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 wanting to know if the church had a program for discipling women.
“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.”
Developing a Culture of Women Discipling 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: discipling women.
THE CALL TO DISCIPLE
The temptation is to programmatize discipling women. 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 discippling 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).