I recently spoke with a woman named Miriam Charter who spent 10 years doing ministry in Communist Europe during the Soviet era. She had gone to Romania to assist the churches there, and God eventually directed her steps to teach women, a ministry the Romanian churches had failed to undertake.
What is remarkable about this story is the manner in which she conducted her ministry. On the one hand, Christianity was opposed by the government so she had to be highly secretive, meeting in the lofts of barns and basements–all places where they could be safe from the watchful eye of the secret police.
Now in light of this fact, that Christianity was being crushed under the iron fist of the government, the second aspect of her ministry was surprising to me. When she met with these women in secret, she gave them the following stipulation for their involvement in her ministry:
“I am willing to take the risks of crossing the iron curtain in order to be here to teach you. I’m willing to invest in you. ON ONE CONDITION: that you will do exactly what I am doing and form the second generation of disciples. Everything I teach you, you will teach the second generation. That’s my condition! If you commit to that – I’ll commit to keep coming regularly to train you.”
She would remind these women of her condition every time she met with them. And every time she met with them she’d ask, “Whose names are in your second generation circles? Who are you investing in? Give me the names of your disciples.” After several years, if they could not give her at least one other name to whom they were passing the faith, she would tell them that they could not continue in the group. She was not going to invest her life in a person who had no interest in reproducing herself.
This “condition” was shocking to me. After all, these women are taking a huge risk simply by meeting with her! Isn’t that commitment enough? Christianity was already struggling–why not take all the women you can get?!
I spoke with Miriam a few days ago about this very thing, and she told me the rest of the story. Since that time, her discipleship program has grown…a LOT. The women she discipled reached out to a second generation of women. That second generation of women reached out to a third. And the third reached out to the fourth. In the coming months, Miriam will return to Romania for a conference with the THOUSANDS of women that have now become disciples of Christ as a result of the movement she began.
I couldn’t believe it, and Miriam’s response was simple: “It was all based on 2 Timothy 2:2. We are to teach others what has been entrusted to us. It worked because it’s biblical.”
What a challenge to those of us who do ministry! It has certainly caused me to rethink my approach to women’s ministry. Women’s ministry often coddles women and provides an emotional support system, but it’s not known for its commitment to rigorous disciple-making. I’ve never told my small group women point blank: “You should be pouring into other women or else I don’t want to be pouring into you.” Sounds kind of harsh, huh? But that’s essentially what Paul said to Timothy. He wasn’t teaching him just for Timothy’s sake. He wanted Timothy to teach others.
If you serve in any type of leadership in your church, keep this bigger picture in mind. Is your circle of influence reproducing itself? Are you pushing the women you teach to teach others? The Bible commands us to go and make disciples, and while we often interpret “disciples” to mean “converts” we are called to much, much more. We should be investing in the Christians around us and raising up radically committed followers of Christ, and I’m afraid I have watered that call down. It appears from the growth of Miriam’s ministry that my “easy call” wasn’t doing anyone any favors, let alone the Kingdom of God.
Great story Sharon, and a thoughtful post. I just read “Mentor Like Jesus” by Regi Campbell and the most unusual/toughest part of the book for me was the key condition he had for those who would be in one of his mentoring groups. They must promise to go and do likewise. He does well at explaining why that’s so important. It’s a really good book, though I imagine it’s not for everyone.