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Breaking up with your disciple

A friend writes about a girl she’s mentoring: “I feel like I’ve just hit a huge wall with her when it comes to her growth as a person and lack of follow-through on the advice or challenges I give her. Anytime she encounters a problem, she runs right back to have me help her. When is it okay to…
By Seth Barnes

A friend writes about a girl she’s mentoring: “I feel like I’ve just hit a huge wall with her when it comes to her growth as a person and lack of follow-through on the advice or challenges I give her. Anytime she encounters a problem, she runs right back to have me help her.

When is it okay to say when?’  I can see her potential so clearly, but she’s simply not ready to do the work to grab it.  And it’s sucking me dry.”
 
Well, this is a tough issue. You’re in the relationship because you love the person, yet here you are contemplating an action that will hurt them.
 
Two issues are paramount: Affirm, but be direct.
 
Jesus frequently said things that challenged his disciples and gave them the opportunity to opt out. He handed them an excuse to fire themselves. In John 6, he’s talking about something that sounds to his disciples like cannibalism and vampire behavior. “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.”
 
How would you respond if your pastor said, “We should imitate vampires”?
 
The disciples response was predictable enough, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”
 
Aware of their grumbling, Jesus didn’t try the soft-sell. He just asked them, “Does this offend you?”
 
And many of them responded by leaving him.
 
This is harsh! Surely there must be more to the picture than this. If Jesus is going to issue such a difficult challenge to his disciples, wouldn’t you expect him to affirm them first?
 
In fact, if you look at what preceded this incident in John 6, you see that Jesus does affirm his disciples, reassuring them of their security and their relationship with him.
 
We see that three times he tells them they’ll have eternal life. Three times he tells them he’ll “raise them up at the last day.”
 
Jesus continually challenged his disciples. He repeatedly called them out on the subject of faith, but he did so in the context of love. If we want to imitate his example, we’ll keep these two principles in balance.
 
Affirmation. Your disciple needs to know that you value them and that their relationship to you is secure. They will need to hear this from you multiple times. We tend to doubt the sincerity of those who bring us harsh words. It feels like a contradiction for them to love us, yet bring pain to our lives.
 
Direct communication. What you say must be clear, not subject to interpretation. If your disciple is to ever change, you are going to have to put a demand on them. Having built up equity and trust, you have to put it at risk to show you really love them. Disciplers who won’t do this care more about their disciple’s opinion than they do their character.
 
Better to say, “I want to be a help to you, but perhaps the best way for me to help you is to give you more space. Recently I’ve noticed that you disregard my counsel. I hear you telling me that you think you can do better on your own. And that may be good insofar as I’m trying to help you become more independent. It may be time for us to take a break. I propose that we get back together in a month and talk about how life went for you.”

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