Are You Cloning or Discipling?
It was my senior year of college and I was heading to campus to pick up a student I was discipling in my bible study that year. Cory was a young believer when we met at the start of the fall semester and we had been meeting almost every week all year. As I drove up next to her that afternoon, I could see her Bible was open and she was visibly upset by what she was reading. A few seconds later she hopped into my car, threw her bible on the floor and announced, “Paul is one arrogant, egotistical man!”
Without much context to what she was saying, I had to get her to walk me through how she ended up there. She picked up her Bible and firmly turned to 1 Corinthians where Paul says, “I urge you, then, be imitators of me”. It was then that it started to make some sense to me, but I still couldn’t quite understand all her frustration. She was really upset over this verse despite my assurance to her that Paul was encouraging them to imitate him while he imitated Christ. I told her repeatedly that the phrasing was Paul’s way of encouraging the Corinthians to live Godly lives. He wasn’t asking them to imitate him just because he was convinced that he was so awesome.
I’ve thought about this strange discipleship meeting often as it was a turning point in our relationship. Recently, the memory of it surfaced again as I was sitting in church this past Sunday.
We were all praying as a community for a few people in the body that were traveling to Central Asia. Our pastor, Gideon, along with a handful of others were going to a closed country to minister to people there that are connected to us and to see if there were ways to partner together to mutually bless one another. In light of this commissioning, Gideon invited his mentor for the last 10 years to come and pray over the group. As they walked to the front of the room, this elderly man and his wife seemed totally out of place in the church but also incredibly thrilled to be there. They seemed to beam with pride as they prayed for Gideon and for the people of his church to be sent ones to the world.
What struck me most about the whole experience was that even though my pastor’s mentor was of the majority culture (my pastor is not), in his years of mentoring my pastor it was evident that he hadn’t just turned Gideon into a replica of himself. Even the fact that our church didn’t look like a church that was reaching people just like this mentor was a sign to me that Gideon was probably encouraged to plant a church that fit God’s specific calling on his life.
After this experience at church, I started reflecting back on Cory’s story that I shared at the beginnning of this post. I started to question if maybe the reason Cory was so emotional about that verse she read that day wasn’t because of Paul at all, but maybe because of me.
Cory and I were really different people. For one, she was a different ethnicity than me. She was Asian American and grew up in Alaska. She had a bent towards the arts and creativity and loved spending time with people that were on the margins of any community. In hindsight I see these things about her, but I can honestly say that in our whole mentoring relationship I’m not sure I ever acknowledged or affirmed any of these unique things about her. I’m not saying I didn’t care deeply for her, but my actions rarely reflected a real desire to see her grow into the woman God had intentionally designed her to be. If I’m truthful with myself, I think I mostly affirmed the parts of her that mirrored myself and the Christian culture we were a part of at the time. Even typing this brings up deep regret in me and makes me grieve how I missed really seeing her in some very signifcant ways.
That definitely is not how I want my discipleship relatinoships to look. I’m broken over the myriad of stories I can think back on now that point to the truth that this is probably how I lived out many of the relationships I had with students that I discipled.
Now, I don’t want to sound like I don’t think I did anything good in these women’s lives. Nor do I think it is a bad thing for people to imitate their mentors in ways that lead them towards deeper walks with God. But in my own life, I do regret not entering into the stories of the women I discipled in ways that drew out their own uniqueness. Instead, I merely encouraged them to live out a Christian life that looked like mine and others around me. I think this falls short of what God would want for them and for me as their mentor.
I have noticed in mentorship and discipleship relationships that it is common to shape and mold people into following Christ just like we do and not out of the uniqueness of who they are or what God is calling them to do with their life. Again, while I do think there is a place for Paul’s words of “imitate me as I imitate Christ”, he does also talk in Ephesians about how we are all God’s workmanship with good works that God has prepared for each of us to walk in. What was most beautiful and striking about my pastor’s mentor was that as he took Gideon under his wing in their mentoring relationship, it didn’t appear that he had created a carbon copy of himself. Rather, his joy that day as he prayed for us was in seeing Gideon and the church he shepherds following Christ in new and different ways. He seemed to love that it was a church that was different than him, and I loved how that was reflected in the warmth of his words as he shared with us how excited he was about what God was doing in our midst.
As I look at Destino in this season, I see a lot of cross-cultural mentorship taking place in light of how many majority culture staff we have right now. I think this can be a very redemptive and restoring picture of God’s body. But I also think there is a danger when you are coming from a culture that historically has more power than another, to squelch the “workmanship” right in front of you. As a staff person coming in from majority culture, there needs to be a deep awareness of the power you steward in the relationships you begin with Latino students. The tendency will be to miss the beauty God distinctly desires to see lived out in each of his children because of this lack of awareness of power dynamics. It is a high responsibility to be a discipler that seeks to have the people you lead emerge into the people God so passionately desires them to be.
So what about you? Regardless of ethnicity, in your mentorship relationships do you see yourself replicating too much of you in another, or are you drawing out the masterpiece that is God’s ultimate purpose for that specific person’s life? My guess is that if you haven’t thought about it much, then the default is probably that you are unintentionally reproducing more of yourself than is helpful. This distinction is one that I think makes all the difference in whether we in Destino are reproducing our own image or the image of Christ in each individual. The latter is the one that will ultimately raise up a generation of Latino leaders who will change the world.
I do pray we learn to live this out, for the sake of the students that we shepherd and the vision of the future that we long for together. May God help us to be people that genuinely empower Latino men and women grow into the leaders he has called them each to be.
photo courtesy: pennstatelive