So, how do we actually help someone grow in righteousness? Here are some questions often in my mind as I disciple others (maybe you can relate).
- How do I help the new believer grow in love without becoming proud, self-righteous, or gaining a “saviour complex”?
- How do I help others grow without falling into the trap of offering “Christian self-help” and good advice?
- How do I do accountability with others without it turning into legalism and a list of do’s and don’ts?
To answer these questions, let’s focus on three things:
- The warning
- The challenge
- The encouragement
1. The Warning: Kill pride & self-reliance.
There are many things we must be aware of in discipleship relationships, but I think the most obvious is pride. One of the most terrifying verses, in my opinion, is 1 Corinthians 10:12—“Beware when you think you are standing firm, lest you fall.” Pride is so sneaky, and when left untamed, it can literally destroy our lives, relationships, and ministries. As Proverbs 11:2 warns us: “Pride comes before destruction”.
In my own experience, one of the breeding grounds for pride is within a discipleship relationship. It is very tempting to subtly and gradually start to think we are “something” when seeking to help others grow in the Lord. We must ask God to examine our hearts.
- What do we truly desire in our discipleship relationships? Do we want people to need us, or God?
- Why do we truly want people to grow? Because it makes us look good, or because we truly love and care for their soul?
- What are our true desires and motivations in ministry? To be recognised, successful, admired, and respected, or for God to be glorified?
Here are some warning signs we must look out for in our discipleship:
- Growing frustrated, impatient, and judgmental by the sin and struggles of those you are discipling.
- Putting high expectations on people that aren’t godly or biblical.
- Offering self-help, advice, or a to-do list as people share sin struggles.
- Feeling exhausted and burnt-out in discipleship.
- Putting pressure on yourself for the maturity of other believers.
- Being unable to say no because you don’t want to let people down, or you just enjoy being needed.
- Feeling like a hypocrite in your discipleship.
- Not praying for those you are discipling.
If you are seeking to help someone grow in righteousness but know you are not growing yourself in the Lord, watch what you are doing. Come broken before God and ask Him for mercy.
If you are seeking to help someone grow in righteousness but haven’t been praying for their soul, ask God for forgiveness, repent of trying to do things in your own strength, and ask God to help you make prayer a priority.
If your conversations with other Christian ladies rarely mention God or turn to advice-giving self-help, repent for your empty words and ask God to help keep the gospel the front and centre of all you say and do.
Remember my avocado tree. As soon as it was out of the water, it began to dry up and die. The same is true for us—if we are not soaked in the “living water”, we will be useless, spiritually dry and reliant on ourselves.
If you feel convicted of pride, control, or hypocrisy, don’t let that conviction condemn you. If you are in Christ, you are declared righteous! Confess your sin to the Lord and be overwhelmed by His grace and mercy to you.
2. The Challenge: Pray & Teach (pray hard).
Many times, as I meet with women for one-to-ones, I feel weak and helpless. I struggle to know how to direct the conversation or know what to say at all. There are times after one-to-ones I feel flawed. Sometimes I’m left racking my brain thinking: How can I make them see how good you are? How can I make them love you more?
When I don’t turn these thoughts to prayer, I am trying to take control. I fall into the trap of thinking it’s all about me. But it really isn’t. . . . We need to commit our discipleship relationships to the Lord. Trust that if they are truly His, He is at work! Pray for them to feel conviction for sin, to hunger and thirst after righteousness and to be growing in maturity, holiness, and faith. Then trust God for progress in their pursuit of righteousness.
Very practically, something I have being doing recently which has helped me focus and direct my prayers, has been to work through Paul’s prayers in the New Testament. I have gone through these prayers and written out specifically what Paul prays for the believers. Then I use these things to guide specific and focused prayer for the women I’m meeting with. Keeping a prayer journal is also a great way to remind ourselves of answered prayers. I find this specifically helpful to read over when I am feeling weary and discouraged.
- Teach truth.
I had been waiting weeks for my avocado tree to show some signs of life, but nothing was happening (or so I thought). Just as I was about to chuck it out and give up on ever growing anything again, I found growth! Tangled roots that I had never noticed were growing underneath. This got me thinking about our spiritual growth.
Our roots must be deep so that when the storms of life come, we don’t drift away. Ephesians 3:17–18 is a great prayer to pray for others: “That as Christ dwells in their hearts they will be rooted and grounded in love so they can comprehend how high, long, wide, and deep is the love of Christ.”
In our discipleship, are we teaching women to get their roots deep down in the Word of God, or are we throwing out blanket verses to “address their issue” or help them “feel better”?
A real danger in discipleship is to get so obsessed and focused on the outward growth (the leaves) that we ignore what’s going on deep down (the roots). Let me illustrate.
You start meeting up with a lady from your church who is struggling with an eating disorder. What do you do? Google Bible verses about eating disorders. Research Christian books on the topic. Ask for advice from those who have been in a similar situation. And spend most of your time with this lady focusing the conversation on this struggle.
Whilst none of this is necessarily wrong, can you see how the focus may not necessarily be in the right place? In this kind of situation, we run the risk of turning discipleship into a “self-help” support group. This can happen subtly as we search for other resources without first getting into God’s Word with other women. When we do this, we are essentially believing and teaching that the Bible isn’t sufficient. And that is a terrible lie.
There is also the danger of turning to “self-satisfied Christianity” if we don’t teach the Bible well. Tozer explains this as the belief that:
“God is valued as being useful and Christ appreciated because of the predicaments he gets us out of. He can deliver us from the consequences of our past, relax our nerves, give us peace of mind, and make our business a success.”
Let us be careful we’re not teaching others about a gospel that will help fix all their problems and help them feel better. God is not there to sort all our problems. Instead, get the Bible open and teach others about a God who has come close to sinners through Jesus, who promises not to abandon them in the mess of life, and has given the best helper, the Holy Spirit.
3. The Encouragement: Hand them over.
A question I regularly need to ask myself is: Am I creating dependency in my one-to-one relationships? Anyone involved in discipleship will know this is something that has to be fought against. Dependency can very quickly and subtly come when we are investing large chunks of time meeting and walking alongside others. Ellen Mary Dykas helpfully addresses this in Word-Filled Women’s Ministry by suggesting there is wisdom in encouraging women to have more than one accountability partner or “safe person”, as this can diffuse any temptation towards unhealthy dependence.
I’m sure you’ve heard the famous quote: “You can lead a horse to the water, but you can’t make him drink.” This is an important lesson that can be transferred into ministry—we cannot make others drink the water. We ultimately cannot make them grow in righteousness and love for the Lord. What we can do though is feed them salt and make them thirsty—through teaching them Scripture and modelling a life of walking with Jesus.
But, in our task to walk alongside others, we must remember that the growth of others is not dependent on us. I’ve been praying that it is a comfort and relief for some of us to read these words. Let me repeat that: the growth of others isn’t dependent on you.
Let’s think about my avocado tree for one last time. I could do everything right—water it, feed it, keep it in perfect condition, etc., but ultimately, I cannot make it grow.
1 Corinthians 3:6–7 sums this up perfectly:
I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So, then, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.
What an encouragement and hope! I can think back to many times I have said something in a one-to-one that I wished I hadn’t. Or times I haven’t said something I wished I had. I fail so often in how I love and care for others. But I praise God today that He will bring the growth to those whom He has called to himself.
Often it is a slow and bumpy ride, with joys and sorrows from week to week, and God may choose to use us in big or small ways. May we be willing but dependent, faithful but humble. Teaching God’s truth whilst committing all our efforts to God, remembering we are but an instrument in the Redeemer’s hands.
This is part two of a series on helping others grow in righteousness. You can read part one here.