How I Select and Schedule Discipling Relationships
Editor’s note: A new elder recently asked a more experienced elder of his church how he finds time to disciple younger men in the faith and to evangelize. After all, this new elder has an intense Washington DC job, a busy home with children, a long commute, and all the other duties that come with being a non-staff elder in the church. Surely there is little time left for discipling and evangelism, no? Here is the elder’s reply, most of which he says he also learned from asking and watching other elders.
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Every day, I try to meet up with someone for one of the following reasons: (1) to disciple them (most of the meetings), (2) to be discipled, or (3) to evangelize. This happens either before work or during lunch-time. My goal is one meeting a day. If I have an opening, I try to fill it with someone I have not met with in a while or with someone new. If I’m meeting with someone new, I may or may not meet with them regularly going forward, it could just be—and most likely will be—a one-off meeting. If the meeting is a one-off with a church member, I will try to make sure that member is plugged in and if not, make some suggestions for how he could be.
I hold all of my meetings loosely, and I often cancel or reschedule them because of higher priority family and/or work obligations that come up.
I am blessed to have a flexible job and a supportive boss for these endeavors. My boss knows I meet with folks before work and at lunch, and he is fine with this as long as my work gets done and as long as I am reachable and responsive. Make sure your boss is supportive.
I use Google Calendar via my iPhone for scheduling, and I always try to schedule my next meeting with a guy at the end of our current meeting.
At this point, I am meeting each person about once a month and occasionally more frequent than that. There are some where it is ad hoc and on their initiative.
I meet at places where I don’t have to buy anything or only buy something small. Mostly food courts or buffet-style establishments. You can spend a lot of money on food you don’t really need. I bring my own coffee, and I bring my own lunch. I would love to buy lunch for others, but I will leave that to others who can afford it.
I have a variety of purposes in my discilping, and I’m discipling men who are at various stages of maturity. Some of the specific issues I discuss with men are pornography and masturbation, masculinity, difficult family challenges, and learning to read and understand the Bible better. Some are very new Christians while others are fairly mature. Sometimes, we read through a book; other times we walk through a list of questions they bring. Sometimes we review the teaching they heard on Sunday or look to the passage ahead. I am beginning to prioritize meetings with more mature men so there can be a trickle down effect with the hopes that those more mature guys will start discipling their own set of guys.
I try to minimize the prep work I have to do. Therefore, I read through books with guys that I have already read, or I use passages of Scripture that I have studied in depth. Here is a list of some of the books I often use: Knowing God, When People Are Big and God Is Small, The Masculine Mandate, A Call to Spiritual Reformation, God’s Big Picture. If there is a new book I want to read, I try to read it with someone else.
I try to keep track of who I meet with, how often, and the purpose of our meetings in a Google document. I also keep track of those I used to meet with or other members I’m involved with on a less frequent basis and usually for a specific purpose. I do this for 2 reasons: (1) this acts as a great prayer list that I use in my morning quiet times, and (2) it helps me to keep track of what I’m doing so I don’t lose touch with folks and so that I can see if I’m using my time strategically. For instance, if I look at my list and I see a lot of guys that are just like me, I may deliberately try to adjust who I meet with.
Sometimes I gel with guys and sometimes I don’t. Some guys I get along with really well; with other guys the process is sluggish. Sometimes we keep meeting because it still seems beneficial even though communication is subpar; other times we decide to stop because it’s not a good fit.
Some guys are growing and other guys are stagnant. If a guy is stagnant for too long I will likely stop meeting with him and probably suggest someone else. It is not a good use of time to invest in someone who isn’t interested in growing or taking counsel from the Word.
I try to hold all of my relationships loosely. Sometimes I am the instrument in the Redeemer’s hand that God intends to use; other times, I am not. I’m not the Messiah, Jesus is, and I want Jesus to be the main thing for the person I disciple, not me or anyone else. Often, this means I have to let go of guys. This can be hard, but I have to keep reminding myself that it’s about their spiritual growth and not about me being used for their spiritual growth.
It doesn’t always have to be an in-person meeting. I do a lot of phone calls with guys who don’t work downtown, and often phone calls are easier to schedule and still reasonably useful.
I occasionally send emails to the guys I meet with, either with an encouraging quote, or a meditation on Scripture or a good article I found. This is very ad hoc. Sometimes, those emails are personal to just one guy and other times I send to a bcc group.
I maintain a series of Google documents with excerpts of Scripture on various topics. These are accessible on my iPhone, and I go to them regularly to be sure I am bringing the Bible to bear on a man’s issues, not just my thoughts. I have docs with Scriptures on the following topics: lust, eldering, the trustworthiness of Scripture, same-sex attraction, ethnicity, and beauty (for my wife and daughters).
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Author’s note: For more in-depth resources on discipling, I recommend the 9Marks Journal on discipling from 2012. Specifically, I commend the brief article, “A Discipler’s Daily Itinerary,” on what a daily routine may look like.