We're in the midst of our Women's EQUIP Small Group Leader Training, and as we went over the stages of spiritual growth in our first session, one of our ladies asked whether or not you have to be a spiritual parent to lead a small group. What do you think?
My answer? You're not a parent until you have a child.
Now, there's a big difference between someone who has been a parent for 10+ years than someone who has only been a parent for 10 days or 10 weeks. Also, there are parents who babysat, had younger siblings that they cared for, etc., which better prepared them for parenting, but even such prior experiences do not necessarily dictate whether or not someone will be a good parent. They help just as allowing a spiritual child or a spiritual young adult to slowly take on more responsibility and to serve in various capacities with supervision can help them become better spiritual parents. But if you did not have such experiences, do not despair or let the enemy tell you that you cannot parent well! You have the Spirit of God empowering you, the Word of God to teach you, and the people of God to walk alongside you.
- They are characterized by intentionality, reproducibility, and strategy.
- They are self-feeding, mission-minded, recognize the importance of church membership/the local church, are making disciples, and are dependable.
- They look for ways to help those around them to grow. They may disciples who make disciples.
How do you know whom to parent?
I often hear this question as people learn more about discipleship and want to be faithful but don't know where to start or who to start with. My first bit of counsel is to pray. Pray for God to open your eyes to whom He wants you to invest in. Pray for wisdom and discernment as you move forward (trust me, you'll need it!). As you pray, here's a few things to look for in potential mentees:
- Availability - Who is around you? Who is already in your sphere of influence whom you could disciple? As you try to meet with the person, do y'all keep running into calendaring issues? If you're 2-3 months in and y'all still can't find a time to meet, this may not be the person whom you're supposed to disciple at the moment.
- Who desires to grow? - Looking at the people around you, who is hungry to grow spiritually? This may or may not be immediately obvious. Sometimes it takes having a couple of conversations with people to find out where they are spiritually. Other times, they exude a spiritual sponge mentality where it is obvious that they want to learn and to grow.
- Are they teachable? - Some people may want to learn information and amass knowledge, but they aren't teachable. Is the person willing to apply truth to their life? Are they willing to change? Are they submitted to the Lordship of Christ and willing to yield to Him? Sometimes it is a process of walking alongside someone for them to get to this point, but look for teachability.
- Spirit's Leading - Who is God directing you to disciple? Sometimes it is not the person you would think or even someone whom you gel with. I'm sure that Peter or Levi weren't what folks in Jesus' day would have considered prime pickings. But Christ saw their potential. He saw who they could be after spending time with Him. Do we see the potential in people, who they could be as Christ transforms them and as God's people walk alongside them?
Parents aren't perfect.
Spiritual parents do not have all the answers. They, like regular parents, will make mistakes. They'll sin. They'll wish they could go back and do things differently. They'll look at their early days of parenting and (A) see how much they've grown and (B) pray that God works despite their faults in their early parenting attempts. You will face struggles as you parent. You will need to confess sin. You will need to pray for wisdom. And you need to pray for your spiritual children!
Also, even spiritual parents have parents. If you are investing in someone else, you need accountability. You need someone with whom you can share, who can encourage you, and who can help you continue to grow. My mom is this person for me. When I have questions or need to talk through a situation that is going on with one of my girls, I know that I can call my mom. She will pray for me, and she can spot blind spots in me as well as provide wise counsel and point me to Scripture. There's always more that I need to learn, and God teaches me through my girls as well as through my own mother.
To encourage you (especially if you're reading this and thinking "I could never do this!"), discipling my college girls has been the most time-consuming and challenging thing I have ever done. But God has rigged this whole discipleship process to be the greatest source of encouragement and the largest catalyst for spiritual growth in my own life. I am amazed at how richly God has blessed me by putting such precious girls in my life. Parenting them has been messy and exhausting, but as I look back and think of the directions my life could have taken, I am so thankful that His path for me included them.