Leading Others in Discipleship

Optional Lectio Divina Prayer 

  1. Read Mark 4:1-9 
  2. Meditate on the words. 
  3. Speak to Christ about this passage.
  4. Rest and listen in God’s presence. 
  5. Discuss together.

What do you think of when you picture St. Paul?

Many Christians remember the pre-conversion Paul, who “persecuted the Church of God violently and tried to destroy it” (Gal 1:13). He is well known for his dramatic conversion to Christianity on the road to Damascus, his efforts as the great Apostle to the Gentiles and his writings, which make up a major portion of the New Testament.

But Scripture shows us a third side of Paul, a side not as well-known but just as influential for the Church and the world: his intentional discipleship of those he was forming in the faith.

Paul’s traveling companion for much of his missionary journey was a young Christian named Timothy. Upon arriving in Lystra on his second missionary journey, Paul learned of the sound reputation of this faithful young Christian. By the end of Paul’s visit there, Timothy was moved to leave everything behind and to join the great Apostle on mission (1).

As Paul and Timothy journeyed together with their missionary companions, Paul intentionally trained Timothy to lead. Paul sent Timothy first to Thessalonica and later to Macedonia to encourage the Christians there, exhorting him to “let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Tm 4:12 – 13). After each assignment, Timothy returned to his mentor for even more training in mission.

After fifteen years of laboring together, Paul trusted that he had formed Timothy well enough to let him lead on his own — so he sent Timothy on an extended mission to a troubled community in Ephesus. As Timothy fought to address false teachings there, Paul encouraged him: “I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these instructions to you so that, if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God” (1 Tm 3:14). Paul continued to encourage and support Timothy, even as Timothy was entering into his own mission field.

A few years later, knowing his own death was near, Paul summoned Timothy to Rome (2). In his last letter, Paul writes with gratitude for their friendship: “I remember you constantly in my prayers. As I remember your tears, I long day and night to see you, that I might be filled with joy” (2 Tm 1:3 – 4). But Paul also makes it clear: Timothy’s charge was to take up the torch that had been handed on to him by Paul over their many years together and to continue to spread Christ’s teachings to the ends of the earth (cf. 2 Tm 2:2). Their “partnership for the Gospel” bore great fruit through their own ministries, but the ripple effects were only beginning.

Discuss: What do you find most inspiring or surprising about this story of the early Church? What strikes you about Paul’s investment in Timothy? What does it reveal to you about discipleship that Paul and Timothy were on mission for more than 15 years together, even when their lives took them apart from one another?

THE IMPORTANCE OF DISCIPLESHIP

St. Paul was an incredible missionary in many ways. But there was only one St. Paul. He couldn’t be everywhere at once, and his days on earth were numbered. His missionary efforts produced great fruit in his time, but his investment in passing on the faith and raising leaders who could continue that mission after he was gone was what truly produced a lasting impact.

Accompanying others in discipleship involves a personal investment in others on the journey of knowing Jesus and making him known. It is inviting them to a journey of imitation, an invitation to “be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1), as Paul himself invited the early Christians to do. The goal of discipleship is to raise up lifelong missionary disciples who will live out the Little Way of Evangelization wherever the Lord calls them in their lives.

“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”

  1 Corinthians 11:1    

To fulfill this mission, we are called to become good and holy missionary disciples like St. Paul. This is a precious and significant responsibility. The commitment to lead others in discipleship is to accompany them through the ups and downs of both their spiritual journey and all other parts of life, as Paul so carefully and intentionally did with Timothy. It is not about a club or a program, but a commitment to a person, to their spiritual growth and to the mission the Lord has in store for them. We can do that by doing for others what Paul did for Timothy.

Discuss: How has someone led you like Paul did for Timothy? When considering what they did, what was most transformative for your own understanding of mission?

LEADING LIKE ST. PAUL

If you are reading this article, you are likely well on your way to knowing Christ and desiring to make him known. You probably are witnessing to Christ in your life, investing in authentic friendships and even sharing the Gospel or starting a Bible study. What’s the next step? How do you begin investing in others the way Paul invested in Timothy? How do you prepare them to be built up in relationship with Christ and eventually sent on mission?

This is where your intentional investment truly begins. If we want to follow St. Paul’s model of making missionary disciples like Timothy, we need to follow his example in four ways:

1.      Paul built his discipleship on shared life.

2.      Paul gave Timothy intentional training for ministry.

3.      Paul invited Timothy to go out on mission together with him.

4.      Paul sent Timothy to entrust the mission to others.

Let’s look more closely at each of these elements of leading another in discipleship.

Building Discipleship Upon Shared Life

Paul didn’t just lead Timothy in a Bible study or have one-on-one training meetings with him. Paul spent a lot of time with Timothy outside of formal meetings. As they journeyed together on mission, Paul and Timothy shared much of everyday life together: meals, prayer, service and many long days of travel. Paul loved Timothy as a close friend, sharing with him not only the Gospel but his very life (cf. 1 Thes 2:8). You are called to do the same as you walk with those in your life! You have probably been doing this for many weeks already as you have invested in them. Continue to share life with the people you are leading: cook meals together, visit the sacraments together and pursue other ways to share life together.

Paul once wrote to Timothy, “No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments” (1 Tm 5:23). In the midst of their intense missionary efforts, Paul remembered Timothy’s tendency to be ill and was conscious to care for him, even from miles away! We frequently see in Paul’s letters his intention to visit Timothy or his asking Timothy to visit him. These are wonderful examples of the attentiveness and care that Paul continued to show for Timothy. Paul cared not only for Timothy’s mission. He cared about Timothy.

Intentional Training for Mission

Paul took the time to teach Timothy how to lead others during their time together; when they were apart, Paul wrote letters to Timothy instructing him what to teach, advising him on how to deal with conflict and encouraging him in keeping his own faith. Paul formed Timothy both in his own personal growth and in practical training for mission.

Once someone in your life has made a commitment to Christ and desires to grow in their faith, they are ready to be intentionally formed. This intentional formation best takes place in a regular meeting with either a group of disciples or one-on-one. Though some one-on-one time is important for the person you are leading to feel known and loved, especially in the Build phase, when we look to Jesus in Scripture, he rarely did one-on-one discipleship. He often taught the Twelve as a group, or had conversations with a few of his disciples at a time. Leading others into mission as a group helps them teach and encourage one another and also ensures that, if people are unable to continue, the group can continue on and weather life’s transitions with more stability. Leading others in group discipleship, or even in two or three smaller groups, depending on where people are at, is key for forming disciples as Jesus did.

This intentional formation looks different depending on where the person in whom you are investing is in their journey.

·   When the person you are investing in is in the “Build” phase, you will likely want to meet occasionally to talk about what they’re getting out of Bible study and their walk with Christ, particularly in the habits of Acts 2:42: prayer, fellowship, the sacraments and the teaching of the Apostles. The “Build” articles in this book can be helpful for this.  But we don’t just want to talk about these ideas. We also want to create opportunities for the person to have experiences together in prayer, sacraments, Christian fellowship and faith formation.

·   Once someone has accepted the High Call to Mission, it is best to meet every week, with a group of other missionary disciples, if possible, for intentional formation and training for mission. This is where you will discuss the “Send” articles, practice your mission skills and spend intentional time going on mission together.

One last note: As important as the Discipleship Articles are for clarity and conviction for mission, be careful not to let your discipleship relationship be reduced only to discussing articles. Don’t forget to take time after each article to practice the skill you learned, to use one of the “Additional Resources” to go deeper and to be attentive to what the person whom you are leading needs.

Going on Mission Together

Paul did not simply give Timothy lessons on what to do in the mission field: He modeled mission for him and gave him opportunities to practice. Timothy learned from Paul as he watched him preach the Gospel, answer questions, debate unbelievers, call sinners to repent and encounter rejection, scorn and even imprisonment. Paul did not just teach Timothy about mission, but he lived it alongside him.

In your own discipleship, it is important to go on mission together. Don’t only spend time talking about mission; go out and live it with them! Attend the Bible study of the person you are leading and discuss with them afterward what went well and where they could improve. Go out together and hang out with someone they want to invite to Bible study. Go as a group to a parish event and attempt to meet new people in groups of two or three. It isn’t enough to give those whom you are leading a vision and tools for missionary discipleship; they need you to live mission alongside of them, embodying how Jesus sent his disciples out two by two throughout the Gospels (cf. Lk 10:1).

Seeing Beyond Timothy

While teaching and preaching in the Church, Paul clearly invited Timothy to the mission of forming others in the faith and teaching them to do the same. The mission couldn’t end with Timothy. It had to be handed on to each new person that Timothy taught and trained, just as Paul did for Timothy. Paul was frequently “seeing beyond Timothy”: He wasn’t only concerned with Timothy, about how he was doing and what he was struggling with, but he also cared about those whom Timothy was leading.

We see this in Paul’s letter to Timothy near the end of his own life: “You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tm 2:1 – 2). In these important last words, Paul didn’t just invite Timothy to learn from him to become a good leader: He invited him to a mission of forming others in the faith and teaching them to do the same. In this we see not only Paul’s heart for Timothy, but also Paul’s heart for the rest of the world.

What you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. 

  2 Timothy 2:2    

Part of your regular conversation with the people in whom you are investing should be about whom they are investing in. Most often, this looks like asking good questions to the person you are leading about those whom they are leading: Where are they along the path of discipleship? Have you entered into friendship with them? Are they in a Bible study? Are they ready to commit to living the Big 3, to receive an invitation to mission? What obstacles are preventing their growth? Questions like these will ensure that your conversations in discipleship are not just about the two of you but are also about the mission entrusted to you and how you are entrusting it to others.

Discuss: What are some practical ways you can share life with the people in whom you are investing? What intentional formation do you think Jesus wants them to receive next? What could you learn by going out on mission with someone else alongside you? How will you ensure that your discipleship relationship is not just focused inward on the two of you but remains looking outward at those in whom you are investing?

PITFALLS TO INTENTIONAL DISCIPLESHIP

While this article (and previous ones) have given you a vision for how best to lead others in discipleship, you might still need to practice, to make mistakes and learn from them. As you are learning to lead, there are some common pitfalls that are easy to fall into early on in discipleship. When any one aspect of discipleship is emphasized over the others, discipleship can be reduced to a less intentional, less fruitful type of relationship. As you are learning to disciple others, here are three pitfalls to avoid:

●  Buddy: Pursuing authentic friendship in discipleship is important, but when it is emphasized over other things, it can be easy to let your time together slip into just being “buddies” while letting intentional formation fall to the wayside. Your conversations might center around activities and what’s going on in your lives, and you often forget to talk about mission. Falling into a “buddy” mentality is not aligned with the truth of discipleship; those you are leading should come to your meeting times ready to be formed, and you should be able to have intentional conversations about mission and goals as a group. That intentionality is at the heart of being on mission for Christ!

●  Counselor: While vulnerability and honesty are necessary parts of discipleship, your role as leader is not to be a counselor or a spiritual director for the person you are leading in discipleship. Yes, you will talk about each other’s spiritual lives throughout discipleship, and you will be able to offer advice and insight — but discipleship is not the place to lay out all the difficulties and stresses in either of your lives, which can be a particular temptation if you only meet with someone one-on-one. You might have to do some individual problem-solving in discipleship: How will you respond to a Bible study where no one shows up? What should you do if your schedule is getting in the way of your prayer time or your relationship with those you lead in discipleship? But it shouldn’t be the entire relationship. If the person you are leading does need spiritual direction or more substantial mental or emotional help, walk with them to seek out a priest, a good counselor, a spiritual director or other helpful resources!

●  Boss: Intentional formation is essential for a fruitful mission, but focusing too much on mission and neglecting to grow in friendship and in relationship with Jesus in addition to formation could tempt you into becoming a “boss” of the mission of those in whom you are investing. Be aware not to let your discipleship relationship be reduced to nothing more than a weekly meeting or discussions solely about goals, progress and accountability. Falling into the “boss” mentality also leaves out the One who’s really in charge of mission: Jesus himself! Your role in leading others in discipleship should be more like a mentor, someone who encourages, listens, guides, coaches and helps someone else progress toward their goals and toward heaven.

Discuss: Which of these three pitfalls do you imagine yourself falling into more easily? What kind of accountability will you need to keep your discipleship intentional and authentic?

TAKE ACTION

Now that you know the elements of intentional discipleship, it’s time to start preparing and living it out. As you plan and prepare to invest in others each week, follow these four steps:

1. Pray: Take time each week to pray for the people in whom you are investing. Intercede for their needs and ask Jesus what he wants to do in their life and how you can play a part in that. Let Jesus guide you to the next conversation you need to have or the next skill the person in whom you are investing is ready to learn and practice.

2. Prepare: Based on your prayer, decide what you would like to teach, discuss or do in your next intentional meeting time. If you decide to discuss a Discipleship Article, take time to read and pray through the text. Master the Transferable Concepts and decide what additional discussion questions you might want to add or where you might want to share from your own experience. If you are practicing some mission skill, take time to think through how you will coach the person or group(s) you’re leading and offer feedback.

3. Teach and Learn: During your meeting, use the formation materials or the practice you planned to create an authentic conversation and mission experience. Ask good questions and feel free to depart from what you had planned, if the Holy Spirit leads. One way to structure your time together looks like this:

·   5 – 10 mins: Open in prayer (Lectio Divina, intercessory prayer, spontaneous prayer, etc.)

·   30 – 40 mins: Intentional formation or mission practice (discussing a Discipleship Article, reading or listening to a supplemental resource from an article, going out and practicing the mission skill the one you’re leading is learning, problem-solving to overcome an obstacle in mission, etc.)

·   10 – 15 mins: debrief and discuss next steps

This is not a required structure, but rather a guide to help you ensure that you are incorporating the various pieces of discipleship in your time together. Feel free to adapt this as necessary.

4. Next Steps: At the end of your meeting, discuss any takeaways and decide what next steps you both need to take to practice and grow in mission. This could mean deciding to read an “Additional Resource” from an article the following week to go deeper. It could mean setting a goal to practice the skill or reflect on the truth you learned throughout the week. The next steps are when the vision and the ideas from your conversation become a lived habit that has the power to transform.

Using these four steps, plan 2 – 3 weeks of formation and investment for someone in whom you are investing. Consider: How will you intentionally form them to help them grow in their walk of faith? In what ways will you share life with them, in addition to the times of formation? How will you pursue the habits of Acts 2:42 together?

Share this plan with the person who is leading you next week.

A Missionary Disciple’s Examination of Conscience

Finally, as you begin to live out intentional discipleship with others, you will want to frequently reflect on how you’re doing and how you can improve as a leader. The Missionary Disciple’s Examination of Conscience following this article will help you live discipleship in a manner worthy of imitation.

Pray through the Examination of Conscience at the end of this article and choose one or two things from the list that you want to live out better or more consistently. Set a goal for how you will incorporate those things into your discipleship. Return to it frequently to continue to grow in living out discipleship and leading others on the journey well! 

Transferable Concepts

Seeing Beyond Timothy: We must ensure that the people we are leading will faithfully entrust the vision and mission of evangelization to those whom they are leading, according to 2 Tim. 2:2: “What you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”

3 Pitfalls of Intentional Discipleship: Boss, Buddy, Counselor


Notes:

1. Scott Hahn, “Timothy,” Catholic Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 2009), 914.

2. Ignatius Catholic Study Bible: New Testament, Revised Standard Version (2nd ed.), comp. Curtis Mitch, ed. Scott Hahn (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2001), 395.