I’m in the middle of reading the brand new revised edition of the book “Disciples On Campus: Challenge and Encouragement for the 21st Century Student.”
This book was written by campus ministers serving the International Churches of Christ, and so far has been a good read. The authors’ zeal for Christ and genuine discipleship comes through loud and clear, and one thing that strikes me as odd is that chapters are written from the perspective that reader’s campus ministries are actually reaching people.
Most books on campus ministry are written to instruct readers how to reach people, but so far these authors assume their readers already have a fairly good grasp of that. In other words, it’s written for members of the ICOC who’ve always focused heavily on outreach and evangelism and continue to reach people.
What a change.
Anyway, chapter 4 is on discipling relationships. For those of you that don’t know, the ICOC has been accused many times over the years of being a cult mainly because of their strict insistence on maintaining one over one discipling relationships. One over one discipling is different from one to one discipling. In a one over one discipling relationship, one person has authority over another person. The discipler is responsible for their disciplee, and the disciplee is responsible to their discipler.
I’ve heard quite a few horror stories from former ICOC members about the abuses they suffered as a result of one over one discipling (like being made to feel like they weren’t good enough or performing well enough to be saved, being forced to cut off ties with family, being told who they could or could not hang out with, who they could date, etc.). If you’d like to read up on that yourself, simply Google “International Church of Christ” and you’re sure to find pages and pages of articles in addition to websites dedicated to ex-icoc members who are now speaking out about their experiences. It’s unfortunate that abuse occurred, and I know the idea of disipling one another scares a lot of people in CoC circles as a result, but I feel many have written off a very good and biblical practice because of what has happened with the ICOC in the past.
In chapter 4 of the book, I read this regarding the practice of discipleship in ICOC campus ministries today:
“In past years, there were some abuses in discipling relationships. Some were too controlling, some were too “man focused,” some enforced opinions as though they were Scriptural commands. These and other abuses must be avoided. However, God clearly calls us to be involved in each other’s lives and to take an active role in helping each other to grow and be our best for God. We cannot dismiss this call of God. We cannot allow the distortion of something good to keep us from doing that good thing. That would give satan a double victory. Throughout [ICOC] campus ministries, discipling relationships are set up in different ways and are called different things: one another relationships, prayer partners, faith partners, etc. The name and structure is not important. However, it is important that we all have close, spiritual relationships to help each other grow and be our best for God.”
I agree with that excerpt with this exception: the structure of these relationships is important. One over one relationships are unacceptable.
I firmly believe that Christ-centered community is the key element missing from many people’s lives today, and discipling relationships are part of those kinds of communities. They urge people on toward Jesus and fulfill commands to “carry each other’s burdens” (Gal 6:2), to “love one another” (Jn 13:34-35), and to “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other” (James 5:16).
We can’t be scared of doing the right thing because someone else attempted and failed. We should instead learn from their mistakes and do our best not to repeat them.