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What does discipleship look like? This is a question church staff ask themselves all the time, but it can be a hard one to answer. This should be an easy question since it is one of the primary focuses of the church.

However, I recently sat with a group of adults who had been raised in the church, and only a few of them had actually been discipled themselves. We have an entire generation of Christians who know they are called to disciple but have no solid example of what that should look like.

There is a wealth of resources available to help people disciple someone else, but even with those materials in hand, people still have unanswered questions. I think we often picture discipleship like a scene from the movie Karate Kid. We imagine an older and wiser person passing on his knowledge to an eager and moldable student.

The problem with that kind of mental picture is none of us see ourselves in the Mr. Miyagi role. In the Karate Kid movie, Mr. Miyagi was an old and quiet wise man, and so many Christians are waiting for that moment when they are finally old enough or wise enough to teach someone else. Yet while we wait for ourselves to be good enough, we miss the opportunities right in front of us.

If you want to know what discipleship looks like, all we have to do is look to Jesus. But there is another problem, we know we are not as good as Jesus either. So it seems as though the bar to become someone who can disciple others is set really high, and this discourages many believers.

This is the great thing about Jesus; He always brings it down to a level that anyone can reach. Whenever my dad would teach on discipleship he always went to the Gospel of John.

In John there is a story of Jesus healing a blind man. He doesn’t just lay hands on him; that would be too easy. No, he bends down and starts to spit into the mud.

I’ve personally tried to recreate this scene to see how much spit it would take to make a mud ball to cover two eyes. Let me tell you, it takes a lot. I spent several minutes hacking and spitting into my hand. It wasn’t graceful or polite; it was dirty and awkward, and that’s exactly what discipleship should be like. After I was done I noticed my hands were a mess of dirt and grime, and messy is how real discipleship often leaves us feeling.

Jesus was always willing to get His hands dirty. I think one of the reasons we struggle so much with discipleship is because we have tried to clean it up and make it program-oriented.

If you want to disciple someone, just start visiting with them and ask them questions about their life. I find most people really want someone who will just listen and answer all the questions they have been afraid to ask. Ask them about their marriage, their money and their ministry and then be prepared for the avalanche of dirt and difficulties that can follow.

Discipleship is something that takes us into the dark places of a person where they feel trapped and alone. And in these moments, we get to point them toward the light that is found in Christ. We don’t lead the way bravely thinking we have all the answers. No, we stumble and fall with them as we walk together towards hope and honestly. We take people back into the light where Jesus heals us and refreshes us, and then we tell them to do the same for someone else.

Discipleship is often ugly, and that is also what makes it so beautiful.