Intensive Care Discipling

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A few years ago, elevated blood pressure, decreased kidney function, increased liver enzymes, and other complications following surgery signaled to the medical team that my body was in crisis. I needed special medical care . . . immediately. The medical team would be supplying intensive care until my body could function independently. They were committed to nurturing me back to health and wholeness even though it meant I was spending more days in the ICU than I desired. My body’s need for intensive care following surgery is not unlike the intensive spiritual care that a disciple may need to abide in Christ. 

Disciplemakers desire “to present everyone mature in Christ” (Colossians 1:28 ESV). However, new converts and young disciples may show signs that the abundant life of abiding in Christ is stunted or barely existent. There is no joy. The conversations about God are limited. The desire to see God’s hand at work is minimal. Something is missing and does not seem right, but we can’t put our finger on it. The disciples are demonstrating a need for special care. What should we do?

Creating a Special Care Environment

Nourishment is essential to growing. Even though newborns feast on milk to grow, some have difficulty digesting it. The digestive system of these babies requires a special formula so that they can develop healthily. Disciples whose growth is slow and barely transformative also need a unique formula. They may attend church to hear the Word of God, participate in small group Bible study, engage in daily prayer, and commit to scripture memorization. Still, there is a blockage in receiving the spiritual nourishment they need. Blockages such as paralyzing fear, debilitating anxiety, unresolved past experiences, shallow responses to questions of inquiry, unbearable emotional pain, and over-attention to secrecy have stunted their healthy growth to a transformed life. A trusting discipling relationship must develop to create a unique care environment of love, respect, and safety to remove the blockages. Within that special care environment, the disciplemaker must be willing to go slowly with the following components:  

  • a deep listening that focuses on understanding the disciple and not trying to fix him/her
  • a laser-focus unconditional love that is relational and affirming for the disciple
  • low-levels of alarm when the disciple shares painful or shocking experiences
  • patience in the disciple’s growth process
  • a willingness to be inconvenienced when the growing believer begins to experience God in new and refreshing ways at unexpected times.

This type of intensive care environment will enable the disciple to digest “the pure milk of the word” (1 Peter 2:2 NASB) and grow.  

A Special Care Environment Promotes Healing

Even though hospitals handle severe physical ailments, intensive care discipling should occur where distractions are limited: at home, in a coffee shop, or even in a park. The Holy Spirit needs safe spaces to nudge the disciple toward wholeness gently. Isaiah 61:1 (ESV) prophesied that the coming Messiah would “bind up the brokenhearted, [and] proclaim liberty to the captives.” Although it is essential to create a haven for sharing, disciples also need to experience Christ’s uninhibited love in and through the disciplemaker, especially if they come from environments where love was in limited supply.  First Corinthians 13 is an excellent reminder to love unconditionally. Once love enters in, the disciple can receive words of encouragement.

Words of affirmation express the worth of the individual. When disciples have lived wondering about their worth and purpose, letting them know that they are significant becomes paramount not only in our eyes but also in the eyes of God. Imagine the joy and comfort these disciples experience when reading for the first time that God “formed [our] inward parts, and we are fearfully and wonderfully made” by Him (Psalm 139:13-14). As disciples receive steady and constant messages of God’s truth, they begin showing improved spiritual health.

Healthy Vital Signs on the Rise

After two surgeries that included two different stays for almost two weeks in the ICU, I subsisted on meals of ice chips, clear juices, and chicken broth. My increased appetite showed that my wounds were healing, my body was becoming stronger, my skin tone was brightening, and my energy was increasing. I finally had the strength to get out of bed and walk. Similarly, as the intensive care process takes root in disciples’ lives, their spiritual health improves, their appetite to know God increases, and their longing to read and study God’s Word develops. The disciples’ desire to obey His promptings grows, and the countenance of God shines through them. Psalm 89:15 (NKJV) says, “Blessed are the people who walk . . . O Lord, in the light of thy countenance.” The intensive care process has brought both healing and blessing. The once stunted life is overflowing with God’s goodness on display, reflecting a transformed life.

Walking in the Light

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. —1 John 1:7 ESV

As disciples receive intensive care, they learn how to walk in the light of God. Transformation is evident, and God’s truth now saturates every area of their lives. These disciples interact with others and respond to their circumstances to reflect their growing change. Their joy is genuine. Their conversations have depth. They show sincere love. They experience life-giving relationships. More importantly, they live in freedom. The liberty of Christ that has freed them from bondage replaces the debilitating blockages. Although the disciples needed intensive care, they have become “firmly rooted and built up and established in Him in the faith . . . [and] overflowing with thankfulness” (Colossians 2:7 NIV84). As we disciple in the 21st century, let us remember that we are God’s agents through whom the Holy Spirit works to provide intensive care to those disciples who need to be made whole in Him and through Him.

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