4 Lessons from an Accidental Disciple

In the years I’ve spent in camp ministry, I’ve had the privilege of meeting a variety of people from all over the world, who have encouraged me personally and professionally. One particular camp volunteer offered clarity and hope to me in the midst of a confusing, difficult season as a twentysomething working in ministry. Tina was about 15 years older and a bit further along in her faith journey. She was also a local church leader’s wife, who understood the challenges unique to church and parachurch work, and she had buckets of wisdom and humor to share.

Each winter, Tina and I began planning for the upcoming summer camp season. When June arrived, we served side-by-side, sharing laughter and sweet moments with our delightful campers and staff. Our friendship took root and grew beyond the boundaries of camp and we began to connect regularly for coffee and conversation.  

At the time of our meetings, I was feeling deeply discouraged by the miles between me and my immediate family. In addition, I was fighting an exhaustion I couldn’t seem to shake. While I didn’t want Tina to think me a loose-lipped Debbie Downer, I did want her to know the specifics of my dilemma in order to better help me process it in healthy ways. I valued her support, her apparent close walk with the Lord, and her calm, steady demeanor. 

Reflecting on those years with Tina, I only recently discovered that she was discipling me. She didn’t say, “Hey, Katie. I think you need discipled and I’d like to be the one to do that.” Our time together was scheduled, though not formal, and her approach was natural, never contrived or forced. She was like an older friend who cared about my growth as a person, as a woman trying to figure out marriage, ministry, and the God who led me to both. 

In my efforts to pass along Tina’s wisdom, I’m sharing 4 lessons I’ve learned about discipleship: 

  • Discipleship requires trust. Having worked with Tina prior to our meetings, I knew her to be a safe space. She had proven this while handling confidential camper information with discretion and talking to the appropriate staff, instead of gossiping with others, when issues arose. She showed up early, stayed late for meetings.

  • Discipleship reflects the love of Jesus. Tina was kind, welcoming to all (especially those with disabilities), approachable, humble, and fearless when addressing broken systems in constructive ways. She willingly gave her time and energy to serve her family, community, local church, and several other non-profit organizations who cared for those in the margins.  

  • Discipleship requires a readiness to listen. Tina leaned forward, paying close attention to not only my words but also what was beneath them. She neither interrupted to make a point nor did she offer unsolicited advice. She allowed for silence before sharing her perspective and refused to remedy my situation with shallow answers or church-y cliches.  

  • Discipleship asks the deeper questions. As I struggled to figure out the reasons behind my angst in that season, Tina didn’t waste time with frivolous questions that could be satisfied with simple answers. Instead, she pointedly asked, “What do you need in order to be okay in this season?” She not only brought light to the issues I was ignorant to or secretly trying to avoid but also helped me to see I had more agency than I thought.     

When I think about that season with Tina, I offer a prayer of thanks for her subtle way of discipling. She took the initiative to connect with me--a sometimes whiny twentysomething--and graciously invited me to consider the ways of Jesus in the midst of difficult circumstances. With humility, she guided me without an agenda to change me, rather she trusted the Spirit to do the good and necessary work in me. 

I didn’t realize the impact of Tina’s influence until years later when a young adult approached me with her own struggles surrounding ministry and place. As we met for coffee one night, I leaned forward on the table, focusing on the familiar frustration in her voice, and tuning my ears to catch the meaning behind her words. When all that she needed to share was laid out on that table, I paused, trusted God for wisdom, and gently asked, “What do you need in order to be okay in this season?”