The work of discipleship is both easy and hard. It is clear and messy. Straightforward and yet deeper than we imagine. It’s possible to say that person is sorted now only to find yourself dealing with the unthinkable. Easy to tick a box too early and assume growth. But the fact that we are lifelong disciples means none of us have arrived yet and it won’t be that easy discipling others. The problem comes when we start hearing the kind of answers we want to hear. We assume people who give the right answers to theological questions are ready for the next level of discipleship; leadership and teaching opportunities. We figure out if they understand predistination surely they can lead young people. They get the trinity then they can disciples others. They have read far and wide on God’s sovereignty, get them a new believers class to teach.
But perhaps instead of focusing on the answers people give we should focus more on the questions we ask. We need to be careful that people aren’t telling us exactly what we want to hear which happens a lot. We need to ask our questions in way that let’s people know it’s okay to speak their minds. In an environment that doesn’t make people feel foolish if they get things wrong. One thing I’ve learnt from many of us in Africa is that we hate to look foolish so we would rather guess or pretend to know than say something that makes people laugh at our intelligence. Perhaps that’s why question and answer sessions don’t work very well with us. You may have to draw it out and be vulnerable in a more friendly environment. And when you ask questions the last thing you want is to make us feel like we are in an examination setting. We hate that. So what kind of questions should we ask?
One I would say questions that lead us to the heart more than the head. You’ve probably heard this saying that there’s always a question behind the question. That’s the question you want to get to. If someone is asking all these hard theological questions about God’s sovereignty in suffering answering them theologically is not enough. You need to also get behind it all and see what exactly is it that they are struggling with. Perhaps all you need is to be there with them in their suffering and remind them the goodness of the Lord before quoting ten theologians. If someone is wrestling with understanding a particular passage don’t just assume it’s just an issue of good hermeneutics. Perhaps there’s more to reconciling what the passage says in the mind and the implication in that person reality.
Secondly, ask more discipleship questions over theological and “deep” questions. When we are walking with people it’s very easy to only talk about the things we are learning and want to tease out our recent curiosities and “new” revelations. But that will only help you not the person you are walking with. We need to remember that sometimes people are farther out than they let out. We need to ask the questions we were wrestling with far earlier in our discipleship journey before we got all complicated. Go for sin before you go for a big doctrinal statement. Go for clarity in the Gospel before you bring in the “deeper” questions. Find out how they are relating with others and how the Gospel is shaping their worldview. I’m not saying you don’t challenge them to think a bit harder doctrinally but warning you not to be impressed by the answers you want to hear. Sometimes people are good at reading you than you imagine.
Finally, I would say go for questions that open discussion rather than simply give the right answer. This is a good principle for Bible study questions but works even better for one on one discipleship. Here I would add if the discussion takes longer than one sitting it’s even better. I know we live in a quick fix world so the temptation is to simply give the answer on top of our heads. But that’s not how discipleship works. Haven’t you found yourself wrestling with a question you thought you dealt with years ago? Fighting a sin you thought killed and buried? And doubting God in an area he’s come through for you countless times? If that’s the case for us “mature” disciples then it means we have to be even more patient with those still young in the race. You can have many a coffee over one discipleship issue or you can feel like you’ve answered all questions to this guy before he asks something that unravels your mind.
All in all, it’s important to remember that we are all a work in progress. That others have laboured had in us than we’ll ever know. And that men cannot be changed by giving the right answers, by guilt or beating them with the truth. We have to be patient as we call on the one who changes people from inside out to do his work. But we can be patient with others because God is very patient with us. Just look at how Jesus was patient with the disciples. Even after his death and resurrection he still has to seek them out. He still has to go for Thomas and Peter. How many times do you think God has sought you out? How many hours do you think people have spent praying for you? How much have you grieved the spirit as you cuddled with your old sins? If that’s what it’s taken us to get here and we haven’t arrived yet then we know a simple question and answer exercise won’t do. We need to for the question behind the question. Go for the heart not just the mind. For lifestyle questions not just academic ones. For open discussion not a tick box exercise. But most importantly we need to be patient and put in the hours as we look up to God.
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