Have you ever heard the word discipleship and thought “I really don’t even know what that means?”
It’s a big churchy word used to describe walking toward Jesus in relationship with others. It can be a place of amazing growth, and, also, in questionable circumstances, a place of deep shame and pain. There is a fine line between discipleship and a forced religious relationship.
In February of 2021 we got a cat. At the adoption center, when my three kids sat near Hazy’s cage she rushed them and rubbed on them and meowed and wanted so badly for them to pet her. The employees kept telling us: “She’s really shy. It could take months for her to come out from hiding in your home.”
And they were right. She spent two weeks behind the dryer. She came out at night when the house was quiet, but we never saw her. I was flustered and confused, and not sure what to do.
My girls, however, were patient. They took turns throughout the day sitting atop the dryer reading books to the cat. They checked on her constantly, spoke kindly to her from the doorway, and didn’t push her to come out.
One day I had had enough so we moved the dryer and sent her into the girls room to live. After just a week in the girls room, she was sleeping in bed with them, and letting them snuggle her whenever they wanted. She even loved our three year old son who was not gentle, quiet, or slow. And now, four months later, she wanders out to the living room every morning to hang out with us while we eat breakfast. She plays in the hallway during the day, and when my husband works from home, she is a lovely sleeping coworker on the floor beside him.
As I watched Hazy snoozing under my husband’s stationary bike while the kids wrestled nearby, I was struck by just how trusting she had become. Somehow the girls persistence, their slow and steady willingness to just be with her, had broken through her distrust of our family. When I think of the process my kids took Hazy through to invite her into our family, it reminded me of healthy discipleship. Here are some tips from my kids and their cat, for your discipleship with others:
1. Invite people into what you’re already doing: When Hazy entered our home, she didn’t know she was entering into a house with three crazy kids, and a busy lifestyle, but she learned quickly. We didn’t try to be quiet, or change our entire schedule to accommodate her needs. We invited her into our lives: reading to her, chatting with her, and going about our business. She knows our rhythms, our noise level, and when it’s safe to come out and lounge on the couch. We invited her into what was already happening, and now she is a part of it.
It may be tough to decide who to disciple, how to ask them, or how to be in a position to be asked. However, it’s more simple than we think. We are not meant to create fake moments for people to enter into while doing things we’re not comfortable doing. What you want in discipleship is meaningful and close relationship with people who want to be with you, and do what you’re doing.
I work with the youth at my church, and I have found a few girls who love to run. We run together as much as we can. When we went to camp, I took them on a run one morning, and we jumped into a freezing lake. We aren’t necessarily talking about Jesus all the time, but we’re building relationship. I can’t disciple everyone, but I have an in with these girls now because I invited them to do the things that I would be doing regardless. Similarly, as a mother, all it takes is shooting out a text message when you’re heading to a playground, or inviting a mother to the library when you’re headed there anyway. Some of my best conversations with ladies have been on couches in living rooms while our kids play in the background.
2. Discipleship takes time: Hazy was behind the dryer for TWO weeks, and wouldn’t come out of the girls room for months. I so badly just wanted to force her out, and make her comfortable, but what she needed was time to build trust with us.
When entering into a discipleship relationship, we often want to jump the gun. In an effort to bring someone to Christ, we can often overstep our bounds, ask too much, or force ourselves on them. Discipleship takes a willingness from both parties to be vulnerable, to accept guidance, and to have a desire to go deeper with Christ. It takes conscious, meaningful time to build the trust necessary to ask the hard questions, and help each other make the tough choices to take up our crosses and follow Jesus.
I experienced the best discipleship in college with the mentors of our college group “The Unity Project.” About ten of us met in their living room once a week and studied Romans together with the purpose of leading a small group. We cried in that room, we laughed, we experienced hard things, we studied God’s word, and we spent a lot of time together. After six months of meeting, these were my closest confidants, and we still remain close and ask each other for prayer and advice. It was far from instant, and I had been in relationship with these people for a couple years before entering into discipleship with them. Don’t rush it.
3. Follow the Lord’s leading: Hazy spent two weeks behind the dryer before we forced her out into our lives. If we had done it the first day she was there, she would have been terrified. We set our agenda of having a social cat aside, and let her come to us.
I have seen people deeply hurt in discipleship when their leaders take it upon themselves to decide when big moves, big commitments, or big decisions need to be made. They don’t let the Lord lead, and someone always ends up hurt. Hearts need to be softened by the Lord, not by man. Jesus never asked us to crush people with our rules and regulations, He asked us to love and He would do the rest.
When entering into discipleship, we need to look inward and make sure our motives are pure: for the Lord and His plans only. It can be tempting to view discipleship as a project: to seek out lost people and force them to see the error of their ways and the beauty of Jesus’ love. We can’t force people to see the error of their ways, but we can ask the Lord to change their hearts, and be there for the process. We need to show up to discipleship relationships with no agenda: just a heart to go where the Lord leads us.
When we think of discipleship, we need to release the pressure valve. We need to invite people into what we’re already doing, give it time to build, and always follow the Lord’s leading. Discipleship can be beautiful, and is vital to our experience as believers in Jesus. Our current status with our kitty, Hazy, only exists because of the slow, steady persistence of my kids and their love.
Who can you ask into your life today, or whose life do you long to be apart of? Enter in, you won’t regret it.