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Who am I to you?

It's sobering to look back on your wasted effort. I've wasted a lot of time trying to make disciples in ways that didn't work. And I guess in that respect, I'm like a lot of Christians. Too many of us who have committed to follow Jesus and make disciples as he made disciples are k…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

It's sobering to look back on your wasted effort. I've wasted a lot of time trying to make disciples in ways that didn't work. And I guess in that respect, I'm like a lot of Christians. Too many of us who have committed to follow Jesus and make disciples as he made disciples are kidding ourselves about a huge issue.

Yes, our information is good. We know the stuff that new believers need to grow as a believer. Yes, our commitment to help may be there. But because we don't have the guts to settle a specific issue, much of our effort may be wasted.

Jesus settled it by asking one simple question, "Who do you say that I am?" What he's asking is, "Who am I to you?" or "Do you trust me?"

This question must get settled if a discipler is to help a young believer grow in her faith. To become a disciple, you must change your behavior. You must do things you don't want to do. And you do them not because you fully understand, but because you trust your discipler.

The Buddhists get this. They invest their mentors with the authority they need to change behavior. But in America, we hamstring our disciplers. They have to spend years earning trust, hoping they can one day begin to ask their disciples to begin living differently.

In America, we are a nation born out of rebellion declaring our independence. We tend to struggle with authority of any kind. This can make it hard to trust. When someone says "you need to trust authority," we are likely to ask "why?" I know I do, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.
I'm not saying that you blindly trust a discipler. Nor am I saying that as a discipler you can tell a disciple, "Just do what I say." What I am saying is that until you settle this issue of "do you trust me?" you're not likely to help a disciple to make significant change.

For example, look at the difficult things Jesus said about forgiveness, worry, and treating people who wrong you. He's basically saying, "trust the people who have done you wrong." But how can I as a discipler encourage you to do that if you haven't really figured out if you trust me yet?

It sounds harsh to our modern ears. But read the sermon on the mount (Matt. 5-7). Jesus asks for radical, non-common sense type behavior from his disciples. "If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it." What? Who does that? To move to that standard of behavior takes trust.
And I admit, I have only rarely been able to appeal to trust with my disciples. I can't ever recall saying, "Do it because I said so." That just doesn't fly in our society. What happens instead is that I reason with them and line up my rationale and then they pray about it and consider what they're going to do. 
I was talking to a friend who is discipling a young lady. Her advice is brilliant. But my question was, "So what? Will she follow your advice or is it optional?" When you can ask a disciple to take hard advice and she does so, you've got authority in her life. Jesus had authority and he used it. He gave it to his disciples and he wants to give it to us. But we have to use it.
Settling the "Is your advice optional?" question requires asking another: "Who am I to you?"

Once you're clear about the authority you have in a disciple's life, real behavior change can start happening. As long as advice is optional, the discipling process is stuck in neutral.

Comments (9)

  • Seth,

    I read your blog updates every time they arrive in my Inbox and am always gleaning from your wisdom! Thank you for being so faithful with this blog and sharing what is on your heart. 🙂

    However, this one sent off an alarm inside. This post comes off a bit totalitarian. Maybe you are frustrated with some rebellious disciples or seeming lack of progress in their lives? I must be misreading your intent?

    I would question any (human) authority figure that I hear demanding his disciple to trust and completely follow his advice without question or understanding. That does not seem like the way the God deals with me. He always gives us a choice, even if it is to our detriment to disobey. God is so merciful that often the deepest lesson is learned through the repercussions of disobedience.

    Maybe I have just seen too much, and realize even the most well meaning/spiritual mentors are not perfect and aren’t always giving “God” advice. Or maybe I have read too much history (church AND gov’t) that when I hear anyone telling someone to follow without understanding I am especially guarded. Or maybe I’m rebellious or too concerned with semantics and balance. Or maybe I just shudder at the thought of a hord of power hungry “disciplers” being unleashed to prey on the the vulnerable and ignorant.

    I think it it up to us to be the best servant leader we can by offering advice, an example to follow and prayer. Then we must leave it to God and allow Him to bring the fruit. We don’t always see the impact we are making immediately but His words do not return void. Whenever I look back, I am ALWAYS amazed and humbled by the work God was doing behind the scenes all along to orchestrate His Providence today! We must diligently plant the seeds, then trust that He is faithful to complete the work.

    I hope this came across as respectful. I have been reading your blogs long enough that you truly have EARNED my trust. 😉 Any thoughts (or reprimands) are welcome.

    Sent from my Epic™ II 4G Touch

  • Seth

    Thank you for your blog. I am really trying to learn how to disciple (and be discipled) so this got me thinking. But I must admit, something jarred just a little too.

    I think some kind of authority is important in a discipling relationship. But I think is not an authority of position but an authority earned through loving the disciple and living a live worth imitating. Jesus did not say ‘who do you say I am ‘ at the start of the discipling process – he just asked them to follow, and when they did that was good enough for him to start.

    Again, Paul seems to plead, beseech, exhort and rebuke the disciples he is teaching (via his letters); he also points to his life and the way he served them.

    I suppose the process of discipling is helping people to articulate what they believe God is saying to them, help them weigh that scripturally, and then help them be accountable to doing what God is saying. That shifts the focus from MY authority to CHRIST’s authority.

    For we have one Father, and one Teacher…

  • Melissa and Richard – I agree with what you’re saying about the potential abuse of authority. I agree that Jesus isn’t asking us to give a discipler positional authority. I’m not advocating a top-down authority-centered approach to discipling.

    I’m just saying that Jesus proposes that we change everything about the way that we live. “Kill your ego” seems to be his mantra. And we just can’t get there without trust.

    If his own disciples couldn’t get there, we’re likely to struggle mightily to get there too.

    That said, I went back to my post and inserted a reference to the sermon on the mount and clarified why this thing that Jesus is asking for seems so hard. I wish it were easier and I wish that getting there seemed easier.

  • thanks so much seth. for what it’s worth, you’ve been a friend to trust and follow – especially in this season. you have so many folks who want your attention. thanks for being solid, imperfect, and trustworthy – and frankly – for loving your family and people in a way that both whispers & roars “servant leader”.

    and you know how BS-averse & trust-averse some of us are…

  • I had a mentor who passed away last year after 11 years of pouring into my life. She walked me into pain and I wanted to run but didn’t because I knew I couldn’t run from He who gave her authority in my life. The Spirit told me that this white haired stranger had something that I needed. It was obedience to the Spirit that I entered into the discipleship process. She made me work for my freedom in Christ. There were specific things I needed to do to be freed and she saw them in me. I did them and was freed. Once you taste the freedom authority brings you tend to follow it to the ends of the earth and as a discipler it is such an honor to be used by God to free the hearts and minds of those who seek Him. thanks again seth for another blog that really makes you think.

  • “When you can ask a disciple to take hard advice and she does so, you’ve got authority in her life. Jesus had authority and he used it. He gave it to his disciples and he wants to give it to us. But we have to use it.

    Once you’re clear about the authority you have in a disciples life, real behavior change can start happening.”

    I’ve not had the wide range of experience in mentoring and discipling others that you have, Seth.

    But, in the most life-changing mentorship I have been involved in – life-changing for me and for the young man I mentored – I never had to ask if I had authority. I somehow knew I had authority. He somehow knew I had authority. We both discerned where that authority came from.

    It was a powerful, beautiful, singular experience in my life…and I can truly attest that God wrought a deep work in our midst.

    There did come a time during the mentorship when I directly asked permission to move deeper and dig in ways that would most likely be painful. And I gave the other time to think and pray about whether he wanted to move forward.

    He did. We did. And that’s when God really moved!


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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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