I never trust the “one size fits all” label on clothing, and I definitely disregard it when it comes to spiritual matters.
One size actually fits none.
With all of our unique challenges, we need a distinctive plan and an intentional guide. Is it possible to have a general goal of discipleship yet a specific direction for each individual?
Jesus apparently did. In addition to the numerous people Jesus impacted during his time on earth, he intentionally discipled twelve men. Over three years, these men accompanied him almost every waking hour. While Jesus gave sermons and examples to the masses, he apparently was also working towards particular ends with each disciple.
Case Study #1: Peter
Take Peter, for example. During Jesus’ ministry, Peter struggled the most when suffering was possible. Peter confessed Jesus as the Christ until the Christ talked about a cross (Matt. 16:21-23). He was ready to pull out the sword and go to arms against his enemies before ever succumbing to surrender and joining Jesus in imprisonment or suffering (John 18:10). Confronted by a harmless girl, he began to swear his disassociation with Jesus to keep himself secure (Matt. 26:69-75). How can we not recognize that by the time Jesus has worked on him, he remarkably counts suffering as honorable (Acts 5:27-32) and writes a letter where suffering is the unifying theme (1 Pet. 2:21)?
Case Study #2: John
For John, it wasn’t suffering, but the distinctive issue appeared to be a need for him to grow in his love for others. They called him a Son of Thunder for a reason (Mark 3:17). He got upset when outsiders seemed successful (Mark 9:38). It is challenging to be zealous for God’s work when you are jealous of who gets the credit. When he encountered unreceptive people, he was eager to attempt calling fire down from heaven to consume such unthinkable unbelievers (Luke 9:54). For all his brazen behavior, something changed inside him along the way. Would Jesus entrust his aging mother to an unstable hothead (John 19:26-27)? John began to exhibit a tender shepherd’s love and encouraged others to follow him in compassionate living (1 John 4:7-8).
Case Study #3: Thomas
Jesus even had a strategy for Thomas. This doubting disciple was often confused regarding the direction of Jesus (John 11:16; 14:5). He initially didn’t have the faith needed to see the larger picture. It is undeniably revealing that at the exact moment when Jesus decided to disclose his resurrected self to the disciples, Thomas was the only one absent (John 20:24). If Jesus defeated death and could enter any room with the doors locked, don’t you think he was aware that Thomas was missing when he decided to reunite with the group? I do not believe that Thomas’ absence caught him by surprise. These disciples were rarely leaving each other due to fear (John 20:19), and yet it just so happens that Jesus waits for Thomas to leave before appearing. What was the motive behind such timing? He was developing Thomas’ most distinct need – the increase of his faith (John 20:27-29).
One Size Fits One
One size doesn’t fit all; one size fits one. Jesus knew that. He practiced it. He was developing the entire ragtag group of disciples, but he was employing distinctive approaches with each one. Jesus worked on Peter’s steadfastness, John’s love, and Thomas’ faith, to name a few. He knew them well enough to understand what was lacking at that time and what would be necessary for the future.
So, as you make a plan for your growth, have you ever considered it probably won’t be the exact same as another?
If you are discipline someone else, have you ever considered that a distinctive plan will be necessary and that standard templates will not work?
Travis Agnew serves as the Lead Pastor of Rocky Creek Church in Greenville, SC. His most recent book is Just (About) Married.
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