I discipled Ricky back in college days. We met every week for Bible study and one-to-one counseling and training. As he got busy during his senior year, he slowly drifted away from such intense involvement. But once in a while we bumped into each other and would briefly share what was happening in our lives. He later invited me to help prepare for his wedding, and when he opened a food business, I became an occasional customer. One day, he decided to invest heavily in his business. Since that time, he and his wife have been consulting me about the decisions they face. I feel as if we’re back to the good old days of really being involved in one another’s lives.
From my experience with Ricky and others I’ve discipled, I’ve learned the value of maintaining an open hand. After building basic biblical foundations in their lives, we should give our disciples enough space to decide for themselves what level of relationship they need from us. That level may change often through the years.
One common pitfall among disciplers is the tendency to constantly exert control. We can become overbearing in our efforts to keep people “on track.” Such a relationship can be stifling and offensive, so that as soon as the people we disciple can escape our control, they will. As disciplers, we can learn from the farmer who plants the seed, then patiently waits for his crop to grow and bear fruit. Sometimes that fruit comes years after discipling—if we keep an open hand.
The following are some principles in maintaining an “open hand relationship.”
See your discipling relationship as long term. This will remove the pressure to dump too much on a young disciple short term.
Be sensitive. Take note of the level of spiritual hunger in the person you’re discipling. Listen to him, and learn what he is excited about. Don’t give him more than he is eager to receive.
Don’t be disappointed. When someone doesn’t meet your expectations, give him freedom to grow at his pace.
Become a resource person. Maintain an open-ended relationship. Stay in touch even after your formal discipling relationship ends.
Be there for critical moments. Use natural entry points in his life (wedding, change of career, first baby, death in the family, and so forth).
Keep on praying. Ask God to make your disciple what God wants him to be.
*Article Adapted from Discipleship Journal 99, p. 87.