One of the tasks pastors should regularly engage in is discipling church members and new converts to the faith. There are a number of ways a pastor can do this. He can teach a new member’s class or teach a Sunday School class on a regular basis. But from time to time the pastor will undoubtedly be called upon the disciple one-on-one. It’s in this context that there have been times where I have been extremely disappointed, even to the level that I’ve contemplated ceasing from disicpling anyone. Why, you ask? Well let’s just say that I felt like I was disciple repellant.
Case in point, I once spent the better part of nine months discipling a new Christian convert who was on fire and wanted to learn the Reformed faith. This person was eager to learn and seemed to soak up everything I threw at him. We spent many countless hours studying and discussing the Westminster Confession of Faith. With each step of the way I thought we were making good progress. Shortly after we completed studying the Confession this person, seemingly out of the blue, announced, “I think I’m more Roman Catholic than I am Reformed.” Let’s just say that my enthusiasm tore off across the room like a filled but untied balloon. I nevertheless took this declaration in stride and continued to work with this young man only to have him eventually leave the church. I seriously thought to myself, “Maybe I shouldn’t disciple anyone because it seems like the more time I spend with people, the more I drive them away from Christ.” I wasn’t trying to be funny but was trying to figure out how my efforts to disciple, nurture, and care for members of my church only seemed to turn up weeds and harden the ground I was trying to plow.
As I’ve thought about these disappointing discipleship situations (there was more than one), I have revisited my words and instruction trying to figure out what went wrong. In a number of these scenarios, I have yet to see any positive fruit, even years later. There is certainly the distinct possibility that I was the cause of apostasy, at least in this one above-related example. On the other hand, I have been comforted by the apostle Paul’s ministry. Think of the Corinthian church—what a mess—people were getting drunk at the Lord’s Supper (of all things!), unruly women were disrupting the worship services, a man was having adulterous relations with his step-mother and the congregation did nothing about it! Think about the Galatian churches—Paul personally planted these church only to have them immediately embrace false teaching. I suspect in both of these cases the conduct of the churches grieved Paul to the very core of his soul. So, why, then does the Lord allow these things to happen?
While we cannot peer into the hidden counsel of God, we do know what he has revealed. In this regard we should not forget the parable of the sower (Matt. 13:1-23). Our job, whether as laymen or pastors, is to sow the seed. We tell others of the gospel of Christ and the teaching of Scripture. Some of these seeds will fall along the path, others upon rocky ground, birds will come along and eat some of them, and some of it will fall upon fertile ground, grow, and yield much fruit. What Christ never addresses in the parable is: Who prepares the soil? The parable should remind us that, in the end, Christ must open the heart. Yes, we plant and water, but God gives the increase (1 Cor. 3:6).
In the face of wandering disciples, some of which are heartbreaking, I came to the realization that this was one of the ways God was reminding me of my role. My role in discipleship is fidelity, not success. I must teach, share, and point others to Christ. But only Christ, through his Spirit, can effectually call and write his Word upon the walls of our hearts. Moreover, yes, disciples may wander or even apostatize, but we must remember that as long as the person has breath in their lungs, there is still the hope and possibility that they will repent. Hence, even though our window to disciple may close, our window for prayer remains open much longer. In this respect, we should always continue to pray for disciples.
In the end, don’t think that you’re disciple repellant as tempting as the thought may be. And don’t give up. Remember that Christ calls you to fidelity, not success, and that he is the one who will draw disciples to himself.