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The Seasonal Nature of Discipling

Ecclesiastes 3:1 says that there is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the sun.  The longer I live life the more I find this to be true.  Isn't that part of the beauty of the wisdom literature in the bible (Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job, Song of Songs), as you live life and heed what these Scriptures tell you see that they are indeed wise, and from God!

This made me think about the concept of "discipling" and how often in my spiritual context and culture, discipling is looked at as a linear need and practice. For instance I will hear things like, "who is discipling you, or him, or her"? And while I agree it is good and biblical that we practice one another relationships throughout our entire Christian walk (just search "one another" in the New Testament in any concordance and you will see what I'm talking about), many times in my experience however, it meant to be more of a training and teaching relationship, or just a let's constantly check in on each other because that helps us to feel like we are being spiritual.  It's like if you are 10 years old in the faith and you do not have someone "discipling" you, it can be as though you are somehow unspiritual, or even worse, prideful and rebellious! (which of course this could be the case).

The problem with this however, is that it does not reflect the nature of training and one another relationships in the New Testament.  In the New Testament (Jesus and the apostle Paul would be prime examples) people taught and trained others for a season and for a specific purpose, then once that purpose was achieved they released them into "maturity" and "ministry".  This of course does not mean they never learned, grew, or matured in any way after that, it simply means their "discipling" was for a season, and for a reason.  

"Biblical discipling is for a season and for a reason."

Ironically when we teach Christians to have an expectation that someone should be constantly teaching and training them throughout the course of their Christian life, we can be subtly instilling patterns of immaturity and unhealthy spiritual dependence - I do not mean the concept of growing in general and in various ways (c.f. 2 Pet 1), but a lack of being able to train one's self, being dependent on someone else (the opposite, being independent is also spiritual immaturity), rather than interdependent (c.f. Heb 5 - notice the writer's emphasis on training one's self).  

A picture that is helpful here is an adult still needing to be spoon fed by someone else in order to survive.  We immediately recognize if this is the case, there is some great deficiency and not considered healthy.  I also think the dandelion is helpful at this point.  I love the illustration of the dandelion which sprouts it's seed and it clings to the bud of the flower in bloom until it is mature, then it is released to reproduce itself. (For a great book on this concept see Real Life Discipleship).

"Spiritual immaturity is marked by the inability to train one's self."

If you have been a Christian for a while (however you might define that) ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you still dependent in an unhealthy way on others for the basic survival of your Faith and Christian living?

  • Are you able to consistently practice godliness and walk with Him faithfully without someone having to constantly "check in on you"?

  • If these are applicable to you, think about what it is that you need in order to move forward to maturity. (read Hebrews and Real Life Discipleship)

If you have been a Christian for a while (however you might define that) and you find yourself at a place of spiritual maturity, ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you "discipling" anyone?  

    • If not, why not?

    • If so, what does that look like? Do you have a plan to train them for a season and for a specific purpose, then release them to go and do likewise? Or do you find that you have them stuck on your spiritual umbilical cord?

    • How can you come up with a plan to help the person grow to Christian maturity? A good place to start is to clearly define for yourself what is Christian maturity and what does it look like? (Real Life Discipleship is helpful here)

Please don't get me wrong, I am NOT saying that no one ever needs "discipling", but rather I AM saying that the training and teaching we need should be seasonal and for a specific and intentional reason (like when we are new in the faith learning and practicing the foundational teachings of Christ for instance), not just so we can feel more "secure" in our spirituality.  Our Christian lives are varied, full of ups and downs and we should strive to reach a point where we are able to feed ourselves with "solid food".


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