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Responding to opportunity: making disciples in France – Checkpoint Autumn 2022

CMS missionaries Josh and Susannah Apieczonek believe and model the truth that all Christians can be in a discipling relationship. Josh writes about how they live this out among French believers. 

What comes into your head when you hear the word ‘discipleship’? An intense three-hour weekly meeting of sanctification and edification? A Mr Miyagi mentor of yoga movements and enigmatic sayings, minus the exploitative cleaning of cars? (For those in the dark, I refer to that classic 1984 movie, The Karate Kid). 

We work in church and university student ministry in France, and we’ve noted that very few French Christians see themselves as disciple-makers, even though it’s central to Jesus’ Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 (“Go and make disciples…”).  

An older man who runs a Bible study at his work (an almost unique occurrence in this fiercely secular society) and is heavily involved in multiple ministries felt that he needed a mentor himself, more than he was prepared to become one. To be a ‘mentor’ feels like a claim to a wisdom and maturity that some don’t feel they possess.  

Any Christian can be in a discipling relationship 

But we don’t need to wait until we have white hair, Paul’s letter to the Romans memorised, and five courses in discipleship under our belts to start discipling. Any Christian can and should be in a discipling relationship with multiple other Christians. Each of us is simply one sheep in the flock getting alongside a fellow straggler, as we follow our good shepherd who laid down his life for us.  

One of our wise former CMS missionaries in France, Paul King, summarised it as the three Ps: personne, parole, prière (people, the word, prayer). This excellent summary simplifies and demystifies things for all of us.  

It might not involve the simple but profound practice of reading through a book of the Bible together, but it will include conversation infused with God’s word. It might not always involve a time of prayer, but it will head towards the exchange of a prayer point or two. It might not always be face-to-face in this modern world, but it will involve people and sharing of their lives.  

French culture, similar to Australian culture, tends to separate private and public lives and so people are more comfortable in conversations about the weather, sport and Netflix series. These are ok, but discipleship simply asks questions like:  

“How’s life going? How are you growing? How’s what we talked about last time going?” 

Adapting to life 

In seeking opportunities to disciple others, Susannah has sought to be flexible to different women’s seasons of life. One friend likes to walk and talk, then they find a quiet spot to read the Bible and pray. This also allows time for deeper interactions about personal situations. Another has a strict one-hour lunch break, another . uses her baby’s nap time every other week. There may only be time for a quick exchange of prayer points. The wonder of technology means that these meetings can happen despite changing schedules or transport strikes!  

Long periods of lockdown in various forms were a blessing to some of these discipleship relationships. Susannah found that it became harder to be consistent when they tried to meet   face-to-face. Of course, in-person will always be better, but sometimes you’ve got to choose what will work consistently over an ideal that rarely happens!  

Sharing prayer points always comes easiest, with Bible reading a close second, but opening up about personal godliness and Christian growth is often the hardest. Susannah is working on consistent caring time together and modelling God’s grace for weary sinners, things gifted to her by those who have discipled her. 

Frequent and infrequent opportunities 

I have had a mixture of formal and informal, frequent and infrequent discipling relationships. Down the formal end was my time with Pascal* and Matthieu, two students I met with regularly to talk about their walk with the Lord, navigate romantic relationships in a godly fashion, manage tricky Bible study group members, and discuss theological issues.  

The ‘Frenchiest’ of my discipling times was over a late-night glass of red wine in a bistro with Jean-Luc, a medical student who was only free every second Tuesday from 9pm till midnight. We would meet up and discuss his questions, doubts and dilemmas, and his struggles to be a Christian at work.  

Down the infrequent end was Robert, a friend from church. We would have lunch together every couple of weeks and talk about cycling, rugby and our efforts to be good Christian fathers and husbands, as well as praying for friends who we were sharing Jesus with.  

There was also Bruno, a young soon-to-be father with whom I would watch a game of football in the pub and talk about our marriages and Bruno’s hopes and fears around being a father.  

Whether formal or frequent, or informal and irregular, they all had crucial discipling moments. 

But whatever the context, God has used and is using the discipling priority of personne, parole, prière (people, the word, prayer) to bless many by simple means. 

CARE 

Josh and Susannah have benefited from the gracious input of people who have discipled them over the years. Could one of your commitments to world mission involve discipling other Christians in your church? 

 *Names changed for privacy reasons