I doubt I’m the first person to exhort you to this, but I do want to put this out there as a reminder for you and for myself:
All of us have specific relationships we’re required to have according to scripture.
Not About Your Salvation
Laying down the foundation for this discussion, having or not having these relationships is not a matter of salvation. Faith in the gospel by the regeneration of the Holy Spirit can alone be pointed to as the basis of salvation.
Instead, having these relationships shows living out faith through actions and a fruit of the Spirit, if it is indeed fruit based on trusting that God has given these relationships as parameters for our good. Having these relationships could actually be rooted in sin if you believe you must have them in order to be righteous. Again, that is false. Christ alone gives believers righteousness.
We can look at the desire to have these relationships as an outpouring of the love he has filled in our hearts through the Holy Spirit. Outpour not legalism.
With that being said, a second note is that Christ gives us grace upon grace. Each one of us has different seasons of life, and sometimes those seasons make investing in relationships nearly impossible, like imprisonment. I’m not joking but serious. Within the pages of In The Presence of My Enemies, Gracia Burnham writes with Dean Merrill about her experience of capture by a terrorist group. She could obviously not fulfill all of her scriptural duties during this season.
So, use discretion when reading this post but also don’t write this off because you’re busy. What are you busy about?
Looking back on my time as a mother to really young children, I wasted a lot of time because I was bored and undisciplined. I also hadn’t seen a pattern of communal, relational type of living until I moved abroad, so I thought I was living in a way that was normal and acceptable. But scripture, not culture, called me to a higher type of living out my faith. In reflection, by His grace and strength, I could have definitely done what I was being called to do.
So, based on my understanding and studies of scripture, (which I totally am willing to be challenged on should you exegete a different way), I believe all believing women, under most circumstances, are called to five main types of relationships with other women throughout their life on earth (this does not include your relationships with your biological family).
- Evangelistic discipleship – This means you’re regularly meeting with a woman who is not a believer or a new believer to disciple her in the faith. Cultural Christians who believe that they’re saved because they’ve said a prayer and that’s it are due to the grave error that all there is to salvation and the gospel is the ‘sinner’s prayer.’ Matthew 28:18-20 actually commands us to “teach them to observe all that I commanded you.” That’s what it means to make disciples – teaching someone all they need to know to be healthy in the faith. This can’t be done within a day or even a week. A great and easy goal is to disciple at least one woman every year. If you’re 23 now and the Lord blesses you to live until you’re 83, that’s 60 disciples! Blessed would you be indeed if the Lord gave you more women to disciple at a time than that.
- Service Friendships – This means there is someone within your church or within your neighborhood who you are serving as commanded by scripture. We are to stir one another up to love and good works (Hebrews 10:23-25), to show familial affection (Romans 12:9-13), and to show our faith by what we do (James 2:14-23). Service is an intricate outpouring of our faith. This relationship could involve the same person for months, or the Lord could give you a different believer or not-believer each week. That does mean there could be overlap from time to time if you’re serving who you’ve been discipeling or if you have the chance to serve your mentor or accountability partner.
- Motherly/wifely discipleship – Within the household of faith, you are to be teaching another, younger believing woman how to love her husband and children (Titus 2:3-5). Now, I think it’s important to note that “older women” are who Paul is calling out here, but who qualifies as an older woman? Does he mean only grey-headed women? And is it necessary that the women be married to be able to teach on this matter?To the first question, I believe all mature women in the faith are able to pour into a younger believing woman, just as we’re all called to disciple a non-believer. As a married woman, I am able to help younger single women fight sexual immorality and have sober minds about what to expect from future marriages. Where are they to receive their perspective about marriage and being wives if they are not taught from scripture? Of course a woman could study on her own, but there is great gain in studying scripture with someone older in the faith.I also do not believe it is necessary for a woman to be married with children to be able to teach from scripture the principles of scripture. Two women I highly admire were both childless, one was single, when they taught me very important biblical principles of marriage. After all, is this not Paul, the single apostle, who talks so much about marriage? If you are equipped to apply the gospel to any circumstance, then do not let singleness prevent you from this duty. Instead, tread with grace and seek understanding while keeping a strong anchor in the gospel.
- Mutual Accountability – I pray that most of you have at the very least this relationship already in place. If you don’t, I would urge you to establish this relationship first before seeking out the other relationships. In this relationship, you confess sin to one another and you hold one another accountable, fighting the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:12-15, Hebrews 10:23-25). (There could be an aspect of this in all relationships, as even the evangelistic discipleship relationship could be challenging to your faith, thought it’s one way). I would highly recommend you read about what accountability practically looks like in this post and then read about how to seek out vulnerability in challenging environments in this post.
- Mentorship –For the majority of us, there will always be someone older and more mature who can pour into us. If you are fulfilling the younger Titus 2 relationship in number 3 above, you also need someone to fulfill the older Titus 2 relationship with you. That will look like you’re being poured out and poured into at the same time.
Practically Maintaining these Relationships
Although it’s not required by scripture that we only seek out relationships 3-5 within our local church, finding them within our local body most definitely will help build community and build up the body.
The easier relationships to seek out are relationships 1-3.
Evangelistic discipleship (1) in American culture starts with just getting to know someone who’s not like you. That relationship might not lead to an evangelistic discipleship relationship, but it’s possible.
A service (2) relationship requires proximity to the women around you in your neighborhood and in your church, as typically Americans are skilled in hiding their needs. There’s a strong strain of “picking yourself up by your own bootstraps” that just won’t shake from American culture even inside the church. Katie Frugè, who received help from many in her church after going through several hardships, has a lot to say about how to serve another through proximity.
The younger Titus relationship (3) might seem like that’s going to be a lot of work, but actually, just invite the younger woman to come and live life with you. If you’re ministering to a single college student, invite her to come be a part of your family life. You could be really radical here and have her move in. That’s not as burdensome as you might think; since this woman is a believer, she is more than likely going to help serve your family, too.
We currently have a single woman living with us. She is far from family and it puts both her father and older sister at ease to know that we are taking care of her by being her family away from family. She has her own life and schedule, but she has learned a whole lot about raising children when she is here with us.
If you’re ministering to a mom with younger children and you have older children, invite her to come to your home or go to her. Your older children will benefit from being around younger children. While they play in view, you can talk to this mom about mothering and being a wife. I yearned for an adult to talk to when I was home all the time, so you might be surprised to find how much this relationship is desire.
The accountability relationship (4) can be hard to find because you need to find someone strong in the gospel who is willing to be vulnerable with you. Often I have experienced that I need to teach my accountability partners about what is expected, but it is totally worth it once we are in the groove of fighting sin together.
The mentor relationship (5) has been the hardest for me to find (and for Bobby though he currently has a mentor). I am not sure if it is because I have lacked a teachable heart or if older women are not active in mentoring because they haven’t seen it modeled either. I have had mentors in seasons, but understandably, these relationships often changed when mentors or I moved away.
An older woman who has never mentored someone based on the requirement from Titus 2 can feel pretty awkward in doing so. I remember the first time I mentored, and I believe I floundered. When the other woman didn’t make a priority to meet, I assumed she didn’t want to be mentored by me. Intentionality needs to come from both sides though, and I should have asked her about her plans with mentorship just like she should have asked me.
The relationships I have had where I’ve been an obvious mentor have been a joy when the woman tells me I am making a difference in her life and that she appreciates it. We should tell our mentors that what they are doing is making a lasting difference; otherwise they can get burned out or discouraged just like we can.
I also would encourage women to be gracious and meek with their mentors. Maybe your mentor says something that is too harsh or she doesn’t push you enough. She’s human, too. Don’t expect her to be Jesus. Just share your heart with her and I believe she will definitely reconcile or change the way she challenges you.
How I Measure Up
Now looking at this list, I too need to readjust the choices I’m making currently to make room for #1 and #5. There are women I can think of right now who I would love to fulfill #1 with, I just need to actually ask them if they’d like to meet. For the mentor relationship, I need to pray. I know of women who could fulfill this role, but we’re separated by my language skills, and that’s no good. The only other woman I can think of us very, very far away.
So, do you have all of these relationships? What has blessed you about having these relationships?
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