Anytime we set up hierarchies we set up the possibility of abuse. Church is no different. Discipleship is no different.
Discipleship often involves a more mature believer discipling a new or less mature believer. It doesn’t have to be that way but typically it is. With that comes the ever present temptation of abuse.
The way this is counteracted is done in three ways.
First, by making sure Jesus is the one being followed, not the one doing the discipling. Paul himself wrote in 1 Corinthians 11:1 to follow him as he followed Jesus. This keeps pride of position in check.
Not everyone is following Jesus. Even the most mature aren’t following Jesus every step. Not everyone who has been a Christian longer needs to be discipling people. If you have a tendency to control people don’t disciple people unless you can get that under control first. You may never be in a good place to be a discipled if this is your tendency.
Second, in order to counteract abuse potential the discipling relationship must be mutual. There has to be a give and a take. It can’t be one person demanding or expecting confession and accountability from the other person and it not be reciprocal. Both are in the position of students in the school of Christ.
Third, abuse must be called out and discipled. It cannot be allowed to enter the character of the culture or movement. If it is allowed it will fester and spoil the whole process.
When we frame discipleship with Jesus in the lead and the rest of us all helping each other follow him we can resist the temptation of inequitable and abusive discipling relationships. When relationships are reciprocal and expectations mutual we can also offset the abuse potential. When we call out and discipline abuse we can create healthy environments for growth.
I believe our biggest hesitation to enter these relationships is this potential for abuse. I can assure you we can approach discipleship proactively and with the right values and priorities in place on the front end to keep controlling and domineering people out and abuse out.