An exercise that I have often done is to invite people to draw their “faith line”. A wiggly line denoting life with the ups and downs representing how close they felt to God at that time, highlighting the key moments both positive and negative. Then – either by writing or drawing a little picture – note key people, places and events along their journey.

It’s a fascinating exercise to do – if you’ve never done it I suggest you step away now and spend 5 minutes doing it. Don’t worry – I’ll still be here when you get back…

When we look at our journey, there are always these key people, places and events that are spiritually significant to us. A youth worker; an SU campsite; and a moving worship service. Whilst all of our Christian life is part of being a disciple – the long obedience in the same direction as Eugene Peterson would have it – these particular things have great meaning for us.

If you look specifically at the people on your line, almost all of them will be people who you spent large amounts of time with. Or, perhaps more importantly, they chose to spend – to invest – large amounts of time with you. The youth worker who took the time to explain difficult concepts. The older couple who opened their house for lunches after church.

Jesus spent 3 years of active ministry and the vast majority of that time was with 12. Yes, he ministered to a lot more than that, teaching, healing and performing miracles. But those 12 were there day in, day out. Those of us with congregational responsibilities need to understand that, whilst we have duties to minister to many, there is a deep need for discipleship that can only be met if we make a conscious decision to invest in a few key relationships.

Start with one or two people that you think would benefit from this time investment. As an old mentor of mine used to say, “feed the hungry.” Who are those who are hungry for more of Jesus; those looking to go deeper in their faith; those wondering “There must be more than this?” Then invest time in them. Schedule a regular coffee. Or a walk around the park. Anything that builds the relational foundation upon which discipleship is based. Do some spiritual work too – pray and open the Scriptures together. Invite them to participate alongside you in ministry, not to push them down the vocational path, but because this is faith lived out in life. Above all, encourage them that they too can disciple someone else.

At its best, this is a life-on-life experience, where you are sharing your life of faith with others, not as a pastor or teacher, but as a fellow disciple on the journey.

I started with meeting 3 guys individually for coffee with no set agenda. We talk about anything and everything. Learning and being interested in the other person’s family, work, hobbies, etc. Talking about church things too: their hopes and dreams, thoughts and concerns. Then discovering what they feel their gifts are, and thinking together about how we might better find space for them to use those gifts.

This is not an easy path. People may think that you’re choosing favourites, or that you are neglecting your pastoral duties to others. You, I suspect, will wonder if discipling a few will make a difference to the many, or if what you are doing is discipleship rather than just friendship. And there is an inherent vulnerability to this process – it seems likely that one of my three may be moving away soon. Not only will I lose a partner in ministry, but also a friend. However, I believe this is a key component to the mission – and sustainability – of the church. A whole community cannot be discipled by one minister, but rather disciples who make disciples who make disciples who…