The following is a transcript of a talk I gave recently to the “Reaching Beyond Yourself” Bible study for middle-school girls.
Today, we’re not going to talk about a 5-step system for how to build a friendship with a younger girl, or take them through a program. Let me explain by telling you two stories.
My last year of college, because I was involved in some ministry on campus, I was required to meet with two students who were the head of ministry for “discipleship” every week. They were supposed to check up on me, encourage me in my walk with the Lord. Sounds like a great idea, right? Well, the problem was that neither of them had any maturity in their Christian life. I’m not going to say they weren’t Christians, but they weren’t seeking to grow in the Lord and really pursue him with any kind of intentionality. So even though we met an hour every week for the year, their “discipleship” was more like life coaching “you can do it.” Just because they were “disciplers” did not mean they were discipling.
On the other hand, when I was about your age, I met a girl at church named Dani. I literally only spent about a half hour with this girl, but she made a tremendous impact on my life. She radiated Christ. And because of that, she took a genuine interest in me and my siblings, even in encouraging me in my role as an oldest daughter – even though I was probably ten years younger than her! We never met for Bible study. I haven’t seen her since. But I still remember how much she loved Christ.
Which girl was really doing discipleship? The one that had the ministry position and official “discipleship” time? Or the one whose walk with the Lord was so overflowing that she influenced every younger girl she came across?
So today, I want to share the back story, the foundation, for having a lifetime of fruitful discipleship among younger women, the kind of picture Titus 2 shares with us when it commands “older women, teach the younger women.”
1. The first key is to be set free by the gospel.
Let me share how God did this in my life. Like many of you, I grew up in a Christian family, solid church, and learned pretty quickly how to look like a good church kid so that I would gain approval from my parents and church leaders. But I was dead in sin and following after the world, not Christ. I do remember asking Jesus into my heart when I was around six, and he may have really saved me then, but it wasn’t until high school that I realized my desperate condition of sin.
I was around 16, basically living for myself and music, friends, good grades … when suddenly the Lord pulled back the curtain and broke me over my sin. I saw how wretched my heart was and how completely incapable I was at fixing it. It was at that point that I started pursuing the Lord more intentionally.
The problem was, the more I read about Christians of the past, Hudson Taylor, Jonathan Edwards, Whitefield, the more I desperately wanted the kind of relationship with God they had. I worked and worked and exhausted myself and every night knew I had failed.
Still, God was so gracious to meet me where I was at. He had given me a longing to know Him—and I did desperately want holiness. But I was working for it in my own strength. I was trying and trying and knew I would never get there. I wanted to be a godly sister, daughter, friend, church member, but I constantly failed.
That’s when God used a friend to invite me to my pastor’s house to study Romans. He was right in the middle of chapter three talking about how Jesus took all of our sin on himself and gave us his righteousness. No matter what our background, Christian family or not, we all fall so short of God’s perfect standard, because He is perfectly holy. Even our best days, our best acts of goodness, are like filthy rags in his sight, the Bible says. That leaves us in an absolutely desperate condition, because we were made to have a close relationship with the God of the universe and spend our whole lives delighting in Him and making him look great!
That’s why the gospel is such good news! Jesus came and lived a perfect life, then died in our place, and rose again, when we were still sinners and hated him. That was only way that God could still be a just judge and yet forgive us, was to punish Jesus in our place.
Becoming a Christian is not about going to church, reading your Bible, praying every day … but about recognizing your sin, which is repentance, and simply looking to Jesus (that’s what faith is).
My pastor told us that this message, the gospel, didn’t just apply to when we were first saved but every single day of our lives. Like Romans 4:8 says, “Now, to him who does not work, but believes on him who justifies the ungodly, his faith his counted for righteousness.” That meant all I had to do was rest in what Christ had already done for me. I was hooked. This was what I was praying for, always needed.
I can’t tell you how much learning to live out the gospel every day totally transformed my life and set me free to really love and minister to others. I used to live in bondage of working to please God and others, which made me super quiet, serious, and an unhealthy perfectionist. The gospel set my personality free to love others, laugh, have fun, and not be constantly worried about messing up.
I used to be constantly stressed and tired, never able to live up to my expectations of what a ‘good Christian’ should be, but the gospel has given me rest!
I used to only share the gospel out of guilt, and I hated it. But as this gospel takes over my heart, it starts coming out naturally, and the Lord is giving me a burden for souls.
God’s saving me and showing me this gospel is his Sovereign mercy in my life, and I am completely undeserving. But after seeing him work in my life, I am absolutely convinced that all we need is the gospel.
I don’t know where each of you girls is at, whether you have embraced this gospel and made it your own, or whether you are just doing what your parents say. But let me encourage you, this is the key behind any kind of impact you will ever have on younger girls. Even more importantly, this issue is the fate of your very soul—not only whether you will spend eternity in heaven or hell but whether you will waste your life on this earth chasing after the world or spend it for the Lord. Let me encourage, after this study, to get alone with the Lord and ask him where you heart is. Tell him you want to know Him more.
If you have already come to faith, we still need the gospel everyday. It’s not just a prayer we prayed one day. We have to remind ourselves that God looks at us everyday and delights in us because of Christ. He’s not an angry Father, he’s not mad. You are accepted and loved and forgiven in Christ, and nothing you do can change that!
2. Secondly, the secret to powerful discipleship—or I like to just call it “usefulness for the Lord” is much time spent alone with God.
Let me tell you another story. In the 1800s, there was a young boy, not much older than you all, named Hudson Taylor. Hudson grew up in a Christian family but didn’t come to Christ until he was 16. Shortly after, he was spending time in prayer with God and felt led to make a kind of covenant with God, telling him he would give him his life if only the Lord would go with him. He felt like God was calling him to become a missionary in China.
If you wanted to be a missionary in China, what would you do to prepare?
Well, Hudson decided to take medical classes, learn Chinese, get used to poverty, a lot of the things you might think of. He really wanted to be used by the Lord, and he didn’t let anything distract him from that. He even gave up a relationship with the girl he loved because she was not willing to follow him to China.
Well, Hudson Taylor became one of the greatest missionaries to China of all time and founded the China Inland Mission, bringing thousands more missionaries with him. He had an impact on millions of souls who would never have heard about Jesus. What was his secret?
It was much time spent alone with the Lord. From the time he was a boy, he spent hours alone with God. He prayed about everything. He said “move man by prayer through God alone.” That is, don’t go try to change things through your talking or convincing. Bring it to God, and will take care of it. He learned to be very still before the Lord to discern what God was calling him to do.
Hudson knew that he would never be ‘useful’ for the Lord unless he spent much time alone with God. When he was on his way to China for the first time, he wrote his mother with all these questions he was wondering about-where would he live? How would he get around if he didn’t know anyone there? But then he said, this is the most important question: Am I now living as near to God as possible?
One time later in his life a man took a trip with him, and wrote later that Hudson would wake up hours before everyone else, or even wake up for a few hours in the night if they had travel early, in order to spend time with the Lord.
Gabby shared with me how you all have been challenging each other through this study to meditate on scripture and read the Bible every day. I am so happy to hear that! If you keep that habit up, not just as a habit, but as precious time everyday to spend with Jesus, he will use you to do great things for Him!
3. We desperately need girls your age who want to spend the years of their youth for the Lord, impacting younger girls!
I work with middle and high school girls in my church, and the world just attacks girls from all sides in our day and age. Girls are struggling with the way they look, their body size, fashion, friends, boyfriends, media … so much. They desperately need older girls to impact them!
I’m finding so many girls don’t have older siblings who are walking with the Lord and being a good example for them. So they need other role models—girls like you all to befriend them and show them what it means to live a life set apart for Jesus. Even if they have Christian parents, it is so helpful to have someone closer to your own age saying the same things and encouraging you toward the Lord.
4. Let me offer some practical tips …
Like the story I told at the beginning, discipleship is much more about what your relationship with Jesus is like and less about programs or how many girls you meet with! I am going to give you some more practical tips, but as you seek to know the Lord deeply, He’s going to just send girls your way without you even trying to “disciple.” The worst thing you can do is make a girl feel like a project, so let Jesus lead you!
Here are some practical tips:
1. Learn to relate to younger girls. One of the most important skills is just knowing how to have small talk about things in their life. Think through the list you wrote down at the beginning. How old are those girls? What do they like to do? What do they dream about? What do they want to be when they grow up? What is their favorite color, food, ice cream?
It can be hard to get into the mind of someone who’s a different age! When I first started building relationships with girls at my church, I realized I was going to have to learn to be interested in things like dance, theater, swimming, getting driving permits, babysitting jobs … all the things that made up their lives. That was hard for me at first, because I never did dance or theater or swimming … it it had been a long time since I was in their season! But I slowly learned to ask questions, and I’m still learning!
2. Start asking spiritual questions.
“What are you reading in your Bible right now?”
“Do you have a favorite Bible verse?”
“What did you like about the sermon today?”
“Is there anything I can pray for you for?”
Sometimes, if you’ve already developed a deeper relationship, you can ask deeper questions:
“What is God teaching you right now?”
“When do you feel like you became a Christian?”
This last question can be a surprising one … and it might get them thinking if they are only relying on their parent’s faith. I asked a twelve-year-old girl, who had developed a pretty close relationship with already, this, and I was surprised when she told me she thought she had just got saved very recently–even though I had seen her get baptized a year ago. That led to an amazing discussion about what it means to grow in the Lord.
3. Be there for them. This means sacrificing your time with friends your age to make younger girls feel like your important friend. Remember, you don’t want them to feel like a project! I used to struggle with not wanting to talk to the younger girls after church–after all, I told myself. I see them twice a week already at study and I want to talk to my friends now. But the Lord is starting to help me see them as my friends—and give me a love for spending time with them, even if that means giving up my ‘friend time.”
4. Remember that your younger siblings need discipleship too! Ministering to your younger siblings, even though it might seem less impressive, is such an important ministry! And all the things we’ve talked about relating to them and asking them questions about what God is doing in their lives applies to siblings too! But most importantly, if you are seeking God with your whole heart, your younger siblings will see that, and that will make a tremendous impact on them, even if they never tell you. You won’t get many pats on the back for discipling your siblings, but God sees it as so important. And he specially put you there as their older sibling!
5. Finally, this is the best time in our lives to develop a heart for women—discipling younger women and learning from older women. It is so easy to spend all your time with friends who you are comfortable with. And particularly as you all get a little older, it is so easy to get distracted with boys—always knowing where the one you like is in a room, wanting to get their attention, thinking about them all the time. But let me tell you, right now is the best time of your whole life to spend impacting younger girls. You’ll never have a season again when you have so much energy and free time and can make such an impact. Even when you get married, most of your life will be ministering to women and children.
I know several older ladies who nurtured this heart for women when they were still young and single. Now they are both empty nesters, and God is using them in great ways to minister to younger women. But sadly, those who spent most of their single years chasing guys or fun or friends are not discipling younger women TODAY because they never nurtured that heart when they were young.
My challenge to you this week is to find one younger girl to talk to … it could be after church or school or a playdate and just start building a friendship. You don’t have to ask them anything spiritual the first time. Just let them know that you genuinely care about their lives. If you keep doing this, they will open up to you!