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Dealing With Slow Disciples

Ever get frustrated with your family? You wish they would change, you pray for their change, but any change comes so slow. At times like that, I find it helps to look at Jesus and his exasperated response to slow people. Jesus was having a moment. “O unbelieving and perverse generation, how long…
By Seth Barnes

Ever get frustrated with your family? You wish they would change, you pray for their change, but any change comes so slow. At times like that, I find it helps to look at Jesus and his exasperated response to slow people.

Jesus was having a moment. “O unbelieving and perverse generation, how long will I stay with you and put up with you?” He exclaimed in frustration. (Luke 9:11)

The problem is a demon-possessed boy. The bigger problem is that Jesus’ disciples are slow. And that itself points to an even bigger picture – people in general are slow to believe and to understand.

The two rhetorical questions Jesus asks pertain to time and task. He’s like an expert slopes skier on the bunny slopes. Jesus is frustrated by the pace and the progress in realizing his assignment of growing his disciples.

He’d hoped to see them respond well to the challenge and move on, but he was stuck moving like molasses with them. He’s yoked to them and expects them to move faster than they’re moving.

I find the whole scene comforting. Maybe it’s because I frequently find myself wishing that those I’m discipling would move faster than they do. My internal time frame doesn’t match reality. So I figure that if Jesus himself struggled with the issue, it’s probably OK for me to struggle too.

And who of us hasn’t been on the other side of the equation? We feel like we’re lagging our peers. We want to grow, but we may even feel like a perpetual loser, not knowing how. And the feelings themselves may make it hard to grow – we get caught in a downward spiral feeling bad and then hating the fact that we have to deal with those feelings.

What to do?

When you are discipling others find yourself caught waiting on those who seem slow, it’s probably time to make a few adjustments. Some options:

1. Re-evaluate expectations. Your disciples are not going to move at the same pace you did. Their experience level is different and their learning style is different. So consider the possibility that you may have set the bar too high for them.

2. Communicate expectations. Talk about what your learning objectives are and if they are realistic and if your disciples can embrace them. Jesus’ disciples had seen him evict demons, but that didn’t make them experts at doing so themselves.

3. More training. Consider the possibility that your disciples may need more training. They may need you to model more and they may need to practice more. Behavior change and skill acquisition are an essential part of disciple-making. People need to be shown how to do things and then they need the opportunity to fail at doing them.

4. Challenge & encourage.  Jesus let his disciples know that he expected more. And we don’t know what else he may have said later to encourage them. But we do know that people respond to a mix of challenge and encouragement as they try to do new things. Encouragement keeps you moving forward after you’ve fallen down.

Hey folks, discipling is hard work. You don’t try it unless you believe that people can really change. Jesus believed it’s possible and he charges us to devote our lives to it. I guess that should mean something.

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