A Disciple Making Continuum: Flexibility vs. Structure

There is not one way to disciple.  This is true not only because each person being discipled is unique, but also because every discipler is unique!

Personality, maturity, past experiences, convictions, spiritual gifting… there are so many factors that impact the way we do what we do.

Some disciplers are super structured.  They know what they want to accomplish and have a clear plan for how to get there.  Others are extremely flexible, highly relational, ready and willing to go with the flow.   In between there’s a range of possibilities!

This reality can be expressed by a continuum which features on the left “extreme flexibility,” (aka “Let’s just get together and talk…”) and on the right “extreme structure” (aka “This is THE plan!”).

There are strengths and weaknesses to both.

Consider the following:

At one extreme we have Flexible Felicity.  Her focus is primarily on building relationship.  She tends to see disciple-making as an art, with each encounter a new creative opportunity.  Her strengths can be her focus on the person, who usually feels very loved and cared for, and her flexibility may result in deep needs being met that might otherwise be missed which she intuitively may be more likely to pick up on (though this doesn’t always happen!).  A key weakness is she can easily be sidetracked and miss the goal.  Her greatest danger is to lose sight of the goal and end up spinning her wheels, perhaps even wasting the time.  When this happens does the enemy ever rejoice!

At the other extreme we find Structured Susan.  Her focus is on reaching the goal.  She views disciple-making as a science (most likely one she’s got down pat! and is very eager to help others learn to “do right”).  Her strengths are her ability to clearly articulate her goals at all times for this is primarily what she’s focusing on.  What she does in her one on ones tends to be easier to duplicate, since the more organized something is the more easily it lends itself to passing on, and what she does with people is usually measurable (ie, she knows when her plans are accomplished…at least her part of doing it!).  A key weakness is this can be impersonal and with such a heavy focus on a predetermined plan, important needs can easily be missed and people can end up feeling like a project.  The key danger here is losing the relationship!  When this happens does the enemy ever score a huge victory.

In Ecclesiastes 7:18 we’re told, “It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other.  The man who fears God will avoid all extremes.”  Have I ever found this to be wise advice.  There can be great beauty and strength in balance!  For example, it’s vital to love well (see 1 Cor 13:1-3!), people really do grow best in the context of relationship, and to realize you are meeting with a unique individual who has unique needs, but also to understand being intentional can be a huge part of loving well.  How do you feel when someone puts effort into preparing something for you?!

My favorite part is what happens to our focus as we struggle to stay more balanced – rather than focusing primarily on the person or on the goal, I find the struggle tends to help me keep my focus primarily on God!

Can it ever help to pray through this continuum and consider where you fall on it:

Where does your personality naturally place you?

How have your past experiences influenced this, especially if you were discipled, what did that look like?

What impact has your spiritual maturity had on this?  Have you changed through the years?

Are there any convictions influencing what you do?

And how does your gifting influence this?

For example, I’m a fairly flexible, intuitive, highly creative and highly distractible person who LOVES people!!!  So on the basis of personality alone, it’s obvious I’m more likely to fall on the left of the continuum.  BUT I was discipled by a woman who was structured and had a plan so that provides balance!  Since what was modeled for me was more on the right side, I’ve experienced the benefits of that side too.

Because I’ve been discipling women for over thirty years I have a lot of tools available to use that are internalized, so if an opportunity to meet one on one with someone pops up unexpectedly I don’t need as much advance planning as I did when I was first learning how to do this.  Though without a doubt the first tool I always seek to use is prayer, because I realize no matter how much experience I have, God’s ways still aren’t my ways and I so want to walk in step with Him! (that’s a conviction that’s resulted in a set plan to pray first!)

Over the years I’ve seen one of the best ways I can help women is to faithfully spend time in the Word with them each time we meet.  With all my heart (yes, this is a deep conviction!) I believe that’s the most enriching thing I can ever do with anyone.  So I intentionally plan each week to spend focused time together in the Word.

And I have a deep conviction about spiritual generations of laborers being raised up – I want what I’m passing on that’s of value to be readily passed onto others.  I so want each woman I’m meeting with to discover the joy of doing with others what I’m doing with her!  Not only for the benefit of others – I deeply believe this is key for her finishing life well.  Does that ever spur me on to be more organized so what I do is pass-on-able!

Now hospitality is one of my gifts, so I am much more likely to seek to disciple in a warm place preferably with a cup of tea and something good to eat and to spend time at the start catching up and relationally connecting!  But the Lord has also given me a gift of teaching and often teaching well requires advance planning (like making certain I have two sets of colored pencils or copies of tools I’m introducing!  ;0) and being aware of the time (which does NOT come naturally to me) so we have enough time to do what I believe the Lord wants us doing!

So I continue to seek to grow towards being more balanced when I’m discipling women.  In all honesty, this can be a struggle!  I expect I’m always going to be more on the left side due to my personality.  But that’s not bad!  That’s a big part of how the Lord made me.  Maybe structure and planning come more naturally for you and you need to be more intentional about enjoying relationship with those you meet with.  Either way, let’s not let what comes naturally be an excuse that keeps us from growing, or from doing the best we can for the women we’re discipling!