One afternoon recently we visited a lovely new park, with fabulous equipment that our daughters were keen to try. Being the age that they are, they were able to do this quite independently, and so we found a spot to watch and chat while they enjoyed themselves.
It wasn’t long before another family came along. The parents sat on the bench near the equipment and indicated to the preschool-aged daughter that she could go and play. She ventured excitedly towards the climbing equipment but very quickly realised that she didn’t know how to climb it. Where would each foot go? Which hand goes where? It all just seemed too hard and too high. Though she was keen, she didn’t yet have the skill set to navigate this environment well.
So she called out to her parents. The father came over and kind of tried to coax her to climb up and have a go, but from a distance. But it was still too tricky. She needed someone to actually show her what to do.
At this point our daughter came alongside her to climb up herself. It wasn’t her first time – she’d been enjoying the park for a while by this point. And she had the advantage of being a bit older and much longer arms and legs to climb with! The little girl watched her intently – you could almost see the thought bubble over her head “Ah, so that’s how you do it!!” So she tried again, but still couldn’t figure it out. So she cried. Probably out of frustration, confusion and the realisation of incompetence. And her parents took her away.
Another family came along, with similar aged girls. They also ventured into the climbing area. They also realised quickly that they didn’t know what to do. They called out to their dad. This time though, he came over and climbed up himself to the first platform – showing them what to do. Then he came down and climbed alongside them – encouraging them, being a safety net of sorts, and prompting them what to do when they became stuck. Before long they had climbed the whole frame together and were sliding down the slide at the other end, huge grins on all their faces.
With growing confidence, these girls approached the play equipment again enthusiastically. This time they needed less support, but their dad hovered nearby and they were able to look to him when they were unsure or worried about what the next step might be.
As I watched this playground scene unfold, I thought of the book Building a Discipling Culture by Mike Breen. There is a chapter called ‘Multiplying Life’, which explores the process of replicating ourselves as Christ-like disciples, through the ‘LifeShape’ of the Square. These principles are so powerful in understanding ourselves as both a disciple and as a leader to those around us, and are applicable in both family and ministry settings. (I encourage you to read it!)
When we begin something new – whether it be a Connect, an oikos, a new area of ministry, a new course of study, a new marriage, a new baby, a new business – we are generally enthusiastic! New can be fun! There’s an expectancy about what the unknown might contain! Untapped potential! New adventures! But in all of these areas, we eventually realise that we don’t know things, that hard work is required, and that we need someone else to come alongside us and help us to learn and grow.
Discipleship is not watching someone else flounder and struggle from the sidelines, and barking out the odd instruction. It’s getting in there, side by side, and doing a journey with people. It’s being ok with incompetence. It’s about showing the way at times, and then coming back around to coach someone through a difficult season with grace and vision.
Ultimately, what we want to see is people coming through difficult seasons – seasons of conscious incompetence and challenge, of needing a lot of grace and encouragement – with a new strength, with an increased capacity, greater wisdom and maturity; for people to go through a tough time, learn from that and then help someone else through the same.
We move from “I do, you watch”, to “I do, you help”, to “you do, I help”, and eventually to “You do, I watch” – this is exciting growth!! Challenging circumstances are not to be despised, but seen as an opportunity!
Who are you walking alongside right now? Who can you encourage and offer grace and vision to? When you hit a rough patch, who is by your side? Do you let people who are further along the journey speak into your life? Are you positioning yourself to multiply the faith-journey you are on in the lives of others?
As Jo Saxton reminded us at The Movement Conference last year, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”. Let’s do this together girls!