For those unfamiliar with the term, “discipleship” is when a more mature Christian comes alongside “younger” Christians in the faith in order to model and teach how to live an authentic Christian life. Discipleship was modeled for us by Jesus himself, who found 12 men to share his life with, showing them how to live faithfully so that they, in turn, could lead others to do the same.
Discipleship relationships like these are common in churches and parachurch ministries, but sometimes these relationships can go sour, particularly if the person in charge of discipleship becomes a bully.
What does a discipleship bully look like? In his trending piece, Derek Brown of the Gospel Coalition shares 8 signs of a discipleship bully. I won’t include them all here, so I encourage you to go back to his well-written article to read about each sign. However, here are just a few that he mentions.
1. You are easily annoyed by the person you are discipling. When I mentored younger women in college, I sometimes experienced frustration when one-on-one times would get cancelled last minute, or when the girls would show up unprepared. But to be chronically annoyed and aggravated by the person you are mentoring is "a sign of self-righteousness," Brown writes. If you find yourself increasingly frustrated in your discipleship role, it might be time to have a heart check or to take a season off from your time as a mentor.
2. You are unable or unwilling to learn from the person you are discipling. Again, Brown writes, this is often an issue of pride. “[I]t is nothing but pride that tempts us to think we cannot learn from those who are younger or less mature than we are.” I have often been encouraged and challenged by those new in the faith and their wonder at the gospel. It’s a reminder to me just how glorious and life changing a relationship with Jesus really is.
3. You do most of the talking and little listening. As someone who is a verbal processor (meaning I speak to clarify my own thoughts) it can be frustrating to sit down one-on-one with someone and have him or her dominate the conversation. Often, all I need is a listening ear while I work out a problem out loud. On the flip side, I try to check myself and make sure I’m not processing so much that the other person can’t chime in!
If you’re going into a mentoring relationship so eager to share what God has placed on your heart that you forget to listen, you’re missing a crucial part of the discipleship process. You’ll never know just how much your mentee is learning and growing if you don’t know when to be still and listen.
4. You’re unwilling to make helpful provisions for your disciple. Brown writes, “[T]he discipler will set most of the terms of the meetings. Where will you meet? How long? What will you talk about? But Christ shows us that the leader is also a servant (Mark 10:42-45; John 13:1-17), and if you are unwilling to make sacrifices that would be beneficial to the disciple, you are not walking in love.”
If you find yourself canceling last minute or changing meeting locations to suit your schedule, showing up unprepared (i.e. nothing to study or discuss, you have not been in prayer for your mentee beforehand, you haven’t even thought about your discipleship time until right before), then you might not be in a place in your life where you can really invest in the spiritual growth of another person.
Discipleship is a commitment that isn’t isolated to once-a-week coffee shop meetings. If we’re modeling Jesus’ ministry to his disciples, then our investment in those whom we are called to nurture spiritually is a serious obligation that shouldn’t be taken without much thought, prayer, and humility.
If you’re considering becoming a mentor to a younger Christian, consider all 8 points of Brown’s points and make sure you check your heart for any signs of bullying behavior.