Sometimes we think—or certainly want—our discipleship efforts to be like biting into a York Peppermint Patty: joy explodes into the lives of those we’re ministering to and things are never the same. Somebody gets introduced to Jesus and they’re instantly transported into their “best life now” and live problem free, henceforth, forever more.
This is a fantasy and an unrealistic expectation that veteran believers must purge from their service to Christ. The problem is not God’s power. He can knock someone off their horse (Acts 9) or even cause a donkey to do his bidding (Num. 22), but that’s not His normal MO. The invitation to become a disciple of Jesus Christ is a costly, long-term journey, which many turn away from. Some go away grieved (Matt. 19:22) and we grieve when they go away. Further, the wise servant of Christ will avoid over-helping. Yet, this doesn’t change the need for patience and longsuffering. Nor does it change our excitement in seeing even one sinner come to repentance (Luke 15:10)!
Although it’s still a work in progress, Allison’s* story is a case in point.
Beth led a team at her church through Making Life Disciples (MLD) in the fall of 2016. After completing this DVD-based training designed to equip churches to offer compassion, hope, and help to men and women facing unplanned pregnancies, they were eager to offer their services. While waiting, Beth got a call from a couple in her church, Bob and Lori, offering to house a homeless pregnant woman should the need arise. Beth then told her local pregnancy center (PC) about the offer.
Shortly after, Brenda, the PC director, learned of a pregnant young woman, Allison, through a local foster care agency. Allison had aged out of the system and needed transportation for appointments and errands. Brenda called Beth, the MLD team leader, and Beth reached out via text to Allison. When they finally met, Allison had gone from considering abortion, to deciding against it, to apathy about her pregnancy.
Beth was eager to put into practice skills she had learned: authenticity, acceptance, humility and empathy. She began driving Allison on select errands and appointments, opportunities that gave plenty of time to begin to build a relationship. In fact, Beth wrote, “Once she [Allison] saw her baby's ultrasound pictures, she moved from apathy to eager anticipation. She even texted them to ME!”
During this time, Allison was staying with an older couple that decided to downsize to a one bedroom apartment. This left Allison in need of housing and, providentially, Bob and Lori’s housing offer was still available. In fact, it was even in the same county Allison was receiving benefits from! She moved in with them in July of 2017 and then one of Allison’s friends bought her a car. This meant Beth didn’t need to drive her anymore, a good thing since she planned to be away for three weeks. Sadly, when Beth returned, Allison seemed to have no desire to see her anymore.
Beth then met with Brenda from the local PC for encouragement and learned that Allison, as her due date grew closer, was now considering adoption. Bob and Lori knew little about this this topic, so they turned to Brenda for help. This led to Allison choosing potential adoptive parents and all seemed well. When Allison had her baby in September, however, she changed her mind and sent the family away.
Although Allison had still not responded to Beth, Beth asked Bob and Lori to attend a PC gala with her “to celebrate, find encouragement, and be blessed.” They had a great time together and, after the event, Beth gave Bob and Lori a card with some cash to give to Allison.
During this time, still not hearing from Allison, Beth also learned that Bob and Lori felt hesitant to talk with Allison about the gospel. In fact, Beth learned that Allison would not even come to the dinner table until after Bob and Lori had prayed. Beth shared learnings with Bob and Lori from a Care Net conference workshop on sharing your faith, and they felt much better equipped to initiate a respectful and non-threatening conversation.
On October 11, 2017, Allison finally texted Beth to say "Thank you for the card!! You need to come visit!" Beth was ecstatic, as it was the first she’d heard from Allison since July. This interaction led to a personal visit, during which Beth was able to hold Allison’s new baby, Dillon! Beth’s church then had a baby shower for Allison, which she attended, and gave her many gifts and offers of help.
Truthfully, Allison still needs a lot love and support. She struggles to overcome the effects of previous abuse and some days can’t even seem to get herself out of bed without Bob and Lori’s help. Even now, with Allison getting ready to make yet another housing transition, Beth’s “life team” is in conversation with their church’s Deacons to potentially assist with Allison’s first month's rent once she leaves Bob and Lori’s.
As you can see, Allison’s story is a fragile, work in progress—the ending of which is not yet clear.
So, what can we learn from this long and winding road? Here are five things this story teaches us about being a life disciple:
- It includes many ups and downs, and requires commitment and emotional intelligence. Making life disciples is more than going through a class. It takes lots of perseverance and patience to partner with God in offering compassion, hope, and help.
- It’s very relational and requires working closely with others. As Beth noted in sharing the above, “I learned that sometimes we only play a small part in the rescue of a pregnant woman in need. It's up to many of us, the centers, the church, and community resources to provide the support she needs.”
- Life disciples can coach and present options (even be part of saving a baby’s life!), but they can’t control outcomes and must always respect others’ choices.
- Life disciples keep a pulse on the situation: they can serve when called upon or fade into the background when necessary.
- Finally, it doesn’t always result in conversion. Still, life disciples never lose sight of God’s heart for those they serve : to trust Christ, pursue marriage to a good spouse, and raise kids like Dillon in healthy families, supported by a loving, grace-based church. For many of us, there’s no more glorious and compelling vision on the planet!
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Gal. 6:9, NIV)
* Names have been changed to protect anonymity.