How to Encourage Women’s Discipling
“Who in your life has been most influential to you and how?”
My family was gathered around a pan of brownies baked over a camp stove when someone posed this question. I listened as my family members mentioned pastors, co-workers, college roommates, and dear friends, celebrating their godly attributes in detail. And yet I found myself convicted. Outside of a few close friends, my life was populated by casual relationships and Bible study groups that lacked real accountability. I thought about how I have stumbled over passages like Titus 2:3–5. The kind of mentorship Paul describes there has seemed elusive. Here I was, a woman who knew and loved the Lord, yet I longed for godly influence and accountability. I was, in a word, lonely.
I’d venture a guess that most Christians have, at some point, felt similarly. Loneliness is a trying thing. Because we are made to dwell in rich community, the lack of it chaps. Women are particularly prone to interpret loneliness as a personal indictment, making its pang even more acute.
Discipling is a beautiful word, and it’s the antidote to loneliness in the church. Every Christian wants to be discipled and to disciple others. After all, in Christ, every woman has something to give and something to receive. Discipling is a balm for lonesome living and a gracious rebuke against independence and autonomy. It comforts the worried and counters the self-centered. It challenges the notion that one’s church is a place for spectatorship and entertainment. It reinforces the single woman eager for marriage and the mom with little ones about her feet. It also calls women with testimonies of God’s faithfulness to pour her stores into others.
Discipling is a gift from our Lord.
WHAT IS DISCIPLING?
Simply put, discipling is helping others follow Jesus. It works to bring others along to maturity in Christ. The mature woman grows in love for and knowledge of the Lord (Phil. 1:9). She bears fruit in keeping with the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). And she walks in humble obedience to his commands (2 Jn. 1:6). This kind of maturity may sound like a lofty goal. Still, Christ’s work within us enables our progress. How exciting to become more like Christ and help others do the same!
But sadly, in a fallen world, even beautiful, exciting, and wonderful things can often seem inconvenient or unnecessary. We need to recognize discipling as beautiful, yes, but also as essential. The Lord doesn’t suggest we disciple, he commands us to do so. It’s not ornamental, but vital.
Consider the instruction we receive in Scripture. Colossians 3:16 directs us to admonish one another in wisdom and the teachings of Christ. First Thessalonians 5:14 instructs us to come alongside the mischievous, the tired, and the weak and patiently help her to walk in Christlikeness. Hebrews 3:13 tells us to exhort and protect one another from sin. Again and again, Scripture commands us to help one another. Every Christian woman without exception is made for discipling.
WHERE DO WE FIND DISCIPLING?
What would you think if you were tasked to feed a table full of people using a complicated recipe, but you had no kitchen in which to prepare it? No stove, no knife, no pots and pans. Some of us would feel panic, others hopelessness, and still others would laugh at the predicament and give up altogether. Our definition of discipling is valuable, but we need more than a definition. Thank the Lord that we are not cooks without kitchens but sisters in Christ with the local church.
The local church provides the context to begin obeying the commands God has given us. In the local church, Christians gather to hear the gospel preached. We proclaim the Word and make it visible through baptism and the Lord’s Supper. We covenant together and commit to helping one another follow Scripture’s commands. We hold one another accountable through exhortation and church discipline. And we are equipped to return to our homes, careers, and friendships and walk in obedience to the Lord. A church clarifies our purpose and provides us with a support structure for giving and receiving help. It offers the fertile ground discipleship needs to flourish. When we sit under the Word together, our discipling relationships gain rich content for discussion, exhortation, and encouragement.
During Sunday services, therefore, you should be attentive to the needs around you. Build relationships with other women and learn where they are in their walk with the Lord. Seek out those behind you and those ahead of you. Remember, you have riches in Christ to give and to receive—and there’s no better place than a church to do just that.
Then, let what happens on Sunday spill over into the rest of the week. Share a church pew, then start sharing dinner tables, sidewalks, and car rides. If you are pressed for time, fold others into your schedule. Wonderful discipling happens when you show others what Christlikeness looks like in the ordinary and the hectic. Conversations of eternal value can happen even while folding laundry, going on a run, driving to pick up kids from school, and, of course, sharing the proverbial cup of coffee.
If you are convicted about the lack of intimate discipling in your life, take heart. You don’t have to stay in that place, and God doesn’t want you to. He doesn’t dangle a good gift like discipling and dole out loneliness instead. Scripture’s gifts and instruction are by no means inaccessible or an ideal too far off. Rather, in Christ, we are blessed with “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Eph. 1:3). Pray passages like Titus 2:3–5 and John 13:34–35 back to the Lord and ask him to provide discipling relationships. If you are looking for someone to disciple, remember that other women are praying for someone like you.
Years later, I’m thankful that God did not leave me, brownie in hand, hungry for discipling. If I could go back to that family circle, I would tell them about Linda, a mom of eleven who loves to study the Puritans. Her conscience is soft to the Holy Spirit’s prodding, and she draws from a deep well of Scripture memorization in every conversation. She agreed to walk with me weekly at some points and daily at others. She has invested heavily in my walk with Christ, my marriage, and my newfound role as a mother.
I would also tell them about Theresa, a missionary of 40 years who has invited me into her home again and again and has faithfully prayed for and with me for two years. She’s bounced my fussing son on her knee and helped me think through topics of great weight, such as a young child’s profession of faith.
I would talk about Megan, a young seminary student who is newly engaged. When I share my memories and experiences of that time with her, I find myself remembering lessons the Lord taught me then that I need just as much now.
Praise the Lord for these portraits of God’s grace in my life, as well as for the gift of discipling and being discipled.