Discipleship 101.1: Love

How do you make a difference in another person’s life?

When I pose this question to women, the answers often pour out fairly easily:  you care for ‘em, you help ‘em, you spend time with ‘em. But of course! It is almost like the question is a no-brainer with a million possible great answers.

However, I’ve come to notice that, if I word the question slightly differently, all the sudden the pipeline of answers runs dry.  This nuanced question causes people to hem and haw, to self-doubt, to feel inadequate:  how do you disciple another person?

And, with that, many Christians seem to turn the other way. The Great Commission is left unfulfilled because the question feels too hard for too many. “Go make disciples” is left for the experts, whoever they are.

Recently, as my church’s women’s ministry is in a season of re-envisioning God’s plan for us, I have deeply pondered this whole discipleship challenge. As a pastor’s wife and seminary graduate, I guess I might qualify as one of those “experts.” However, that idea is as ineffective for the church as it is intimidating for me. When Jesus said, “Go make disciples,” I believe He was talking to all of us. And, as I look around my church, I see a lot of women who are quite capable of discipling…if we can just find the right paradigm to help them get started.

Praying and pondering this has led me to find a discipleship paradigm in an unexpected place:  the book of 3rd John. This Scripture is actually a letter, written by John the beloved to an otherwise unknown believer named Gaius. In fifteen short verses, I see a model for discipleship that any believer can live.

It begins with something every single one of us can do:  love. John started his letter by saying, “The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in the truth.”  Within this simple greeting is discipleship’s humble beginning. John defined his life by love; in his Gospel, John described himself as “the disciple that Jesus loved.” In his letter of 1st John, he says, “Since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other” (4:11). Because he experienced Jesus’ love, John turned around and passed that love on to others, including Gaius.

We make our first foray into discipleship by choosing to love. Just like John, we are to love with the love we have received. There are no super heavy qualifications here; mentors don’t have to have seminary degrees or have been believers their entire lives. No! It starts with love – – – recognizing the love we have received and then paying it forward.

Sometimes I think we make discipleship so complicated, but, I’m becoming more and more convinced, it does not need to be that way. Making a difference in another person’s life starts, not with scores of Bible studies or a brilliant track record (as great as those are). It starts with a willingness to love.

The question is, are we willing? Are we willing to get outside our lives’ normal boundaries and love others for the sake of the Kingdom? If we are, then our discipleship journey begins.

And this, I am becoming more and more certain, is where women’s ministry must begin. Not with programs, brunches, teas and retreats (as wonderful as those are), but with relationships of love. Every woman who knows Christ is capable of loving somebody… and, in this, she begins to fulfill the command of Titus 2:4:  “Older women must train the younger women to love…” We lead in love by example.

Of course, there is so much more to discipleship than “love”, and I will share more along those lines (from 3 John!!!) in weeks to come. But, for now, whoever you are, however long you’ve been a believer, whatever your spiritual background or church training, let this question sink into your heart:

Are you willing to intentionally love another person, for Jesus’ sake?

If you are, that is how you begin to make a difference in another person’s life. That is how you start the journey of discipleship. That is how you begin to live the Great Commission.

And, be sure, that makes all the difference in the world.

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