In the weekly reFill column of FullFill Magazine, Anita Lustrea (Moody's Midday Connection broadcast host and author of What Women Tell Me) wrote about women's need for community. In an online survey of over 2,300 women, relationships were among the top three recurring macro-themes. In her article, Anita shared the fears associated with cultivating relationships, the health benefits that can result from having friendships, and the types of friends we all need. "In addition to simply finding friends, however, we need to find safe people to be in community with. Henry Cloud and John Townsend give a great grid in their book Safe People. A safe person, they say, has three characteristics: they draw us closer to God, they draw us closer to others and they draw us closer to our authentic selves." These are the types of safe communities we create in our mentoring groups.
One of our mentors stated: "I don't know why I continue to be amazed at the things God does rather than just expecting that he will do them, but I do, and the mentoring ministry is just another example. It's hard for me to believe that our group has bonded so well in so short a time. One member of our group remarked that she thought God had put together the perfect group for her, and we all agreed."
Building a Community
Prioritizing the community over the individual is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to mentoring and discipleship. The Bible is an Eastern book that values the community (God's chosen people, Israel, and then his elect people, the New Testament church) above the individual. In Western culture, however, and particularly in America, we value individualism and self effort. That's what the American dream is all about. Yet that is not the model for spiritual growth we observe with Jesus, the 12, and his other disciples. This is the main reason we have elected not to move forward with one-on-one mentoring relationships (though we do consider them on a case-by-case basis). My observations through studies of the New Testament show that leaders only isolate themselves from a group for the purposes of prayer, fasting, and rest.
These important realities present huge tensions and challenges when considering the need and importance of making disciples in the postmodern American church. In this culture, we often hear some version of "I will walk with you for a period of time (maybe through a six-week Bible study), but after that, you have to go and figure the rest out on your own. After all, the Bible says we need to work out our own salvation (Philippians 2:12)." The foundation of that message is, "I am only willing to give you a short-term commitment and then I'm going to do more important things with my time." Is that a kingdom mindset? Does that response reflect God's will and his priorities? Maybe it does in the proper context, but certainly this posture cannot be the standard way Christians relate to each other. We need to seriously ask ourselves, "What can be more important in this life than making disciples?" Because I believe large failures of the church are a result of not prioritizing disciple-making.