Overwhelmed or Under-motivated?

Iron sharpens iron,
    and one man sharpens another.

-Proverbs 27:17

“Yeah, cool man. I totally get it—you’re really busy with school and stuff. I don’t want to overload you. So, I guess we’ll just play it by ear and see where it goes.”

I had done it again. The initial, vision-casting discipleship meet-up had turned into another session where I realized we’d be doing a lot of things that semester: getting to know one another, providing him an avenue for honest accountability and building a friendship. All these were great things, mind you. There was just one problem—that’s not discipleship.

As a discipler, I struggle with the tension between wanting to lead effectively and not wanting to overwhelm those whom I disciple. The typical college student has hours of reading to do each week along with class time and written assignments. The last thing I want to do is make their Christian walk such a burden to them that they quit at the outset. So, I tiptoe into the relational shallow end and make sure that we establish a foundation first. Bible memorization, books on Christian living and in-depth study of God’s word will all follow, of course—just not yet, right? We’ll get there… eventually.

But typically, “eventually” never happens.

Instead, we soak in the shallows until our fingers prune in the warm water of mediocrity, because the depths require effort and energy that we just don’t have right now. One day when we’re done with Calculus, or when we don’t have so much reading in our lit class, or when we graduate, we’ll be better. We’ll bust out Calvin’s Institutes, memorize Colossians 3 and fast one day a week. Man! One day, we’re going to be five-star disciples, but for now, let’s just meet up and talk.

If I’ve learned anything from my work with students over the years, it’s that they typically will grow into the expectations you set for them. If you begin your relationship with challenges and along the way use your time together to encourage them toward a goal, you’ll be amazed at what they accomplish. In contrast, if you rely on the natural flow of your relationship to set goals, you’ll accomplish very little. You’ll meet up, and you’ll talk.

Iron sharpening iron is a violent process meant to send sparks flying and introduce beneficial conflict along the way. In the end something beautiful emerges from the chaos. In the end, it was all worth it. Our time in weekly discipleship meetings isn’t meant to be a time when the older, more-mature Christian speaks their sage advice into the younger, less-mature Christian’s life. Instead, it’s meant to be a recurring moment when we point them away from themselves (and away from us) to Christ. These relationships should take time to feel out where the line it between overwhelming students and motivating them. If we’re not challenging them, then we’re not helping them.

As disciplers, we need to set attainable goals, hold our mentees accountable and speak uncomfortable truths. We must be willing to push students far enough to learn where they bend and encourage them so that they don’t break. We have a simple choice; we can either forsake worthwhile spiritual growth and maturity for the sake of having a manageable schedule and effort-free Christianity, or we can let the sparks fly and come away with something better.

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