“I failed a drug test at work.”
“I got kicked out of the program.”
“I got suspended from school.”
“I moved in with my boyfriend.”
If you’ve been involved in any kind of mentoring, discipleship, or external serving relationships, one of these scenarios may sound familiar to you – as does the initial reaction. Your heart drops, you feel that pang of disappointment, you hang your head as you begin to feel the weight of what this choice or consequence means for this person who has come to mean so much to you.
Whether you’ve invested in someone for a week or a decade, it hurts. It may feel like you’ve somehow “failed” at discipleship. You ask questions like “Did I not spend enough time with him or her?” or “Did I not share truth clearly enough?” or simply “Where did I go wrong?”
I’ve been there – many times – and it doesn’t get any easier.
So what is the right perspective and a right response? Here are two truths (and a lie!) to help you navigate your next disappointment.
Lie: It's about you.
This is the lie that permeates and plays out in our lives in a million different ways. We tend to consider ourselves – and our failure – first. But this is where we must remind ourselves that it’s simply not about us. It’s about Him. Let’s look at 1 Corinthians 3:5-7:
“What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.”
I think this passage makes it pretty clear: Discipleship is not about you – and it’s not up to you. We are not saviors – only Jesus saves. If any person you’re ministering to experiences setbacks, remember that God’s ways are perfect and He is in control. This ultimately ensures that He gets all the glory for the life transformation we do get to see!
Truth: It's about faithfulness.
You probably hear this notion all the time. It sounds good, but what does it really mean? And what does it look like practically?
To be faithful is to be steady in allegiance or affection, firm in adherence to promises or in observance of duty (Merriam-Webster). So instead of asking questions that focus on our failure, you might ask, “Did this person experience the love of Christ during our time together?” or “Did I thoughtfully and clearly share God’s truth with him or her whenever I had the chance?”
This is how we measure success – by our faithfulness to do what we knew to do. So we should reflect on whether we were faithful and look for ways to be even more faithful in the future. Keep serving Him faithfully with your whole heart (1 Samuel 12:2).
Truth: It's not over.
The person you’re impacting may be used to having people give up when the going gets tough - whether parents or teachers or spouses or bosses or friends or former mentors. This is your opportunity to reflect the grace and patience that our God exercises daily with us. Because God loved (and loves) us as prodigals, love this person who's acting like a prodigal right now. Remind them of God’s love for them. And then have a real discussion about sin and consequences, repentance, and a way forward.
God is still writing His story for each and every one of us. So stick with it – with them – and be an agent of grace and reconciliation in the complicated but beautiful ministry of discipleship. Continue to be faithful. Pray. Pursue. Love. And trust in God’s unfailing love and redemptive plan for all of us.
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