Misconceptions About Discipleship: Part Two

Editor’s note: In 2022, a Chinese pastor wrote this letter to his congregation, encouraging them to take discipleship seriously, both in their own lives and in the life of the church. The article was first published in Chinese on the Grace to City website.

Today, we are publishing the second half of this letter, after running the first half last week. This selection has been lightly edited for clarity and length.


Discipleship Is More Important Than Ministry

I have many ministries and responsibilities. Compared to these things, discipleship is not that important.

“Think about how God takes care of, loves, forgives, blesses, and comforts you. If you truly understand how great God’s grace is, you should desire to bless others in the same way.”

Are you saying you have so many work and family responsibilities that you are not able to obey God’s call? If so, I urge you that, as Christians, we should place first value on the things the Bible tells us are basic and important. Please, think about how God takes care of, loves, forgives, blesses, and comforts you. If you truly understand how great God’s grace is, you should desire to bless others in the same way. Again and again, the Bible tells us we love because he first loved us. (See John 15:15, Eph. 4:32, and 2 Corinthians 1.) Look at your schedule. There must be something less valuable than discipling others. Cut out these less valuable things so you can use this time as an opportunity to spiritually encourage other Christians in your church.

You may have other ministries both inside and outside the church, like being a deacon or teaching children’s Sunday School. Yet these ministries do not take the place of your Christian identity. We disciple others because we are Christians and the Bible commands us to do so. Other ministry responsibilities come about because of our own inner desires or our response to the needs of our church. These two things are not substitutes for one another. If ministry responsibilities keep you from discipleship, in most cases, you should let ministry responsibilities go first. Being a healthy Christian is more important than serving in a ministry.

Discipleship Is Centered On Scripture

I already have a discipleship partner, so I have fulfilled this biblical requirement.

This is not necessarily the case. A discipleship relationship is “a thoughtful and intentional exhortation relationship established among Christians, based on loving and edifying people with God’s word.” Do you and your partner really edify one another in God’s word? Or do you just feed each other “chicken soup” – that is, you talk about parenting tips and discuss the latest techniques to climb the firewall. [In China, many websites, such as Facebook or Twitter, cannot be accessed and are blocked by government censors because they may contain information the government does not want citizens to see. Many people, particularly the young and well-educated, find ways to circumvent government blocks and “climb the wall” to access outside information.]

“If your discipleship relationship is not centered around God’s word, if you are not discussing and dealing with your sin, then it is possible you are not fulfilling the purpose of discipleship.”

Do you and your discipleship partner see each other often? Do you open up and talk about your sins? Having a church friend is not the same as a discipleship partner. Discipleship training is about sanctifying both yourself and your partner. If your discipleship relationship is not centered around God’s word, if you are not discussing and dealing with your sin, then it is possible you are not fulfilling the purpose of discipleship. Instead, you are just deceiving yourself. These relationships can even become a place to complain, gossip, and feed your heart with love for the world.

Discipleship Takes Time

I need to keep find better people to disciple me.

When I get sick with a cold, the first thing I do is drink a lot of water. If the cold still doesn’t get better and starts to affect my work, I go to the cabinet and rummage through the medicines. I grab every open bottle I see related to having a cold, hoping one of them will help to quickly suppress my symptoms. Sometimes people in church also act like this because they are desperate to grow spiritually. These people see their own sin and problems, so they constantly search for better, more mature Christians to disciple them. They might even have several mature believers pouring into them at the same time! Because they are enthusiastic and willing, it is easy to find someone to disciple them.

But this attitude can lead to great haste and little speed. Spiritual growth takes time! When dealing with sin, determination, effort, and a willingness to pay the price are more important than many disciplers. A large amount of external support is not the key to dealing with sin. You might even begin to think your relationships are helping you face your sin, instead of attributing it to the Holy Spirit and God’s word.


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This attitude is also selfish. It may discourage mature believers from seeking out marginalized brothers and sisters. Because a few people hoard disciplers, some of the church’s most needy people may end up without discipleship relationships.

Discipleship Includes Difficulties

Discipling the wrong person is time-consuming and labor-intensive. Before I initiate a relationship, I must find a mature believer.

The person being discipled is afraid of being challenged too much or manipulated. The discipler is concerned their mentee may be nonchalant and fail to grow. Both individuals are fearful of conflict, or parting on bad terms. Because of this we pick and choose. We look for someone who looks good, someone we like and with whom we get along. All these fears are real, but they also reflect our sin: we want to put in little effort, are unwilling to take risks, and do not want to exercise faith. We want a relationship that makes us feel safe, not one that challenges our faith and promotes our sanctification. Discipleship includes trials, errors, frustrations, and conflicts, all of which are an integral part of Christian growth. When we avoid these challenges, we avoid sanctification.

“Through his grace and love, the Lord has chosen to make us the means of growing his kingdom. Many times, we need courage to become his vessels and take this step so he can use us.”

Discipleship is a critical part of the expansion of God’s kingdom. Through his grace and love, the Lord has chosen to make us the means of growing his kingdom. Many times, we need courage to become his vessels and take this step so he can use us. When we do, God will give us the strength to do the work he has entrusted to us. We need to be thankful for all he has given us in Christ as we move ahead, past obstacles and hindrances, to complete the work to which he has called us.

Your pastor,

Pastor Xie


Pastor Xie is pastor of a Baptist church in a large Chinese city.

 

FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION

Pray for Chinese believers to trust the Lord with any concerns they may have as they step into discipleship relationships with others in their church.

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Further Reading

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Nanjing: Love Under Pressure
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Why Should I Love My Enemies?: Give Up Revenge, Love Enemies
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Nanjing: Bringing the Gospel Into Life
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LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA

With rising pressure and persecution in China, there are two challenges imperative for church leaders. The first challenge is for current leaders to love Christ above all else, and not to stray into legalism or love of the world. The second challenge is to raise up the next generation of leaders, who will humbly model Jesus even if current leaders are arrested.

WILL YOU JOIN US IN PRAYING FOR LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA? PRAY FOR:

  1. Current leaders to grow in their daily walks with Christ
  2. Current leaders to shepherd and raise up new leaders
  3. New leaders who love Christ and will model him to the world
  4. New leaders to love and care for the church

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ABOUT LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT

About Shenyang

Shenyang is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Liaoning Province. It is known for its rich history and cultural heritage, including the Shenyang Imperial Palace, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Shenyang is also a hub for China’s heavy industry, with companies such as the China First Automobile Group and the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation having their headquarters in the city.

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Stories from Shenyang

About Qingdao

Qingdao is a city located in eastern China and is famous for its beaches, beer, and seafood. The city is home to several landmarks, including the Zhanqiao Pier and the Badaguan Scenic Area. Qingdao is also a major port and has a thriving economy, with industries such as electronics, petrochemicals, and machinery.

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Stories from Qingdao

About Xiamen

Xiamen is a city located in southeastern China and is a popular tourist destination known for its beautiful coastal scenery, including Gulangyu Island, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city is also a hub for China’s high-tech industry, with companies such as Huawei and ZTE having research and development centers in Xiamen.

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Stories from Xiamen

About Chongqing

Chongqing is a city located in southwestern China and is a major economic center in the region. The city is known for its spicy cuisine, especially its hot pot dishes, and is also famous for the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric dam. Chongqing is also home to several historic sites, including the Dazu Rock Carvings, which are UNESCO World Heritage sites.

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Stories from Chongqing

About Nanjing

Nanjing is a city located in eastern China and is the capital of Jiangsu Province. It is one of China’s ancient capitals and has a rich cultural history, including the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum, the Nanjing City Wall, and the Confucius Temple. Nanjing is also a modern city with a thriving economy and is home to several universities, including Nanjing University and Southeast University.

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Stories from Nanjing

About Changchun

Changchun is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Jilin Province. It is known for its rich cultural heritage and is home to several historical landmarks such as the Puppet Emperor’s Palace and the Jingyuetan National Forest Park. Changchun is also a hub for China’s automotive industry, with several major automobile manufacturers having their headquarters in the city.

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Stories from Changchun

About Guangzhou

Guangzhou, also known as Canton, is a city located in southern China and is the capital of Guangdong Province. It is one of the country’s largest and most prosperous cities, serving as a major transportation and trading hub for the region. Guangzhou is renowned for its modern architecture, including the Canton Tower and the Guangzhou Opera House, as well as its Cantonese cuisine, which is famous for its variety and bold flavors. The city also has a rich history, with landmarks such as the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall, the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, and the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees. Additionally, Guangzhou hosts the annual Canton Fair, the largest trade fair in China.

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Stories from Guangzhou

About Kunming

Kunming is a city located in southwest China and is the capital of Yunnan Province. Known as the “City of Eternal Spring” for its mild climate, Kunming is a popular tourist destination due to its natural beauty and cultural diversity. The city is home to several scenic spots, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Stone Forest, Dian Lake, and the Western Hills. Kunming is also famous for its unique cuisine, which features a mix of Han, Yi, and Bai ethnic flavors. The city has a rich cultural history, with ancient temples and shrines like the Yuantong Temple and the Golden Temple, and it’s also a hub for Yunnan’s ethnic minority cultures, such as the Yi and Bai peoples.

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Stories from Kunming

About Shenzhen

Shenzhen is a city located in southeastern China and is one of the country’s fastest-growing metropolises. The city is renowned for its thriving tech industry, with companies such as Huawei, Tencent, and DJI having their headquarters in Shenzhen. The city also has a vibrant cultural scene, with numerous museums, art galleries, and parks. Shenzhen is also known for its modern architecture, such as the Ping An Finance Center and the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center. Despite its modernization, Shenzhen also has a rich history and cultural heritage, with landmarks such as the Dapeng Fortress and the Chiwan Tin Hau Temple.

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About Chengdu

Chengdu is a city located in the southwestern region of China, and the capital of Sichuan province. It has a population of over 18 million people, and it is famous for its spicy Sichuan cuisine, laid-back lifestyle, and its cute and cuddly residents – the giant pandas. Chengdu is home to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, where visitors can observe these adorable creatures in their natural habitat. The city also boasts a rich cultural heritage, with numerous temples, museums, and historical sites scattered throughout its boundaries. Chengdu is a city of contrasts, with ancient traditions coexisting alongside modern developments, making it an intriguing and fascinating destination for visitors to China. 

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Stories from Chengdu

About Beijing

Beijing is the capital city of China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 21 million people. The city has a rich history that spans over 3,000 years, and it has served as the capital of various dynasties throughout China’s history. Beijing is home to some of the most iconic landmarks in China, including the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and the Temple of Heaven. The city is also a hub for political, cultural, and educational activities, with numerous universities and research institutions located within its boundaries. Beijing is renowned for its traditional architecture, rich cuisine, and vibrant cultural scene, making it a must-visit destination for travelers to China.

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Stories from Beijing

About Shanghai

Shanghai is a vibrant and dynamic city located on the eastern coast of China. It is the largest city in China and one of the most populous cities in the world, with a population of over 24 million people. Shanghai is a global financial hub and a major center for international trade, with a rich history and culture that spans over 1,000 years. The city is famous for its iconic skyline, which features towering skyscrapers such as the Oriental Pearl Tower and the Shanghai Tower. Shanghai is also home to a diverse culinary scene, world-class museums and art galleries, and numerous shopping districts. It is a city that is constantly evolving and reinventing itself, making it a fascinating destination for visitors from around the world.

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Stories from Shanghai

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