By: Pastor David
I know I don’t look it, but I’m actually not bad at woodworking. I don’t usually do large projects – coffee tables, chairs, or the like – but I know my way around small-scale work. Now, if you know my family, it would be very reasonable for you to ask where I got that skill. My dad looks at hammers like they’re an alien artifact, and my mom prefers a spatula to a screwdriver.
I learned it because someone decided they were going to show me how to do it.
Mike* was a guitar technician at my first serious job out of high school. He was (and is) an incredibly talented woodworker. When I took the job at the bench two spaces down from his, I was an utter yokel. I’d built things like doghouses before, but that was a far cry from the $3,000 guitars we were supposed to be working on. Mike, meanwhile, had an artist’s touch that never seemed to go wrong.
After my first week, it would have been obvious to a blind bat that my training had been sadly inadequate. I went home feeling discouraged and wondering what in the world I was doing in this line of work. I dreaded the following Monday.
That morning, I found Mike sitting at my bench. He pulled me aside before we started working and said, “Kid, you’re terrible at this.” I blanched, expecting a tirade. Instead, Mike smiled and said, “So I’m gonna help you not be quite so terrible.”
Over the next few months, he did exactly that. It wasn’t anything intensive – most of the time, he just invited me to watch when he had something particularly interesting on his bench. Every once in a while, he would email me a useful article or schematic, or make a recommendation over my shoulder when I was working. And by the time I quit that job, Mike was right: I was less terrible. As a matter of fact, one of the last things he said to me in the context of that job was, “You’ve gotten really good at this!” You have no idea how good that made me feel!
While the Christian life is certainly more complicated than woodworking, there’s a lesson for us in this: discipling relationships are critical to our spiritual growth. In fact, it is the expectation of scripture that Christians will disciple one another to be more like Jesus. We often forget that the Great Commission doesn’t just call us to evangelize, but to teach others: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
We fairly readily recognize that the first part of this passage – the evangelizing inherent in “make disciples” – applies to us, but it’s easy to forget that the “teaching them” part is also in our court. As we learned from our sermon series in Titus a few years ago, the normative standard for Christians is that older believers will show younger believers how to follow Jesus.
In turn, that ought to lead us to ask how? Unfortunately, our society is one that doesn’t value personal apprentice-type relationships like these. Training in workplaces is now an automated affair – we sit and watch videos or read manuals, rather than working with an individual the way Mike worked with me. There is a temptation in the Christian life to think that we can similarly automate the process of discipleship: read these books, listen to these podcasts, make sure you hear the sermon every Sunday.
All of these are good and even necessary things, but scripture makes it clear that the Sunday morning sermon was never supposed to be the sum total of a believer’s discipleship. But we’ve inherited a world in which it’s difficult to build close, intimate, honest relationships with those outside of our family – the kinds of relationships in which an older believer can say to a younger, “Let me help you follow Jesus.”
What I’d like to do is propose a few simple ways to just get started. These are not exhaustive, but hopefully they give you a few useful things to keep in mind when making ‘first contact’ with a younger believer.
1. Invite someone over.
This is a surefire winner. Everyone likes free food, so invite a younger believer to your house and feed them! And while you feed them, ply them with questions! Ask about their history of following Jesus. Respond in kind and give them your testimony. And when dinner’s over, ask them if there’s any way you can help them spiritually. If that sounds ‘ministerial,’ you’re right - it is! That’s because this is a ministry for which all believers are responsible. And this is a good way to start a relationship in which you can fulfill that responsibility.
2. Tell your story.
Other than scripture, the best tool any Christian has on hand to teach a younger believer is simply your story of following Jesus. Even the mistakes. Perhaps especially the mistakes. We measure all truth by the plumb line of the Bible, but our faith is still an experiential one – that is, it develops and grows as we experience it and live our lives in light of it. Being honest with younger believers about your difficulties, struggles with sin, and Spirit-given successes is a great way to help disciple that person.
3. Put yourself in their shoes.
Generational differences have always been, and always will be a major sticking point for relationships like these. For instance, there’s constant hand wringing about Millennials these days: supposedly, they’re a lazy, entitled lot who seem to think that hard work is a death sentence. But lest we forget, the WWII generation criticized Baby Boomers as spoiled, disrespectful, and paranoid of government, as evinced by the common nickname, “the Me Generation.” And those who lived through WWI criticized the GI generation as being politically radical, licentious, and obsessed with entertainment.
I remind us of this in order to point out that every generation seems to have a bone to pick with the generation that comes after it. Different life experiences, rites of passage, and ideological priorities all conspire to make us look at one another with suspicion.
If you’re reading this and you’re fairly convinced that the average younger believer isn’t worth your time – or worse yet, thinks that you aren’t worth their time – I’d like to remind you of two things.
First, remember that Jesus “invested” in you when you weren’t worth his time by any human standard. You cannot consistently hold to the Gospel and simultaneously claim that another, less mature believer isn’t ‘worth my time.’ And while we’re at it, I have yet to meet a new or young Christian who isn’t desperate for some older believer to come alongside them. Don’t let the devil use your insecurities to keep you away from this critical part of the mission of God!
Second: the Gospel is potent enough to overcome every barrier. We’re told in Galatians that through the Gospel, Jesus has broken down the racial barriers between Jew and Gentile, the economic barriers between slave and free, the social barriers between male and female, and more. I daresay that if the Gospel can do that, it can motivate you to put down your preconceived notions and listen graciously to the spiritual struggles of a believer who lacks your experience in the faith. If my own experience is any judge, they’ll undoubtedly teach you some things while you’re at it!
Equipped for Obedience
I hope all of these ideas come as an encouragement to you, dear believer. Discipleship is part of your responsibility as a Christian, but it is a responsibility for which God will equip you! The Father never asks for obedience from His children without providing them the means to be obedient. In Ephesians 2:10, we’re told that we were “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” The discipling of younger believers is one of those good works, so we can go forward in confidence that God has laid out the path before our feet!