01 July 2009
Learning One to One
What do you do when you're trying to help disciple someone and they ask you a seemingly impossible question? Lucy Cooper looks for the answers...
Desperately racking my brains for a biblically intelligent answer to one of the most difficult questions I had ever been asked, I found myself wishing that I had a theologian accessible at the push of a panic button.
A young Iranian woman - I'll call her Maryam - had posed the question (on pacifism). She had attended an Alpha course and was keen to understand more about the Bible. I stumbled through a halfadequate answer for my new friend, and she wanted to meet up again. I was daunted to discover that I had begun discipling her.
Significant moments in my own spiritual growth have been shaped by discipleship or mentoring, as a more mature believer helped a younger Christian to develop spiritual faith or skills. Now the roles had changed, and I saw the potential of this fresh believer. I wanted to make a go of it.
I sought guidance from Andy Peck, a tutor with CWR ministries who is keen on encouraging people like me to have the courage to disciple others. "Discipleship is becoming more like Christ in our behaviour and in our life - a lifetime process," he said. "There is a sense in which all of us could benefit from being discipled by someone who is more spiritually mature than us."
By far the biggest barrier was my own sense of inadequacy. Did I have the qualities needed for the job? "The discipler needs to have transparency about their own walk with God, experience of coming through life's ups and downs, and the ability to discern somebody else's spiritual life." Andy said. "We all have learner badges on and none of us feel worthy, but we are always pointing to Jesus. If we are looking to progress in our Christian life ourselves, then we can help others less far along the road than us."
The key, he said, is to know mature Christians who have further biblical wisdom or who can point you in the direction of the answer. "Express from the outset that you know enough, care for them, will pray for and love them, and that if they ask something you don't know, you will do some research," he said.
The reassurance that God is working through me as I point towards Him, even in my weakness, has given me peace and a sense of the bigger picture. It also made me wonder if perhaps feelings of unworthiness could be depriving the Church of great potential disciplers.
To prevent common mistakes such as pride or isolation from church life, Andy also stressed how important it is to keep reviewing our situation. "Be careful not to create a dependency on yourself, but help the person think for themselves spiritually," he said. "This may take time, so it's important that it takes place within a range of relationships with other Christians who they will benefit from in different ways."
He emphasised that every church leadership team should prioritise working out their own strategy of discipleship to fit with who they are as a church: "If a church is not making disciples, what is it doing?"
It excited me to see Maryam's thirst to understand the Bible and her eagerness for us to study together. Constantly challenged and inspired, this has reignited my own love for the Bible.
In her book One to One: A Discipleship Handbook, Sophie Peace writes about the benefits of applying God's word in a more intimate setting: "One-to-one studies offer more time for wrestling thoroughly with the big point of the passage, without many voices clouding the issue and making for a more superficial study of the text."
Andy agreed: "One-to-one work enables a discussion of real-life practical questions and decisions and then a review to assess what worked and what didn't. It is not one size fits all. It is bespoke, unique and tailor made."
As Farsi is Maryam's first language, she prays out loud in her mother tongue, so I must find ways of leading simple prayers. This is unique to our circumstance and each situation will be different, allowing freedom for flexibility. My process of learning to sit more comfortably with silence and take longer to listen and observe has begun.
As I have talked with people about this issue, many have told me that the best experiences have come when the discipleship relationship has arisen naturally through a genuine friendship. Of course, with life's busy schedules and communication so often being conducted via Facebook or text, time spent face-to-face sharing life and deepening friendships is an ever more precious commodity.
It may seem obvious, but it is evident that meaningful discipleship for the whole person doesn't happen through training sessions or a book. It can't be rushed. Just as children become like those they associate with, investing in someone's life conveys not only what we know, but also who we are.
As Sophie Peace says, "Much of Christian life is caught and not taught. Through friendship we are modelling what it means to persevere in the Gospel and to strive to live of God in every area of our lives."
Enjoying social activities together and exchanging culture has become a valuable part of my experience with Maryam, and this is an indication that I see her as a valued and loved person and not a project.
As the sessions unfold I have seen major benefits begin to emerge - the process of discovery for both of us, the accountability we can establish, the trust we can build on and most definitely a mutual encouragement as we learn from God together.
Lucy Cooper is a press officer at the Alliance
Take it further
These resources can get you started with one-to-one discipleship:
- One to One: A Discipleship Handbook by Sophie Peace (Authentic).
- Foundations21, produced by the Bible Reading Fellowship, is a flexible online course for small groups or individuals, covering the basics and delving deeper into application: foundations21.org.uk
- Discipling, Coaching, Mentoring by Bryn Hughes (Kingsway).
- Life Issues or Cover to Cover Bible study guides, produced by CWR - ideal to working through in pairs.
- Freedom in Christ: Discipleship Course Workbook by Neil Anderson and Steve Goss (Monarch).
- 21st Century Discipleship Course is run by CWR at Waverley Abbey: cwr.org.uk