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There are few things more thrilling as a follower of Jesus than discipling others. Being on the frontlines of God’s movement in another’s life is a privilege. However, it’s not one to be taken lightly, nor too soon. Over the course of my ministry life, I’ve witnessed so many women find themselves in Christ through a spiritual friendship with a mentor. I’ve also seen many women hurt and confused through such relationships. So, what qualifies a mentor to make a healthy difference in another’s walk with Jesus?
In ministry talk, spiritual authority is another term for leaders who have done the work to become mature followers of Jesus in every area of their life. This gift from God isn’t a result of effort, or even desire.
That said, our motivation to receive it matters. Neither age nor ministry experience is nearly as important as a commitment to being a follower of Jesus, versus a fan.
What’s the difference?
In other words, just because someone promotes Jesus doesn’t give her the godly wisdom and attributes to lead others. Without concern for reaching spiritual maturity, we can unknowingly have a negative influence on those we disciple. Without even being aware, an immature woman can communicate competition, criticism and control. None of these encourage life in Christ.
Have you ever been around another woman who leaves you feeling like you just don’t measure up? Or, has someone attempted to disciple you by simply telling you about their successes without stopping to learn about you? One of the most important roles a mentor plays is continuously pointing back to Jesus for answers. She not only loves to listen between the lines for how and where God is working in your life, but isn’t afraid to say, “I don’t know the answer to that. Let’s open God’s Word and seek His answers together.”
Wouldn’t that encourage you?
That’s how mature women empower those they disciple. These women know who they are as unique individuals created by God, and model how to trust God in becoming all He intended.
They aren’t trying to self-promote because they are so excited about participating in God’s projects and purposes! Those who walk in true spiritual authority are surrendered to God’s will, way, heart, mind, soul and strength. It’s a high calling, and yet God extends it to everyone!
That said, regardless of your age, if you are a Christian then you are called to lead others. Whether that excites you or terrifies you, it’s part of God’s plan that we disciple those God puts in our lives. Simply put, discipling means entering into a teaching relationship with others who are at a different stage in their faith to show them what it looks like to follow Jesus. This requires imitating Christ in all we do, and becoming love as the foundation of who we are. Why?
In order to teach and relate well, we need to first “grow up” ourselves. Here’s what Paul says about biblical maturity:
“No prolonged infancies among us, please. We’ll not tolerate babes in the woods, small children who are an easy mark for imposters. God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love—like Christ in everything. We take our lead from Christ who is the source of everything we do. He keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love.” Ephesians 4:14-16, The Message
Knowing God would love nothing more than to give you spiritual authority, what can you do today to make sure you are becoming the kingdom leader God desires?
First, think of those women who have influenced your life for Christ. What makes them stand out? Consider their character as well as their accomplishments and make a list of all the ways they have inspired you in your faith. This inventory will offer clues to the woman God designed you to become as you mature in your life and leadership.
I recall two women in particular who took an interest in me, and their investment literally led me into full-time ministry, encouraging and equipping women in their callings. One was my gymnastics coach, who repeatedly told me I am gifted with influence, and made me team captain. Another was a pastor who reached out during a hard season when I was single and filled with self-doubt. She selected a challenging book by Dallas Willard to study together, igniting my passion for theology and ministry. Clearly, God used them to change the course of my life.
Once you have a vision for who God is calling you to become, focus on your personal transformation. There are numerous disciplines and practices that encourage spiritual growth and character development, but start with spending regular time with Jesus through His Word, prayer and a Christ-centered community. In Ephesians Paul spells out several key attributes of mature followers:
Ephesians 4:1-3: “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling [divine invitation to salvation] you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
In addition to putting on the character of Christ, those who receive spiritual authority meet the following kingdom criteria:
Finally, know that God wants you to be authentically you. You don’t have to role play, pretend to have exceptional knowledge or expertise to inspire others to become their highest self in Christ.
Maturity that results in spiritual authority follows a radically different path than the world promotes. God has designed you with gifts, abilities and talents that He wants to use to grow others, but first He wants your commitment to become more like Himself, every day for the rest of your life. This, the Bible says, is what qualifies you to lead.
“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed–not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence–continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”– Philippians 2:12-13
Paul isn’t saying that the road to maturity involves being afraid of God; instead, it requires reverence. Unless you respect God and seek to serve Him with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, you can’t experience the inside-out kind of transformation required of His disciples. To know Him intimately is to love Him – and, in turn, to love others! When your energy is spent getting to know God, you benefit from all the benefits of becoming more like Jesus. Just watch how others sit up and take notice!
You won’t relate to their struggles, nor truly appreciate their celebrations. Immaturity doesn’t empower others. In fact, it separates, excludes, and even diminishes those it influences. Isn’t it encouraging to know that God wants to use your heartaches related to relationships, jobs, family and everything else to help others on their journey? Your stories matter.
So, keep working out your faith by stretching and toning your wisdom, knowledge, and character. Then you can both teach and model love over competition, prioritize God’s glory above your own, and recognize God places you in relationships based on your spiritual authority, not your agenda. Hear me, it’s not about being perfect, just purposeful!
Who is God calling you to become as a leader? Keep following Jesus and soon you will find yourself impacting others around you for the greatest cause in all the Kingdom . . . Christ!
Katie Pearson is the owner and founder of Be New Ministries, which provides faith-based retreats, workshops, coaching and leadership development training for women. Her writing has appeared in numerous magazines, publications and training programs. She is a Certified Professional Life Coach, has an M.A. in English Literature, and has trained yoga instructors for more than twenty years. Katie and her husband Kevin have two daughters in college, and live on Bainbridge Island, WA, where she was raised.
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