Why Discipleship is Essential (and Where to Start!)

April Motl

Why Discipleship is Essential (and Where to Start!) Tuesday, April 24, 2018

I was about eighteen years old when I’d come to the realization. I had read Bible passages and Christian books, been to various testimony services, prayed every which way I knew how. I was at the point in my Christian growth where I needed help, real flesh and blood help, to get me from where I was stuck to where I so desperately wanted to be in Christ. I couldn’t read anymore on my own and connect the dots in my life. I needed someone to come along with some outside perspective and help me untangle some of my thinking about God, life, and how I fit into it all.

You might not find the right person on the first try.

I started with my college leader’s wife. She was an amazing woman! I mustered up all my courage to press into her busy schedule to snag a little time from her. I shared my point A stuck place and asked her if she would teach me what I was missing to get to the promised point B in my walk. She looked at me, super sweetly, and said, “Well honey, if you know it’s wrong you just won’t do it anymore.”

I was struggling with emotional baggage. I desperately wanted to know that joy and peace Christ came to give me, but I was stuck inside my junk. And no matter how hard I tried, knowing I wasn’t supposed to be undone with anger or depression just really wasn’t fixing my soul. I thanked her for her time and just swallowed the experience as further evidence that I was pretty hopeless and most certainly the worst excuse for a Christian EVER! To top it off, in a month or less, she and her husband were off to another place of service.

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Why Discipleship is Essential (and Where to Start!)

Or the second try...

I prayed about what to do and felt like I really needed a mentor/discipler. Another six months or so rolled by with me praying and wrestling with the “If you know it’s wrong you just won’t do it anymore” advice. I felt led to ask another neat woman from our church. I summoned up some more courage to ask this busy mom with young kids if she could carve out some time to mentor me. She said yes and we set up a date for a few weeks in the near future. Then about two days later, she called and let me know her husband had suddenly been transferred and they were scrambling to pack. She was sorry we wouldn’t be able to do any discipling, but wished me well.

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Why Discipleship is Essential (and Where to Start!)

Don't give up hope for finding a mentor.

I reread some of the books that had helped me most. Most of these books were written by a local Christian author and pastor’s wife (Pam Farrel). She repeatedly said to get in a discipleship relationship. So, I mustered my last shred of courage on the matter, and wrote to her, saying I would love to meet her. Her secretary answered. Life was busy, but she would meet with me in a few months.

My family asked what I was looking for out of this meeting and I told them, I need to grow through some things and I need help. I could tell no one really resonated with me. Everyone warned me not to get my hopes up too high. She was a busy author. What more could she offer than what she’d written in her books?

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Why Discipleship is Essential (and Where to Start!)

Discipleship may come in unexpected ways.

The day finally arrived! She lived nearby, but still a little over an hour away. We met at a tea place. I told her my point A and point B dilemma. I told her I’d read all her women’s ministry related books, heard her a couple times at local retreats, and now, I was here, looking for a mentor like she said I should, and apparently everyone I asked for mentoring moved out of the state. So, could she help me? She said YES! She had a friend that lived closer to me and set me up to be discipled by her. She also invited me to attend a college girls’ Bible study she was leading. In the end, I didn’t get discipled by her friend, and I came early to the Bible study to go through a discipleship program (Steps to Freedom in Christ).

That dear woman took me under her wing at a moment when her life was going through more difficulties than you could count. I was the last thing she needed on her plate. I didn’t go to her church, I didn’t even live in the same city as her. I was this college girl who offered her absolutely nothing except to add to her already full schedule. And at that less than opportune moment, she poured time, love, truth, grace, prayer, concern, and a whole lot of hope over me.

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Why Discipleship is Essential (and Where to Start!)

The Metaphor of Resurrection in Mentoring

Of all the Bible passages that relate to the process of mentoring, this is the one that comes to mind most for me:

So Jesus, again being deeply moved within, came to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Remove the stone.” Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead  four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”  So they removed the stone.

Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.” When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus , come forth.” The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”  (John 11:38-44 NAS)

As believers in Christ we, like Lazarus, have been called forth from our spiritual grave. And like Lazarus, even though we have this new life, are still all bound up in our burial clothes – the old dead ways of living, thinking and feeling. Jesus called on the people who witnessed this miraculous rebirth to “Unbind him and let him go.” Discipleship is the unbinding process. 

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Why Discipleship is Essential (and Where to Start!)

Mentors helps us work through our mess so that we can help others.

I get a kick out of the thought that precious, busy little Martha, was concerned about the stench of death that would inevitably come from the tomb. And even though Jesus performed a miracle of new life, something tells me there was indeed still a bit of a stink!

When we’ve been the recipient of God’s work, He often does the impossible for us, but still leaves us with certain earthly, human limitations, experiences, or “stink” along with it. And the job of discipleship, even though the miracle of salvation is complete, is still a bit smelly as we work through our fleshly issues and worldly ways.

I was walking around in my new life all bound up like a mummy. I desperately needed someone to unbind my grave clothes. And for Pam (and others sprinkled throughout my life) to have been gracious, loving, patient, and caring enough to grab a piece of that cloth to gently tug it away for my freedom, I am forever grateful. They endured the stink of me, so I could better share the fragrance of Christ.

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Why Discipleship is Essential (and Where to Start!)

How is God calling you?

How have you been the recipient of the unbinding process?

How do you need more unbinding from your old, dead ways?

How is God calling you to help someone else, so they don’t hobble through life, missing the freedom Jesus came to give them?

We are the witnesses standing around the tomb as Jesus calls forth the dead. Now, He calls us to unbind them!

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Why Discipleship is Essential (and Where to Start!)

Opening Your Life to Authentic Mentoring Opportunities

Once you come to the conclusion the Lord is leading you to be a mentor, if He hasn’t brought someone to your doorstep, it can be a little hard figuring out how to start. Even ministry leaders struggle to figure out the best way to connect with those who need that connection the most. So don’t get discouraged by the lack of opportunity you might feel at the moment. It’s just part of the process. If God has called you to influence others with His grace, love, and truth, He will make it happen! It’s His work anyway!

However, as you pray, learn, and wait for the Lord to use you, one of the most important qualities I hear the younger generations asking for is authenticity. They aren’t looking for someone who has letters of degrees behind their name, or a best-seller to their credit. They are looking for someone honest and real.

So here’s five ideas to authentically open your life to girls in their teens and early twenties:

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Why Discipleship is Essential (and Where to Start!)

H- Hospitality:

Opening the door of your home will open the “heart door” of many! Offer your home for:

-A college/youth girls’ ministry event.
-The college girl who needs a place to do laundry.
-Get a bonfire pit. I’ve heard it’s one of the best things parents with teens can get to invest in “hang out” time with their kids and for youth/college ministry it has been the centerpiece of some of my favorite moments.

While you have people in your home, try to make it your goal to listen. Sometimes I end up chattering away in hopes we will find a topic of discussion they will get into, but there is always the old adage that says, “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care!” And a big part of communicating caring is through listening.

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Why Discipleship is Essential (and Where to Start!)

E- Encouragement:

A priceless treasure that doesn’t cost a penny! Bless a young woman with:

-A note of God’s comfort during a hard time.
-Take a moment to learn something about her and then applaud her God-given uniqueness.
-Cheer her on in a path of purity, obedience, and dedication to God.

Again, listening to her for something you can insert some encouragement into, instead of just listening for ways she needs your mentoring will go a long way to making real connection. One Christian woman who invested in me by helping me learn to play guitar, listened to me one night at a women’s retreat and she gave me some wonderful perspective on some things that really felt hard at the time. I was able to see them as a protection, instead of a burden after our conversation.

She never told me what I needed to be doing, never preached at me. She took time to listen, and then just said, “Wow! God is doing some cool stuff in your life! Even in these things you don’t like at the moment…” I’m not sure she even remembers that long chilly autumn night she lost all that sleep, but I sure do! All because she listened and then encouraged me!

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Why Discipleship is Essential (and Where to Start!)

A- Authenticity:

the unpretentiousness that gives others freedom to be themselves. Be “real” by:

-Sharing your journey, struggles and all.
-Be more concerned for those around you than for your own image. (As a ministry leader or hostess, this means caring more about the people in front of you than having all your ducks in a row! Not easy, but sometimes our working hard can make us seem unavailable or uncaring to onlookers.)
-Let the hurt of others touch you by sincerely empathizing with them.

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Why Discipleship is Essential (and Where to Start!)

R- Resources:

Your arsenal of God-taught wisdom. Share truth by:

-Reading/discussing a Christian book together.
-Inviting her into your world through a conference, Bible study, or other place of refreshment.
-Prepare files with Scripture, statistics, and resources for issues God has helped you with (depression, sexual purity, anorexia/bulimia/body image etc.) so you can readily pass on wisdom. Elizabeth George suggests five files you add devotionals, articles, Bible verses, and other notes to that sort of become your passion and area of expertise where you cultivate good info to share.

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Why Discipleship is Essential (and Where to Start!)

T- Time:

A gift of true sacrifice that will prove your love to others. Give your time by:

-Coming to youth/college meetings; showing you’re available.
-Understanding and respecting that relationships take a lot of time to develop trust.
-Investing in connecting “their way” via social media, texting, etc. 

My husband shepherds a small church and we don’t have the luxury of a separate youth/college minister. We both love young people (oh, that makes me feel so old to say it that way! But you get the point!) and he takes time to meet with the college and youth guys whenever they are available. One of our very precious college guys has been with us for about eight years now and he loves catch and release fishing. My husband caught this giant bass one day with him and THREW IT BACK!

When I saw the photo I just couldn’t get over how many dinners that was! But he said, “I’m not fishing for food, I’m fishing this way because I’m connecting with so-and-so.” Later, I tried to convince this precious, but clearly-mistaken-about-fishing, college brother of ours and I could see, catch and release was important to him. Eric was right. So, whenever they get a chance, out to the lake they go to catch, release, and catch up on all that the Lord is doing. And it is totally worth it!

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Why Discipleship is Essential (and Where to Start!)

Give Your H-E-A-R-T first and foremost!

I’ve had a number of relationships with girls where I shared my love and life with them, labored over them with prayer and emotional investment, and we went on to do Bible studies together that bore a lot of fruit (perhaps the most classical concept of discipling) but I’ve also had relationships where I just did my best to love on them as they were available. Interestingly, some of the smallest actions of reaching out, in later years, seem to have perhaps meant the most.

Jesus poured hours into Peter, John, Matthew, Andrew, James and the others in His disciple circle. But don’t you think that the moment He looked into Zacchaeus’ face and the evening they spent having dinner, just meant the world to Zacchaeus? He went on to live a radically changed life, from having dinner together!

So, something as small as inviting someone over to tea or dinner (or my favorite, for a bonfire and coffee… with loads of whipped cream!), could ultimately be all the Lord is calling you to do. So, let go of the picture you have of discipleship, let go of the checklist, any prepared speeches, etc. And let the Lord have His way with the relationships He brings into your life. Keep His word, His Gospel, and His love at the center of the relationship. But let the expectations go.

If you want to be a woman who funnels God’s love, grace, and truth on others, you’ll love this book by my mentor, Pam Farrel, Woman of Influence.


April Motl is a pastor’s wife, mom, and women’s ministry director. Visit www.MotlMinistries.org for more encouraging resources.

If you also struggle with growing past emotional baggage into the abundant life Christ promised, check out this study I wrote that walks you through the steps I took to grow through some of my emotional weakness and baggage: Free to Flourish: Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit

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