming the power of sin in our lives. This is what we give to others in discipleship: the good news of the gospel!
So next Sunday afternoon, things are going to look different at my house. When I look around at my dirty floor and my unread chapters, I am going to remind myself of something. I am not giving these girls myself, I am giving them Jesus. I am not attempting to present to them a perfect life, but Jesus’ perfect life. My goal is not to show them how to do everything right, but to apply the gospel when we do everything wrong.
When I hear the familiar refrain, “I’ve got nothing!” I will reply with certainty, “If you’ve got the gospel, you’ve got everything.”
Lindsay Powell Fooshee is married to John, a pastor and church planter with Acts 29. They are raising 3 great kids in East Tennessee, soaking up the joys of toddlers and teenagers at the same time. Lindsay holds an M.A. in Christian Thought from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and enjoys teaching and writing about what’s she’s learning. She is passionate about discipleship and blogs regularly about it here.