Developing A Culture of Women Discipling Women
The first time I ever sat down with a pastor for a membership interview, I was a little suspicious. No one in my previous church asked me to “join the membership” (whatever that was). But the interview went smoothly. The pastor got to know me, and asked me to share the gospel. As the meeting ended, he asked me if I had any questions. I had only one.
“I’ve never been discipled by an older woman. Is there someone who could disciple me?” I asked.
Kindly, he said, “Well, we don’t have many older women. But if you stay and grow, maybe one day you could help disciple other women.”
Did I hear that right? I just told him I wanted to be discipled and he’s telling me to prepare to disciple others? Unbeknownst to me at the time, my pastor was pulling a Jedi-mind trick. And sixteen years later, I’m so grateful that he did. He planted an acorn-sized idea that eventually flourished into a massive oak tree in my life.
THE CALL TO DISCIPLE
The temptation is to programmatize women’s discipleship. Or to insist that a church must add staff to make it happen. Programs and staff might be helpful. I’m not interested in making an issue out of that one way or that other. I do want to emphasize what the Bible emphasizes, which is that the call to discipleship is significant for every believer, in every church, everywhere. Make disciples of all nations, Jesus said (Matt. 28:18). His point was clear, “If you’re following me, you’ll help others follow me.” When it comes to Christian discipleship for women, the question is not “if” but “when.”
It’s been a privilege to experience a culture of discipleship among women in the church, first in Washington, DC, then in Dubai, and now in Southern California. Those churches did not all look alike, and the individual relationships I experienced and witnessed did not all look alike. But the same ingredients were there: meeting regularly, sharing life, intentionally doing spiritual good to one another, and growing in Christ.
These days, there’s a temptation to look primarily to women in the digital world for discipleship. Likes, shares, and hearts seemingly validate one’s ministry. While I’ve been helped by these resources, it wasn’t a filtered photo that sat by my hospital bed, reading Scripture to me after I miscarried. It wasn’t a blog post that taught me in real time how to prayerfully look to Christ while facing painful injustice. It wasn’t a website that trained me on how to love the non-Christians in my specific city. It was fellow disciples of Jesus Christ, in the flesh, in my life. It’s real, life-on-life discipleship that most clearly carries out the Great Commission.
THE MINDSET OF CHRIST
How do we make the ministry of discipleship an ordinary reality among women in the local church, with or without staff and programs?
First, we need women who share the mindset of Christ. What does this mindset look like? Consider Paul’s explanation: “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant” (Phil. 2:4–5) Discipleship flourishes as women seek others’ interests in Christ-like humility.
That’s what my pastor did in that membership interview. He was encouraging me, even then, to start thinking about the good I could do in others’ lives. Good teachers prepare the saints to do the work of the ministry (Eph. 4:11–16).
We cultivate interest in what we talk about. So, have a sanctified curiosity about how the women in your church are doing and whether they’re relationally connected. Strategize with like-minded women about connecting those who need discipleship. Encourage the women in your church as you see them caring for others. Enlarge their vision for advancing God’s kingdom through one-on-one or small group discipling relationships.
Discipleship becomes contagious the more we invest, not less. Like spiritual investment bankers, we want to be good and faithful at expanding our Master’s assets (Matt. 25:14–30). We want to see more people added to the household of God, trained in the truth and godliness (1 Tim. 4:6, 8) and following his example by walking in sacrificial love. (Eph. 5:1–2).
As we share the gospel and our lives (1 Thess. 2:8), we must be vulnerable. In Titus 2, Paul tells the older women to teach the younger women what is good. He uses the word training, which implies time and commitment. It means allowing each other to get close enough to witness God’s divine strength at work in one another’s lives.
An example from my own life: Hannah and I came from different ethnic backgrounds and countries. I was single. She was a mother of young children. She invited me into her life, sharing everything with me—her time, her dinner table, her family, her laughter and tears, her weaknesses and strengths. She always opened God’s Word to me along the way, and I have been imitating her example ever since.
In our low-commitment, low-expectations world, let us invest deeply in others. We will never be ashamed of the investments we made for the sake of God’s kingdom.
It’s easier to commit to and spend time with some people rather than others. But biblical discipleship will never catch on if it’s only driven by comfort and ease. We want to be prayerful and wise about who we meet up with and what that time looks like (1 Timothy 2:2). You can read here for ideas on what that time could look like.
A couple things for women in local churches to consider:
- Consider all the different kinds of women in your church . Are there groups that are being neglected or overlooked? Are there spiritually mature women in those groups who could be future leaders and disciplers but aren’t being discipled? Invest deeply in them!
- Consider spending time with women who, at first, appear to be different than you. The world unites around superficial sameness—from politics to socioeconomic status. But the church? She unites around the gospel of Jesus Christ. We sharpen our understanding of the gospel as we see it applied to the lives of people we seemingly have less in common with.
- Think about spending time with non-believers as well. When I was at a church in Dubai, there was a young woman from Japan who attended our Bible studies. She’d never read the Bible, but she wanted to learn about Jesus. My friends and I invited her to do a six-week study through the gospel of Mark. Having done the study before, I supported my friends Rachel and Rachel as they led. To this day, it’s one of my favorite memories. Encourage the women in your church to creatively work together to bring the good news to those who need it.
We encourage a contagious culture of discipling by acknowledging that discipleship relationships have their seasons. The friendship doesn’t have to end, but the season of deep investment may need to.
When they end, let’s happily encourage those we’ve invested in to disciple others—even if that means freeing up that time slot we’ve come to look forward to. We don’t “lose” these relationships; we steward them through various seasons.
Intentional discipleship changed my life. That’s why I’ve strived to make these kinds of relationships contagious among the women in every church I’ve been a member of. I pray that sisters all over the world would pray and labor to that end as well.