Sometimes we need a few minutes to ourselves. But those minutes are fewer and farther between once you have kids. Suddenly, those quiet moments spent with your wife, spent in spiritual devotion, or even just using the bathroom are invaded by a million little demands and concerns. “Daddy, can you help me?” “Daddy, can you do this?” “Daddy, can I ask you something?” Being the father of two little girls is time consuming. But that is the nature of fatherhood. Hopefully someone told you before you had kids that parenthood is servanthood; and if they didn’t, I’m pretty sure you found out really quickly. Being a parent necessitates having kids “underfoot” all the time. And being a spiritual parent is no different.
In his classic The Master Plan of Evangelism, Robert Coleman points out that Jesus and his disciples were in near constant contact during the years of His earthly ministry. Jesus lived, ate, traveled, and worshipped with the twelve disciples at His side. He spent nearly every waking moment with them. In the week of His passion the disciples are never more than a stone’s throw away, even during his prayer in Gethsemane, right up to His arrest.
I know this must have been trying on Jesus. Like all of us, Jesus needed times of rest, prayer, and quiet communion with the Father. He needed time alone. “But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.” (Luke 5:16) Yet many times that quiet was interrupted by the needs of the spiritual children He had gathered around Himself (Mark 6:30-33, 46-48, Luke 11:1). However, Jesus knew, and we must learn, that that is simply the nature of parenthood; spiritual or otherwise.
The church often talks about “doing life together.” But “doing life” means imposition. It means our spiritual children are going to infringe on our personal time, the same way our biological children do. That is not convenient, but there is no other way to do discipleship the way Jesus did. An assigned class or a designated meeting time can be fruitful, but to expect those limited encounters to develop fully functional disciples is unrealistic.
My fear is that that is exactly why we as Christians, and especially as men, are reticent to enter into discipleship relationships. We know it will be costly. We know it will be an imposition. As our society grows increasingly individualistic, we recede from the communal bonds of neighbor, family, and friend. “I don’t want to be imposed on! I want to be left alone.” The truth is we value our freedom and convenience more than we value Christ’s commission to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…” (Matt 28:19).
Within the last month, I had a single night when I received two 3 A.M. calls about to two unrelated personal emergencies. The callers were people I have discipling relationships with. In all honesty, my typical reaction might have been annoyance, but by God’s grace it wasn’t this time. My first thought was “I’m glad they called me. I’m glad we are close enough that they would bring their problems, which were not insignificant, to me at that hour.” Sadly, I can count on one hand the number of non-family members who I would impose on in that way - with fingers to spare. I want my daughters to share their joys, struggles, crises with me, and I want my spiritual sons to do the same.
Discipling is work. In fact, I don’t think it is unfair to say that it is near all-consuming work, much like parenthood. But that is our mission. We need men and women who are willing to do the inconvenient work of bringing new and growing Christians under their wings and into their lives. We should make time for rest and quiet, but we should also expect that quiet to be interrupted. Disciples are going to be “underfoot”. That’s what you signed on for when you answered the call of Christ. If you wanted uninterrupted quiet, you should have been a Buddhist.