"Will you disciple me?"
Whether you've asked the question or received it, rightly defining this concept is important. Is a mentor someone who sins less than the mentee? Is discipleship showing someone how to be a better Christian? A better person? Is it formal, like a tutor sitting across the table from a student? Is it casual, like an apprentice working alongside someone more experienced?
While there is value in discussing the nuts and bolts of formalized meetings versus life-on-life rhythms, what topics to study, and what goals to set, that is not the approach I will take here. Instead, I want to present you with three metaphors to describe the role of a mentor in discipleship.
The best example of discipleship is John the Baptist. The essence of his simple approach is found in John 1:35–37:
The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God!" The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.
John was a signpost to Jesus. His main goal wasn't that others should look like, act like, or be like himself, but like Jesus. When he saw Jesus, he proclaimed His identity as the Savior. And John's disciples left him for Jesus.
In fact, John lost a lot of his followers to Jesus. In John 3:26, his concerned disciples have presented this ministry-threatening situation of decreasing numbers. John's response is so foreign to our modern ears that it seems other-worldly: "He must increase, but I must decrease" (v. 30). John understood that his goal was to create followers of Jesus, not himself. It was his job to simply point people that way.
Our goal, likewise, should be to lose our disciples to Jesus. The mentor is merely a signpost showing the way to dependence on Christ.
A Veteran Child
America defines success by independence and self-sufficiency. But Jesus modeled a different view of maturity: "Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. . . . I can do nothing on my own" (John 5:19, 30). Childlike dependence is the model of maturity.
The mentor, then, is simply more experienced in dependence. They are experts at childlike neediness on God the Father. In fact, the best qualifier for discipling others is being more needy than the person you seek to pour into. Do you feel like you can't accomplish any good on your own? Perfect! What you are called to model is a life dependent on Christ, not independent of Him.
A Proficient Admirer
Jesus' death tore the veil so that all of us, with unveiled faces, might behold His glory. The more we admire Him in the Word and in His creation, the more facets of His character we see. Like a diamond, each individual characteristic reflects off all the others producing brilliant light and beauty. The more facets seen, the more stunning the diamond.
The mentor, being more proficient in admiration of God, has the pleasure of pointing out new and various aspects of God's character. If the younger discovers something new or unnoticed to the elder, it is not a threat! The main goal is to enjoy God, and the mentor is delighted to have a new facet to behold and enjoy.
The Focus Isn't Change
If you notice, the above descriptions have nothing to do with self-improvement. The center of our faith isn't self-glorification, but God-glorification. The purpose of the cross was not to give us the ability to be righteous, but to gift us with Christ's righteousness, finally allowing us to be with God. Of course, in His presence we are changed! But the goal of change ought to be secondary to the primary goal of enjoying, beholding, and celebrating the glories of God's rich and abundant character.
This is the primary objective of discipleship: to model consistent joy in God and dependence on God.
Only worship of God is strong enough to bring about the lasting change we all need. If we focus on fleeing sin but forget to enjoy and worship God, we have lost the battle. This is the primary objective of discipleship: to model consistent joy in God and dependence on God.
Who in your life is a veteran at childlike dependence? A proficient admirer of God's character? A consistent signpost to Jesus? Seek them out, and find ways to learn from them. Could you be this to someone in your life? Offer yourself as a trusted friend in the journey to see God more clearly.
He alone is our greatest good, and we need each other to see Him, enjoy Him, and love Him more deeply!