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“Regardless of how formal or informal your relationship is, self-sacrificial service should be a part of all discipleship, mentoring, and counseling.”
As we looked at in a previous post, whether we call it discipleship, mentoring, counseling, or just good old-fashioned friendship, every one of us is called to personally minister to those around us. But what does that ministry actually look like? What is it that we’re actually supposed to do? How can we help others? How do we know where to start?
I hear these questions from all kinds of people. Whether it’s experienced counselors or brand new disciplers, people are confused as to what is expected in personal ministry to others. Should the relationship be formal or informal? Should they always come prepared with a Bible verse to discuss? How will they know what to say? While there is no simple answer to any of these questions, there are a few guiding principles that I have found helpful over the years. Here are five actions (explained further in our Helping People Change class) that can guide your personal ministry to others.
Love Over All
Above all, personal ministry should be a manifestation of our love for others. God calls us to be motivated not by duty, guilt, or pity, but by selfless love for another person. Love means our ministry is aligned with God’s heart for others, not our own self-serving “religious” desires. Christian friendship is not an act of moral duty. It's an expression of genuine love:
For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another….By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. (1 John 3:11-16)
Knowing in Love
The first step in loving someone is taking the time to know them, understanding who they are and the circumstances they are in. This means listening to them. If we do not take the time to carefully listen to someone, we won’t have any idea how to love them well. The knowledge we get from listening well tells us what we can say or do that will help them, not hurt them.
Listening involves asking good questions, patiently reserving judgment, and refraining from slapping a label on them that puts them in a box. Instead, as we truly get to know a person, we begin to interpret their situation or struggle in light of Scripture and get a sense for how to proceed. Getting to know someone means taking time to consider what is most needed at any particular moment. Our words shouldn't be motivated by an arbitrary expectation that we “should say something.” Instead, we must continually (and prayerfully!) ask ourselves: “What is most needed at this moment?” Only after listening to someone and coming to know them can we proceed in wisdom.
Serving in Love
As we proceed, words will be only a part of personal ministry. When we think about discipleship and counseling, we tend to focus on our words. While gospel ministry requires us to speak, it always involves more than our words. In fact, many “one anothers” in the New Testament do not involve our words at all (and some require us not to use words!). Here’s just a sample:
Outdo one another in showing honor – Romans 12:10
Rejoice and weep with one another – Romans 12:15
Show physical affection for one another – Romans 16:16
Care for one another – 1 Corinthians 12:25
Be kind to one another – Ephesians 4:32
Forgive one another – Ephesians 4:32
Submit to one another – Ephesians 5:21
Bear with one another – Colossians 3:13
Seek good for one another – 1 Thessalonians 5:15
Pray for one another 1 Timothy 2:1
Be hospitable to one another – 1 Peter 4:9
Regardless of how formal or informal your relationship is, self-sacrificial service should be a part of all discipleship, mentoring, and counseling.
Speaking in Love
While personal ministry is more than words, it certainly isn’t less. We are called to speak the truth in love in all our personal ministry. When Paul describes how the church is built up, he puts it this way:
Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:15-16)
Speaking the truth in love will take different forms. Sometimes this speaking will take the form of affirmation, recognizing the godly thoughts and behaviors in the disciple’s life and affirming their godly character. Sometimes this speaking will take the form of confrontation, recognizing the sinful thoughts and behaviors in the disciple’s life and calling them to repentance. And sometimes this speaking will take the form of giving hope, simply reminding them that no matter how badly they are hurting or how fiercely they are struggling, there is always hope in Christ.
Gospeling in Love
This leads us to the final piece of discipleship, counseling, and mentoring: applying the gospel to the heart of another person (“gospeling” for short). Gospeling involves three essential components. First, to apply the gospel to someone’s heart we must help them see why they need the gospel afresh. This usually involves identifying how their struggle is motivated by self-worship, or by putting something or someone ahead of God in their thoughts, emotions, or actions. When we realize that the problem is not just that we are sinning, but that we are worshiping something other than God, we see that the problem is greater than we realized.
When we see that the problem is greater than we realized, we then have the opportunity to see that God’s grace is also bigger than we ever imagined. So secondly we remind the disciple of gospel truths. Who is God? What has he done? Who has he made us to be in Christ? Just because a disciple knows the answers to these questions doesn’t mean we shouldn’t repeat them. We all need reminders of the gospel if we want to see hearts transformed.
Finally, after repeating gospel truth, we then need to instruct in gospel commands. We ought to call them to repentance and obedience in light of the gospel and point them to the specific places in scripture that should guide their thoughts and behavior. We cannot truly love someone without showing them the path forward in Christlikeness.
In fact, we can’t truly love someone without manifesting each of these aspects of personal ministry. To say that God calls each of us to personal ministry is to say that God calls each of us to lovingly know, lovingly serve, lovingly speak to, and lovingly gospel the people God has placed in our lives. As we do, we are obeying his call to make disciples.
Scott serves the church by overseeing leadership, development, global ministries, and counseling/discipleship.
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