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.
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.]
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.
Would You Pray With Us Today?
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.
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.
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.