A couple of my kids have recently joined the other two in pursuing some personal fitness goals.
So y’know, that’s cool.
Grant it, their goals all look totally different.
There’s my oldest, prepping for the Marines’ boot camp in just two months. There’s my middle, whom I suspect wants to look good and feel strong. My daughter, who’s doing HIIT. My youngest, who unlike yours truly, loves sports for the sports, so why not do two at a time?
dISCIPLESHIP: You, too, can impart personal training
When I think about training my kids in spiritual life skills, about discipleship–I think there’s a parallel: As global workers and believers, we’re a little like personal trainers in “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).
(Not that anyone would want me as a personal trainer? I would, like, encourage them to death. Like an overactive labrador. And my questionable ability to both walk and chew gum at the same time might make them feel suddenly, remarkably competent.)
But think about this. If someone was “sort of ” interested in losing weight, you wouldn’t push too hard. They may not come back to the gym.
Instead of barking at them, you’d try everything from Zumba to coordinating with friends to find a workout they’d stick with.
You’d celebrate every victory in their personal training, and sometimes, in faith, leave a challenging skill for a better time.
But those athletes used to running marathons? They’ll breeze through that training and raise you 20 push-ups. They‘ll eat up your Peloton pace.
Why they call it “personal” training
So we adapt spiritual training–evangelism and discipleship–in a similar way.
Remember that little warning before a video workout? Something like “Check with your doctor and don’t do any of these things that would cause you to sue us”?
Here’s mine: Before discipleship or even evangelism, know someone’s story. Consider their personalities and current level of response to God, their God-given inclinations and curiosities, their motivations and resistance.
Then “get those knees up!” isn’t the only exercise in your repertoire–which might turn them away.
One friend of mine was homeless, living in the forest, and knew God–“the Good Lord”–well as Creator. Shame-laden, he was ready to hear about true forgiveness in Jesus.
But another friend struggles with painful church hurt. I don’t talk to them about faith in the same ways.
To encourage her with the same “personal” training methods would shove her away from me… and God.
Jesus beckoned the woman at the well (John 4) and Zaccheus (Luke 19:1-10) in completely different ways, too.
Because discipleship isn’t McMissions. We don’t guide the spiritual couch potato or the spiritual rebel or the spiritual 5K-er the same.
In our discipleship, we engage others with God to see him as the compassionate, desirable person he is, to see past the metaphorical potato chips around them to the pricey, daily, organic, five-course meal that satisfies for a lifetime.
What could you consider iN Discipleship, AKA spiritual personal training?
Their natural motivations and interests.
Any teacher will let you know kids are self-driven to study whatever they have the bug for.
In my limited experience, when people are naturally engaged in a subject–like my friend with creation, who’d studied to be a park ranger–it cuts a teacher’s work in half.
If you can pair natural interest, like art or nature or animals or music, with God, you might help someone see him as beautiful as he is.
Your relationship with them.
Not all relationships are created equal. Your conversations overseas with a national who stops by your office might be totally different from the guy at the grocery store, or the woman in the apartment next to yours.
And God still designed you to be there for such a time as this. Proverbs 25:11 reminds us “A word fitly spoken, is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.”
Ephesians 4:29, too, says our words need to “fit the occasion” and “give grace to those who hear.”
Sometimes in my haste, or even fear, toward someone finding Christ, I allow an agenda to supersede my concern for them and what the appropriate conversation for them is in the moment.
You’ve probably been on the other end of that, like I have: Someone’s spiritual agenda surpassing their love for me. Crashing gong, clanging cymbal and all that (1 Corinthians 13:1).
People don’t hear, You really care about me!
They hear, You didn’t even love me enough to see me.
My lack of faith in God’s timing and cultivation in each person’s life sometimes results in me loving poorly.
Axis president David Eaton counsels parents of teens, “If conversation doesn’t come easily, find the “setting of silver”. It could be Minecraft, or a YouTube make-up tutorial, or a bundt cake shop.”
For a couple of friends of mine, I walk with them through everyday stuff–but I know the window for spiritual conversations is more open when they’re struggling with profound anxiety.
Where they are in their personal journey with God.
Paul himself acknowledges, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6).
Trust a former farm girl and current gardener: Each seed has a proper life cycle. If you try to harvest a tomato when the plant’s only three inches tall, you won’t get anywhere.
You might even feel like a failure.
And there’s a spiritual life cycle, too. Ever seen the Engel Scale of Evangelism?
In your understanding, as of today, where is each person you’re talking with (that’s discipleship, too!) regarding their interest about faith?
(Remember, this is only one aspect of your personal faith-training.)
|Engel Scale of Evangelism|
|-4 IGNORANCE OF CHRIST (may be exposed, but pays no attention)|
|-3 AWARENESS OF CHRIST (sees Christ as an option)|
|-2 UNDERSTANDING OF CHRIST (what knowing Christ means)|
|-1 PERSONAL INVOLVEMENT WITH CHRIST (what Christ can do for me)|
|0 DECISION FOR CHRIST (I want or don’t want Christ)|
|1 REGENERATION (Christ is renewing me)|
|2 INCORPORATION INTO BODY OF CHRIST (I am actively part of Christ’s Body)|
|3 WITNESSING FOR CHRIST (I am sharing Christ)|
- What’s one step God might want me to do to encourage those around me–in my mission field right now–to the next “level” in their faith?
- Ask God for insight into the story of the person in front of you, and those for whom your discipleship is more intentional. How is he inviting you to participate and love well?
- Write a prayer–even just one sentence–for each of them as you consider their personality and personal path with faith. Take a minute to pray for them right now.
Janel Breitenstein is an author, freelance writer, and speaker, as well as the editor for Go. Serve. Love. After five and a half years in East Africa, her family of six has returned to Colorado, where they continue to work on behalf of the poor with Engineering Ministries International. Janel also frequently writes and speaks to missionary women through Thrive Ministry.
Her book, Permanent Markers: Spiritual Life Skills to Write on Your Kids’ Hearts (Harvest House) released October 2021. You can find her—“The Awkward Mom”—having uncomfortable, important conversations at JanelBreitenstein.com, and on Instagram @janelbreit.
A version of this post initially appeared on the author’s blog, and is used with permission.
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