I recently had a conversation with a church member who was telling me about all the areas he was trying to improve in his life. He was making progress in spiritual disciplines, service opportunities, relational dynamics, physical health, and so much more.
As he talked about all the ways he needed to make progress, I asked him a simple question:
“Where were you when I first met you?”
“Three years ago?”
“Yeah, three years ago?”
“I was a heroin addict.”
“Yeah, I think you are doing pretty good, bud. I’m so very proud of you. You weren’t even thinking of a conversation like this three years ago.”
I think sometimes we need to remember that discipleship is a process. We are growing, but it takes time. I see my children every single day. I don’t notice their physical growth daily, but if someone hasn’t seen them in months, they are in shock by how big they are.
We are very similar to that in our spiritual conditions. When I look at myself and others I see daily, it is rare to notice seismic growth. If you take a step back, if you haven’t seen someone in a while, you are more prone to notice massive spiritual growth.
That’s why when you disciple others, you must always be committed to patient progress. We want to see growth, but it doesn’t happen overnight. A single sermon might motivate someone, but it won’t fix them in a certain area for the rest of his or her life. One conversation may be enlightening, but it cannot perfect someone’s spiritual condition.
The Apostle Paul mentioned that sometimes believers still need spiritual baby food because they aren’t ready for an adult helping yet (1 Cor. 3:2). Sometimes, I am trying to force feed a spiritual baby things they cannot digest yet.
When my children first started to walk, I cheered them on for two steps and a faceplate. When a new disciple fails at something one year into development, we typically write him or her off for not being more mature. What happened to showing mercy to others with just a fraction of how much God has shown us?
Paul mentioned that every person is either planting or watering when it comes to ministering to others, but God is the one who is always causing the growth (1 Cor. 3:7). Growth takes time. You don’t plant a tree in your backyard as a sapling and expect it to be a tall evergreen by the next morning. Why do we expect that in discipleship?
When it comes to people, growth takes time, which means that the disciple-makers need to exhibit patience. God has celebrated your baby steps, we might need to celebrate others’ steps as well if we want them to continue.
One day, we will step back and see it. We will notice people with deep roots and rich fruit and realize the patience was worth it.