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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
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.”

Comments (7)

  • “If your disciple is to ever change, you are going to have to put a demand on them” sounds like the school of thought that pushed me away from the church.

  • We are urged in scripture to consider both the “goodness and severity of God. Rohr reminds us that we need both conditional and unconditional love. We must be honest and direct. We would do it with our kids, we must do it with those we disciple…

  • Before I proceed, I would like to say that this blog has never failed to give me a fresh thought on Christian Living every time I read it! Thank you Seth for the ideas you post here!

    I am not a religious leader neither I am into converting somebody into Christianity, what I find here is for my self and how I could be a good Christian.For this alone I am so grateful.

    I agree that in order to love somebody we should know them first,otherwise our love will be blind!

    I also agree that in order to have a reciprocal love with our fellow men,both will have to demand something from each other, and those demands must be based on common belief that if one breaks it,their love will be in peril..this is tough, but this makes us think hard and careful on our actions towards each other, we place ourselves on a higher level among the creatures that God created.

    When it comes to our relationship with God as we know Him, we leave Him to do his will for us.

  • I agree. I’m a strong Christian but believe it’s up to the person to change not for them to do what I tell them. And I don’t tell people that “hey, you’re not listening. It’s time for us to stop hanging out”. That’s not biblical. Jesus loved Judas and it’s OBVIOUS that he didn’t pay attention to what Jesus was saying. So more importantly, Jesus loves us even when we don’t listen to Him. It’s not up to a person giving advice for them to dictate when you’re a lost cause. If you still have issues with the church….just know that Christians are highly flawed just like everyone. So seek Jesus over anything and everything and know that Christians give horrible advice sometimes. Take all council to God. He is the last word.

  • My first time to this site….I was looking for more info on discipleship.

    First thing, I don’t ever see an example of breaking off discipleship in the bible. Jesus NEVER told people that since they weren’t listening to His words that it was time for them to part ways.

    What I do see is this….a natural dissolve of the relationship when the follower becomes uninterested in the disciplers words.

    So my suggestion is this, don’t tell the discipled that it’s time to get serious or we’re done. That means your love is conditional. Instead, find out why they are apparently “doing their own thing” then ask if they find that spending time with you is even beneficial for them. To think that we as people are ALWAYS a blessing to others with our opinions and suggestions is ignorant & arrogant. Maybe we aren’t even helping them but discouraging them. It’s a good opportunity to self evaluate to meet their needs….NOT just give them biblical advice because it’s supposed to help them. Every person & situation is different and must be handled differently.

    AND….if they enjoy your time spent together but don’t listen to the stuff you say. Then just use that as an opportunity to “hang out” with them and love them in the process. We discount just basic hang out time as wasted time because we’re not pounding Jesus in their heads. Jesus spent time with people. That’s how they knew He loved them. To me, that’s a pretty good example of how to handle things.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.



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