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Emily fidgeted with her coffee cup. Marcia was running late. They’d gotten to know each other a little at church. Emily, though honored, had been taken aback when Marcia, a new Christian, had asked her to disciple her. She had stammered out a yes without thinking and now was wondering what exactly she’d gotten herself into. Emily was a Christian—had been following Jesus for years—and of course she knew she was supposed to be discipling people. Something within her longed to help Marcia grow. But now, in the midst of this busy coffee shop, her coffee going cold and her mind going blank, she felt utterly inadequate. Marcia was looking for her to do something, but Emily had no idea where to start.
Have you ever felt this way? Maybe you haven’t thought of it in terms of the word discipleship, but perhaps someone has asked you to help them grow, or simply has looked to you for guidance in their relationship with Christ—and you feel ill-equipped to do whatever this “discipling” thing is supposed to be.
What do you think when you hear the word discipleship? A lot of us might look at Jesus’ command in Matthew 28 to “go and make disciples of all nations” and we nod our heads. But, when we get down to it, the actual “going and making disciples” part can feel intimidating, insurmountable, or simply confusing.
Even though we want to and in fact are designed to disciple others, we let our confusion and lack of information hold us hostage. Jesus’ definition of discipleship is our most important guide for discipling—but to get started, let’s consider the dictionary definition Daniel Webster gives us: “Someone who accepts and helps to spread the teachings of a famous person.” Webster nails it! Indeed, discipleship means accepting and helping to spread the words of Jesus. Could it really be that simple? God offers assurance and freedom to each of His daughters who want to follow Him in obedience into this gentle art of discipling women.
The LORD and King is coming with power.
He rules with a powerful arm.
He has set his people free.
He is bringing them back as his reward.
He has won the battle over their enemies.
He takes care of his flock like a shepherd.
He gathers the lambs in his arms.
He carries them close to his heart.
He gently leads those that have little ones. (Isaiah 40:10-11)
Isaiah 40:10 shows us a bold and compelling description of our almighty God—and in the very next verse, this same God is described as a protective shepherd who gently gathers lambs in his arms. If we wish to disciple other women, we need that powerful ruler supernaturally surrounding us and filling us—but we can also be thankful knowing that He attends us and those we help as a gentle shepherd.
As our gentle shepherd, Jesus “gently leads those who have young” (v. 11). When I read this, I picture a young mother holding her newborn. There is never a more vulnerable time for mother or baby than the first days or weeks of the little one’s life! I remember the vulnerability I felt as I raised my three children, and more recently I have watched the empathetic care of my daughters for their children. As women, we have been created with that sensitivity and vulnerability whether we have had children or not.
Biologically, there are hormones every woman needs: estrogen, oxytocin, and progesterone. Sometimes I refer to these hormones as “drugs” that we have been placed on so that we can do what we are created to do! We have all experienced the side effects of these “drugs” when we experience PMS, but these hormones also give us wonderful capabilities. We are able to sense what people—whether our friends, husbands, or children—need. We can quickly tell how someone else feels. Sometimes it seems as though we have eyes in the back of our heads!
This nurturing quality we possess within our feminine design is our greatest resource as we respond to Christ’s call to make disciples. Disciplers are nourishers. They are sensitive. They are relationally aware. They give attention to the spiritual dietary needs of those they help. They place themselves in a position of vulnerability for the sake of those they help. And because Jesus gently cares and leads us, we are compelled to gently disciple others.
How important it is that we offer gentleness as we disciple! This gentleness does not mean that we are indifferent to the damaging life choices or attitudes of those around us. Nor does it mean that we endorse the pervasive victim mentalities present in our culture today that paralyze a woman’s growth. But in gentleness, we should show deliberate voluntary kindness and forbearance as we conduct ourselves as disciplers.
Why an “Art”?
Like art, discipling requires a certain level of skill development. The application of those skills, along with creative acumen, brings discipling to a level of artistry. As artists, we envision the beautiful results of what is being crafted, plan for the results, and contribute to their end. We are fully present with the emerging work of beauty in front of us, even as we work with the finished product constantly in mind. Being flexible and creative as we use the skills we have developed is essential as we trust God for His desired outcome in a woman’s life.
As we intentionally develop our skills, we grow in our ability to disciple with confident thoroughness. Relying upon God’s Spirit helps us cultivate an awareness of the needs of those we help. And while we are “at work” in a person’s life, the Ultimate Artist, the Creator of the Universe, is accomplishing the true work! God is far more in tune and active with those we are discipling than we could ever hope to be.
Related Video: What is Christian Discipleship?
Dana Yeakley is the author of The Gentle Art of Discipling Women. She and her husband, Tom, have been on staff with The Navigators since 1978, and married for over forty years. Their family served in Indonesia as missionaries for eleven years. Since their return in 1994, Dana has served with a variety of leadership teams within The Navigators. Dana and her husband have three married children and seven grandchildren. Presently, she lives in Colorado Springs. Learn more at navpress.com.