Meeting with people one to one — to chat about life, pray and read the Bible with the aim of growing as disciples of Jesus — is one of the more stable features the kind of university (aka ‘college’) student ministry I serve in.
But it’s become increasingly clear to me that I need to give it up.
Huh? Give up meeting one to one? What am I smoking?
Let me explain how I reached this conclusion.
To start with, there have been some pragmatic factors pushing me in this direction.
In particular, I’ve only been on campus two days/week for the second half of this year. But I’d already begun meeting with a bunch of students — some currently in leadership, some potential leaders, and some in particular need of pastoral care.
I didn’t want to stop meeting with any more of these people than I had to. But my time and resources were limited.
So I decided to try combining my one to ones into triplets.
After only one semester of trying it, the results are far from conclusive. But tentatively I can report that…
- I was able to keep regularly meeting up with almost all of the students I had been meeting with in first semester.
- I was forced to act on my conviction that ministry is as much caught as taught (instead of simply telling the student leaders to disciple someone else, I was able to work with them to do it).
- I am starting to re-examine the rationale for my pre-existing preference to do discipleship one to one.
I’ve barely even begun thinking through the third point. But I’ve been stimulated by a chapter from Transforming Discipleship by Greg Ogden, which someone recently pushed my way.
Ogden argues very strongly against our tendency to model discipling on the Paul-Timothy relationship. To his mind, this brings with it an unhelpfully asymmetrical expert-learner dynamic — something like which is perhaps encoded in the language of ‘investing in someone’ that I typically reach for to describe these meetings.
I’m not sure I’m entirely with him.
Theologically, I am drawn to the idea that we serve one another out of our shared weakness and interdependence (rather than me serving you out of my strength and independence).
The most deeply Christian way to serve is to help each other love and trust Jesus more. And anything that helps us actually live this has got to be a good thing.
But the New Testament does seem to grant the possibility that individuals will make an asymmetrical contribution to others — even if it also always recognises a degree of reciprocity. (I’m thinking here of passages like Romans 1.8-15.)
Equally, I don’t buy that switching to triplets will automatically address the more toxic aspects of this dynamic. A tendency to see yourself as God’s gift to another person (in a bad way) won’t necessarily be mitigated by adding an in extra person.
I am, however, inclined to agree that our theological rationale for privileging one to one as the context for discipleship is inadequate.
Or maybe I’ve just inadequately understood and digested it?