Fall 2022: RickThomas.Net Becomes LifeOverCoffee.Com
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How you begin a discipleship relationship with someone will influence the type of discipleship you offer them. For example, if you misjudge your assessment, you will not help the person in your care. Thus, you want to be precise on what you’re looking for and expect from those you serve. Initially, the main thing you want to know is the person’s genuineness.
What I’m not talking about is genuine faith but a non-pretentious individual. You’re looking for their truth—whatever that is. Everybody lives according to their unique reality, which never mirrors God’s Word perfectly. I don’t; you don’t; those you disciple don’t. I’m not suggesting you become cynical, suspicious, or bring uncharitable judgments about anyone not living according to God’s Word.
But you must realize there is always inconsistency between the person you’re caring for and the Christ they must imitate (Ephesians 5:1). If a person comes to you for help, the most caring thing you can do for them is assume there is a gap between where they are and where they need to be. We all live in that gap. Your job is to figure out where they are and what it will take to close their gap.
A few years ago, I was counseling a teenage girl struggling with God. During our counseling session, I asked her if she loved God. She said that she did love Him, and I asked her why she loved Him. She said, “Because He first loved me,” to which I exclaimed, “Stop that! I’m not looking for what the Bible says. Tell me what you think.”
She asked, “Really?” I said, “Yes.” Then she began to tell me about her anger toward God. I thanked her. She was surprised that I would “rejoice” for telling me about her anger toward the Lord. The truth is that she revealed “her truth,” which gave us the correct starting place to begin soul care. Sometimes when you’re helping Christians, they automatically go into Christian-speak without thinking.
These believers went through “Christianized training” to provide Bible answers while hiding the actual truth. Once they begin sharing their truth—who they are and what they believe—you can start the process of soul care. Getting to this spot in a relationship is more challenging than you might think. A Christianized culture has a particular kind of behaviorism that is hard to analyze and break through the layers of religion.
When you assess a person to help them, what is the most significant character trait you hope they exhibit? If you could name just one that you would like to see from them, what would it be? Here are three vital ones that most folks say, and I’m sure you can add a few others to this list. Though all of these are good, they should not be the most important.
Humility – Many would say humility. This response is a reasonable answer, but people can fake humility. Anybody can be kind, and it’s easy to equate kindness to humility. The problem with humility is that it is hard to discern, especially if decency, kindness, or even serving are the evidence of the humble heart. Of course, when you begin to see patterns of anger or patterns of stubbornness, you’ll quickly figure out it may not be genuine humility you’re observing.
Honesty – Some would say they look for honesty, but people can also distort honesty. My friend who said she loved God appeared to be honest, but the truth is that she was lying. Most Christians do not tell big, bold lies. We’re too Christianized for that kind of tomfoolery. Lying is more than black versus white.
A person who spins the truth is doing one of three things: (1) leaving out parts of the truth, (2) adding to the truth, (3) or avoiding the truth—all of which you see depicted in the infographic. Any of these is a form of lying. Though honesty is good to look for in a person, honesty can be distorted and twisted to the point where it’s hard to discern.
Serving – One of the goals of counseling is for the person to learn how to serve others. Typically, a struggler is more self-centered, especially when receiving help. The goal is to teach them to consider others more than themselves (Philippians 2:3-4). One of the ways you’ll know when the counseling is over is when the counselee becomes a servant-giver rather than a selfish-taker.
Even so, you can fake serving, just like humility and honesty. How many of us have seen pastors, elders, deacons, ministry leaders, and small group leaders exposed for their heinous sins? Though most of them loved the Lord, there was undiscernible deception working in their hearts.
There are many essential Christian traits you should be looking for when discipling someone, but you must realize we all can fake out each other. Here are a few things we can learn to do out of habit: kindness, graciousness, respect, honoring, doing your homework, being punctual, not gossiping, and exercising self-control.
For me, there is one thing that rises above every other valued Christian trait. It is the main thing I’m looking for in a person. It is the main thing I look for in myself. It is the one thing that is hard to fake. That essential thing is repentance. You can use the word “change” if you wish. You can also add the words “responsive teachableness.”
Humility, honesty, and serving, as well as the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, are excellent character traits, and we should model these Christlike qualities. But, still, it is hard at times to distinguish between the real and the fake. There is a reason Jesus gave us the story of the tares among the wheat (Matthew 13:24).
The discerning discipler is going to be looking under the fruit to find the root of a person’s life. That primary fruit is repentance. Though a specific repentance leads to death, that kind of repentance can be ferreted out quickly (2 Corinthians 7:10). The repentance that leads to life will be evident. Discipleship is like walking up steps—there is consistent forward and upward progression.
There is a measurable and objective change in a person’s life. While someone may fake humility, it will only take a car ride home with a spouse to see if they are repentant. In private with someone, you may get the nods of affirmation and “we’re going to do better,” only to find out the next day that the person blew up again at their spouse and refuses to come back to see you.
An authentic Christian is willing and able to change. How could it be otherwise? The point of Christianity is about change. The focus of the gospel is to transform us from darkness to light. Christ came to change us. Repentance (or change) is the heart of what Christianity is about, and if a person is not transforming, he is denying and defying what he claims to be.
It would be like a human saying, “I am not going to grow.” How could it be? That is death, not life. God built us to grow and change. Similarly, you must challenge whether the person is a Christian if they are not “walking up steps,” even if they are stumbling up them. Repentance is the one fruit that produces all of the other fruit.
If repentance is not under the believer’s other fruit, the other fruit will not last. You could say, as Luther did, that the Christian life is a life of repentance and ongoing repenting. This concept does not mean a Christian will not sin, fail, or make mistakes. We know better than this. We understand the doctrine of progressive sanctification as a work in progress.
Failure is one of the most obvious ways to tell if a person is authentically a Christian. When a Christian sins (fails), there should be an internal compelling within him to change (repent). If this “compelling” is true, at least two sub-components of repentance will point to the person’s genuineness.
For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night, your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer (Psalm 32:3-4).
Brokenness – There is a “misery element” to the Christian who sins. If he continues to choose not to repent, the heavy hand of God will bear down on him because God is in him, and when he sins, he grieves God (Ephesians 4:29-31). Paul talked about how the sinning person grieves God. When you grieve the Spirit, there will be a misery element that will break out on you. Contrition is one of the things I’m looking for when discerning if a person is an authentic Christian. Does he show misery? Is he sorrowful? How broken is he about what he did?
Teachability – Like repentance, he can fake sorrow too. He can show sorrow that leads to death (2 Corinthians 7:10), which is why you’re looking for a corresponding sign of his sorrow, which is teachability. He is teachable because he wants to learn. Why? He has a compelling “interest” (Spirit) inside of him that motivates him to want to learn, change, and grow.
If God is in you, He will stir you up to want to change. The unteachable person is not like this. He does not grieve over his sin, and he does not like to learn to change. Here are a few characteristics of the unteachable person: argumentative, self-pity, resistant, blames, justifies, accuses, rationalizes, defensive, angers easily, excuses, manipulates, defiant, deceptive, or pushes back.
We all are capable of such things, and I suspect we have done such as Christians. If we are Christians, we can regain our spiritual senses and repent. We do this because our primary desire is to honor God. We want to change for the sake of Christ and the sake of others. If a person consistently maintains a spirit of rebellion, there is a good chance he is not a Christian.
The primary thing you want to see in anyone’s life is their sanctification trending upward. There will be dips along the way, but the general trend is up. The reason for this is simple: “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
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Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).