Many of us in pastoral care prefer getting to know people in groups, on Sundays, or at meals. While group settings are helpful in building a team and a community of believers who support one another, I have found one on one relationships are truly the key to the most growth in individuals. Someone once told me that the way a group changes is by individuals changing one by one until the critical mass has changed. The more I see people growing one on one the more I understand the need for us, as leaders in the body of Christ, to meet people right where they are as individuals.
At any given season, God has sent me ten to twelve women to build deeper relationships in the manner that suits them best. This may mean setting up weekly phone calls with them to check in, check their spiritual and emotional well-being, and pray about their decisions and for support. I have even seen some deep truths come forth via text message when I least expected it. Discipling this way may also include meeting at their houses, local coffee shops (I’ve managed to visit most of the coffee shops in Nashville this way), or taking them out to eat. One friend I’ve discipled for seven years loves to eat breakfast. I’ve noticed she talks more over breakfast and is less concerned about time than she is at any other meal I’ve eaten with her!
As of late, God seems to be in the business of building up some strong women and men for the “end time Army.” What we invest in this group (especially the millennials and thirtysomethings) will pay off for several generations to come. I look back at my own life and see that several women poured a well of encouragement into me at various times, while weaving in some biblical truths, some wisdom about decision making, and some redirection in an uncanny way. All they really did was to love who I was and who I was becoming in the Lord. Reflecting on all they did in my life, I am so grateful. Sadly, because it took me many years to appreciate them, most of those women are not around any longer for me to say, “thank you”.
Some people ask me what I do when I meet someone I’d like to disciple. I begin by seeking them out to say, “I’d like to get to know you better. Would you be open to that?” However, sometimes, I don’t have to start the conversation at all. My favorite thing is when the spiritually hungry approach me first. They often start by saying, “Are you ever free to have coffee or a meal sometime?” That is, to me, like saying, “sic ‘em!” to a bulldog. Once we can find a time to meet (which means I go out at night more than I like or am up earlier in the morning), our conversations usually start to flow. Over coffee, tea, or a meal, I begin with, “Tell me what I need to know about you” or, if I know the person is a believer and is ready to grow,“Tell me what God is doing in your life right now.” I have found people, especially those in their 20’s and 30’s, like to talk about themselves and their lives. So much of their communication is digital and so many millennials are now working independently that they often spend a lot of time alone. I love the excitement of seeing a tiny bit of what God must see in these amazing individuals as they start telling their stories. I just listen or nod in agreement. It seems to be so easy once the process starts. I’ve learned along the way to ask, “How can I help hold you accountable for these things you are working on right now?” Or “How can I help pray for you as you get closer to the Lord?” Or “Tell me more about why you think you keep repeating those choices.” This last statement comes from a special place. I could have used more help with this as I grew in the Lord early on.
A young lady came to me at least five years ago and started asking me if we could just “hang out.” We started going out for coffee together and she had started leading worship for us at our church. I knew there was some depth to her. As we got to know one another, she told me more about her desire to stay pure in relationships and she wanted God’s very best for her life in a husband. She was willing to wait. As we have walked together over the years, she has had a number of “brief” relationships. Each time, the man she was dating came to church or we had them over for dinner because she wanted me to meet each of these meant, and of course, tell her what I thought. Usually, she would tell me before I got a chance (she knew deep down). We have prayed together for years now and when she has gotten discouraged and even tempted to compromise, there has been accountability. Now in her early thirties, after dating someone for a year and traveling full time with a career in music and songwriting, she has just gotten engaged. I am so aware of how long she has waited because I waited alongside her. I know how many prayers have contributed to this godly man’s arrival in her life, because I prayed with her, and we least expected him at the time he came. I know exactly how much excitement there will be when we perform the wedding ceremony because I’ll feel it too. It has encouraged me even more to invest in those willing to grow, and know that there truly will be those “faithful few” when Jesus returns to this earth!
Ernie Simms co-leads a mission church in inner city Nashville (The Salvation Army Berry Street Worship Center) with her husband of 26 years. She leads women’s retreats and mentors many young women in all areas of personal and spiritual growth. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 615.405.4147. She likes texting.