Jeff and I met for a late lunch of sandwiches to catch up on the previous month; we normally meet just once a month with his busy financial advisor schedule. In the process, I asked him how the two fellows he was discipling were doing. One had dropped out of their weekly time together after only a couple meetings. The other was hanging in there, but Jeff had a lot of questions about all the questions this fellow was asking.
They were going through the Gospel of Mark (that was Jeff’s idea), but not making very much progress. Covering less than a paragraph at a time, Jeff’s friend (a lawyer) was asking a lot of questions that were not part of the text they agreed to read. Jeff wondered out loud, “Maybe I’m not doing something right.”
In college, Jeff was part of a disciple-making ministry. Ministry was simple and regimented; Bible study content was determined by the ministry leadership. People were assigned roles in the ministry based on their year of college. For example, college juniors became small group leaders with members assigned to the group by the leadership team. Freshmen were recruited to be discipled by juniors and seniors and went through materials that were provided by leadership.
While this might sound strange, but it fits the college life nicely. Every student was used to the idea of a progression of coursework, a syllabus that laid out the semester’s activities, the professors dictated that agenda and the students followed it. The ministry was very similar to college work: follow the leader and you will succeed.
When Jeff graduated, he came on staff with the ministry in an intern type of position. He now had greater influence in deciding curriculum and helped in the assignment of younger students to mentors and small groups. But very little actually changed in how students worked through the ministry program.
Today, Jeff lives in the vocational work with a wife and three small children. Any ministry activity needs to be built around work hours and family time. That usually leaves early morning meetings before work or short visits to a coffee shop as the only possibilities for discipling a younger believer who is also trying to balance work hours and family time.
Jeff said, “It was so easy in college. Everyone had a lot of flexibility in their availability. No one questioned the material or asked questions outside of the appointed content. Doing this in ‘the real world’ is so much harder.”
We talked about ways to get a little more structure in his discipling time, however we both acknowledged that discipling in “the real world” was going to be different from discipling in a college environment where everyone is about the same age, has the same experiences, few outside demands, and willingness to submit to conformity (interesting idea when so many college students are committed to non-conformity).
There’s reason why Jesus asked his disciples to pray for laborers/workers. Ministry is work, and work is rarely ever easy. As we get older and life gets busier, let’s not forget to set aside time to personally disciple another man. And remember flexibility is key, but we must maintain our focus as we adjust to life’s demands. The harvest is still plentiful. The laborers are still few. (Matthew 9:35-38)