Often, the topic of “making disciples” is couched in discussions of training, mentoring, providing opportunities and so forth. This is entirely appropriate but leaves out what may be the most difficult aspect of discipleship: disappointment and betrayal.
I have been acutely hurt and utterly perplexed by people I’ve tried to disciple through the years. Have you?
In 2 Cor. 4:7-9, the apostle Paul put his heart on the line and addressed this very struggle.
In recounting his trials as a traveling apostle founding churches, teaching disciples and releasing leaders, Paul created a series of couplets, things that typically “go together”: hard-pressed/crushed, persecuted/forsaken, perplexed/despair, and struck down/destroyed. However, he surprised his readers when he revealed that he had a “treasure” that allowed him to experience the former but preserved him from experiencing the latter.
For me, to be “perplexed but not in despair” is particularly challenging, especially as it relates to working with people. Not understanding why things go horribly wrong or why people—including myself—do astonishingly stupid things tempts me to feel hopeless.
And it is the feeling of betrayal or disillusionment (which leads to despair) that blunts my enthusiasm for investing in others the way I should. It seems to me that it is most often this feeling of being wounded that keeps us from making disciples the way we should. It is an emotional hurdle that we must overcome first, rather than a mere programming or strategic one.
To be perplexed, and yet not be discouraged, is what I call the opportunity to be hopefully mystified: to embrace uncertainty as the necessary space required to trust God. This is the essence of faith, which is not the absence of ambiguity, but the presence of treasure in broken pieces or, as Paul put it, earthen vessels. It is to believe that God never wastes our time or our emotional investments in people, that there is always a return, always a reward—and, most certainly, a cost that is our privilege to share as co-laborers with Christ.
We usually associate “faith” with strong belief, related to our thinking and our mind; we think of it as a kind of mental toughness, and this is valid. But when Paul talked about “treasure in earthen vessels,” he was alluding to “heart faith” more commonly understood as “courage.” So while my mind is perplexed, my heart may remain undaunted.
As disciple-makers, let’s work at having good processes and systems for training people, but let’s not fool ourselves: First and foremost, we need courage and an abiding trust in God’s treasure within us, which outlasts and withstands temporary disappointments and betrayals.
By: Sam Rockwell, supervisor of the Gateway District for The Foursquare Church