Discipling is Mentoring is Counseling

We all need someone to talk to from time to time. We need someone that is willing to listen, but we also need someone who can nudge us in the right direction. We need someone to correct us, encourage us, listen to us, laugh with us, cry with us, and relate to us. The bottom line is that God created us to need other people in our lives.

The great thing is that he not only creates us with this need but provides for this need by placing us in a spiritual family and calling each one of us to love one another in this way. Every one of us is called to correct others, encourage others, listen to others, laugh with others, cry with others, and relate to others. As Paul wrote in his letter to the Ephesians:

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)

Each one of us is called to fulfill our role in the body of Christ. Each one of us is called to speak the truth in love to those around him. Each one of us is called to build one another up in love. This is how God has designed the church to grow, and it’s the means by which he has designed us, as individuals, to grow. This means that every one of us is called to minister to others in this way. And we are already ministering to others in this way whether we realize it or not. As Paul Tripp writes in Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, “If you are alive on this planet, you are a counselor!” Tripp continues:

“You are interpreting life, and are sharing those interpretations with others. You are a person of influence, and you are also being influenced. There are people in your life who have your ear. Perhaps without even knowing it, they will shape your thinking, direct your desires, and influence your plan of action. The issue is not who is counseling. All of us are. The core issue is whether that counseling is rooted in the revelation of the Creator.”

So what do you call this kind of personal ministry? Is it discipleship? Is it mentoring? Is it counseling? Yes! Unfortunately we often divide up personal ministry into different categories. Thinking of them as completely separate activities, we get confused and uncertain—does God want me to disciple, counsel, mentor, or something else entirely? It’s true that discipleship may be more proactive in nature. Counseling may be more reactive in nature. Mentoring may involve an inter-generational relationship. But at their core, these are all just different angles of the personal ministry we are all called to. I like to define biblical personal ministry in a way that applies equally to discipleship, counseling, and mentoring:

Biblical personal ministry is the God-exalting, grace-saturated act of loving another person, in the midst of both suffering and blessing, through patient knowledge, sacrificial actions, biblical speech, and consistent application of the gospel in order to help them become more like Jesus.

That is the goal we are after. That is what we should be trying to do with those we disciple. That is what we should be trying to do with those we mentor. That is what we should be trying to do with those we counsel. Call it whatever you want. That is what every one of us, in one way or another, is called to do. Being a Christian means engaging in personal ministry and enjoying personal ministry, in all its different facets, as part of the body of Christ.