The Holy Spirit and Discipleship

There is a large part of the discipleship process we cannot do. Whether we are looking for growth in our own walk with Jesus, mentoring young believers, or designing discipleship programs for our churches, there is only so much we can make happen on our own. I have led a number of discipleship gatherings where the people involved were gaining knowledge and getting to know each other, but little other fruit was appearing from our time together. I strived and tried, but no matter what I did, we seemed to be traveling in circles that did not lead to real growth or change. These experiences helped me to realize that the main player in the discipleship process is not my effort. It is the Holy Spirit. We play a part in the call to make disciples, but the lion’s share of the transformative work has to be Him.

I can remember being terrified the first time someone asked me to mentor them. It was at a point in my walk where much of my life was being refined. I was so consumed with my own weakness that I thought, “What could I offer this guy?” That season of brokenness was actually a great blessing. I felt like I had little to offer on my own, and I was amazed by the lessons this young man learned that I never taught, the conviction that I did not initiate, and the godly decisions that I did not influence. My words and example did play a part, but I was well aware that I was not alone in this process. True heart change and transformative revelation comes from the one who made us and knows us best. Many in ministry believe this on a theological level, but the practical aspects of this reality can elude our practices.
If we fully believe that we are dependent on the Holy Spirit for transformation in our churches and ourselves, it only makes sense that we ask. Many times, because we have struggled with seeing growth and transformation in our midst, we assume that God got the message. We put our shoulders to the plow without the intentional act of making a simple request. It is true that God knows our needs and our desire before we do. He is also far more interested in disciple making than we are, but sometimes we simply “have not, because we ask not” (James 4:2). Part of the practice of dependence on the Holy Spirit is asking. We don’t ask because God is unaware, we ask because God desires for his people to play a part in almost every aspect of his work. It also helps to remind us that the transforming force in our midst is Him and not us. Intercession has always been a hallmark of the move of the Spirit and discipleship experiences are no different.
Once we have asked, it is good to create expectation in our hearts. We need to expect that God is going to do more in our discipleship settings than we can ask or imagine. We also need to prepare with this expectation in mind. In most forms of disciple making, some preparation is required. In that preparation we need to create space for him to work. We need to expect and trust that he is going to do what he loves to do in lives of the people we are serving. As this expectation grows, it will need to be coupled with faith. This may even look like planning and preparing in such a way that, if the Spirit does not actively stir our gatherings, we have little to fall back on. This can be a good but difficult process that requires us to die to all of our desires to entertain and impress others.

From Scripture and experience, I believe the transformative work of the spirit is catalyzed by one thing…the sacrificial offering of a crucified life. The Spirit responds as we begin to imitate Jesus, and give up everything to him. Just as Elijah built a pyre on Mt. Carmel, Solomon commanded the temple sacrifices, and Jesus laid down his life for our sakes, fire from heaven falls on those things totally given over to God. Paul’s admonition to “offer our bodies as living sacrifices” (Romans 12:1) is key. The Spirit is active at all points of our maturation, but the transformative work of God seems to be fueled by our total surrender to the work and will of our Heavenly Father.
These practices of asking, expecting, and dying reminds us that the people in our care do not belong to us. We may have the paternal passions of Paul or an appropriate sense of pastoral responsibility, but these men and women ultimately belong to someone who loves and cares for them more than we ever could. This approach to disciple making leads growing believers away from a dependence on us, and onto the truth that the same spirit that rose Jesus from the dead is alive and well in them (Romans 8:11).

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