As ministry leaders, we are constantly reading, researching, and discovering new things that we can teach those we’re discipling, because we want to give them the “best” experience in their walk with Jesus. However, a question we rarely think to ask ourselves is: “Is this best for them?”
When you look at that question, you might think, “Of course it is,” because you want what’s best for them—that’s why you’re in ministry. But often when we simply implement the things we love and get excited about our lesson plans for others, what ends up happening is we assume they’re going to get the same benefit that we did. The problem is that not everyone is in the same place spiritually, and a lot of people come from different experiences and backgrounds. While this might sound painstakingly obvious, far too often good intentions for spiritual growth slowly become strict agendas for our small group members to follow.
There are two main areas in which people tend to differ: interests/personalities and demographics. Both are of equal importance when deciding how to disciple others. So how do you properly disciple someone in a way that’s tailored to their needs and the spiritual season they’re currently in? Here are three keys to keep in mind.
1. Be transparent.
One of the keys to getting to know others around you on a personal level is being as transparent and vulnerable with them as you are with your accountability partners and mentors. This will help set the tone for the group’s transparency. Once they know you’re willing to share real and personal issues with them, it shows trust, which will eventually lead to them reciprocating that same trust back to you, allowing you to be invested in their lives.
2. Be available.
Another key to discipling people with different interests and personalities is to do things with them that they like to do. This shows them you genuinely want to spend time and invest in their lives. In the same way, show them you can learn from them too—that you’re on the same “playing field.” Make small groups an actual “group” opportunity. There will be plenty of time for you to teach, but you will learn about your group members best if you ask questions and listen.
3. Be open.
But what if your differences go further than your interests? What if there are cultural or demographic differences that seem to keep you distant from some of your small group members? This key requires a step beyond the things mentioned above and is probably the most difficult because it requires the most time and commitment. You must completely immerse yourself into their community and experiences. Doing this takes more than just attending one block party in their neighborhood; this takes months and years of invested time. In order to meet the needs of another culture, you can’t come barging in with your knowledge and experience, because they’re different. You need to experience what your small group members experience, because sympathy without experience will not allow you to fully understand their needs. That’s why many pastors struggle when they have a vision to plant a church in an urban area. Sure, your heart is there, but are you there with them? Are you living in the same community, or are you living on the outskirts of it? You won’t have the credibility or the wisdom your disciples need if you aren’t attempting to understand their experiences.
Discipling someone different than you requires intentional sacrifices of time, pride, and self. This will lead to true community that gives room for the spiritual growth your group members need. How do I know this? Because that’s exactly how Jesus discipled His group of followers.
Jacob Stier is a senior at Holy Cross College at Notre Dame, seeking a degree in communications with minors in business, theology, and sports management. He served as the customer relations intern on the Groups Ministry marketing team at LifeWay this summer. He is also on student staff for Young Life at John Adams High School in South Bend, Indiana.