After I had my first child, and all the more after I had my second, I wondered if I would be done with ministry until my kids grew up. I wondered how I could possibly fit another task on my to-do list when I could not even find the time to eat properly unless my husband was home.
Then I read about Ann Judson, who gave her life in the early 1800s to reach the people of Burma. Over the course of three pregnancies, often with a baby strapped to her back, she engaged in gospel ministry, translation work, and the discipling of new believers. Even as a young mother, ministry was nonnegotiable, because her Savior gave her a charge to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).
She was no superwoman; she was a jar of clay like the rest of us. But because she loved Christ, his commands were not burdensome, and everything in her life kneeled to his priorities. Disciple-making may have looked different in her different seasons of motherhood, but the demands of motherhood could not hinder her from obeying Christ.
Rather than limiting disciple-making to specific times or spaces, we might find freedom, especially as mothers, to view disciple-making as intentional, Bible-saturated relationships with the people right in front of us, wherever we are. Disciple-making is not bound to any particular place or program; it is bound to relationship. It is “the covenant lifestyle of redeemed women” (Women’s Ministry in the Local Church, 128) as they teach and model life in Christ (Titus 2:3–5).
Make Disciples of Family
In obedience to Christ’s Great Commission, we can begin by seeking to make disciples of those closest to us: our families. We may have unbelieving parents or siblings, or perhaps an unbelieving husband — or they may be believing, but we can continue to love and encourage them to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ. Even if everyone else in the family confesses faith in Christ, however, our children are not born believing, and left to themselves, they do not seek God (Romans 3:10–11).
Since we wield significant influence as mothers, our children will be discipled by us, either in Christ or according to our choice idols. We will disciple them toward Jesus, “the fountain of living waters,” or toward false gods, “broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13). God has entrusted us with each of our children, whether biological or foster or adopted, whether one or many, that we might make disciples, bringing them up “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). We teach them diligently in the normal, even mundane, rhythms of life (Deuteronomy 6:7), and we also show them what it looks like to follow Jesus in all of life, including our repentance.
Disciple-making does not end when our children or families believe in Jesus. As long as we both live, or until Jesus returns, we pray and labor for their growth and perseverance to the end.
Make Disciples of Church Family
Every believing mother is part of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27). Motherhood does not amputate us from his body, only to be reattached after the children are no longer taking naps or have graduated into adulthood. As mothers, we are still part of the body and contribute to its growth and health as we do the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:11–16).
Discipling one another toward Christlikeness happens not only when the church gathers. We teach one another to observe all that Christ commanded (Matthew 28:20) even when the church scatters, in our eating or drinking or whatever we are doing (1 Corinthians 10:31). For some of us, inviting others into our everyday lives may be one of the hardest challenges of disciple-making. Making disciples on Saturday morning from eight to ten at the local cafe is pretty safe territory; inviting others into the unstructured parts of our lives, especially in our homes, can feel intimidating. But God is able to open our hearts in vulnerability and availability.
For mothers with younger or special-needs children, the thought of another relationship to juggle might feel overwhelming, but you can start really small. Invite another woman over regularly to spend time with you and your children. Let Scripture applied to daily life be your “curriculum.” Talk together as you fold the laundry. Pray together and fellowship over meals, even if your kids are smearing food into their hair. Share life so deeply that you can say, “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me — practice these things” (Philippians 4:9).
When my first two children were both under three years old, I benefited from the regular company of a younger church sister. She helped me laugh at the fact that it was more surprising when our home was picked up and clean than when “kid stuff” carpeted the floor. She blessed my boys with her fresh energy and Lego engineering skills. And when the kids went down for the night, we studied the book of Hebrews and prayed together. She came to be discipled and counseled, but I walked away discipled and counseled too. Her friendship was a lifeline in that season of motherhood, and God used our relationship to make disciples of us both.
Make Disciples of Neighbors
Where mothers are prone to seek only “their own interests,” or the interests of their own homes and families, Christ gives us a better alternative: to seek the interests of him (Philippians 2:21) and others (Philippians 2:4), including others outside the home. Put another way, he calls us to love God and neighbor (Luke 10:27).
“And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). Jesus does not answer with a zip code or the names of people we would naturally like to keep close. Instead, he answers with a parable of a man who “fell among robbers” (Luke 10:30). This man shared the road with a priest and a Levite who both saw his half-dead form, but they valued their own interests over his life (Luke 10:31–32). Were it not for the mercy of a passing Samaritan, he could have died (Luke 10:33–37).
As mothers, we share the road, so to speak, with many different people in our community. We might see a neighbor while we run out to grab the mail, a store cashier might start a conversation with us, electricians or plumbers might pass through our homes, we might meet other caretakers at the park, or we might share a cubicle with a coworker. We can deliberately weave neighbor relationships into everyday life, or like the Samaritan, we can hit pause to show Christlike mercy. If we have young children, we can invite others to walk with us, run errands with us, or accompany us wherever we are going. Whether we have one minute to give or twenty, we can welcome our neighbor’s presence not as an interruption but as an opportunity.
Disciple-making happens at the intersection of love for God and neighbor. Mothers, our neighbors’ proximity to us is no mistake, as God is the one who has determined “allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him” (Acts 17:26–27). How do we know that the neighbor in our path has not been placed there to find God through us?
Make Disciples of Strangers
We are not limited to the relationships right in front of us; we can look to make disciples beyond our natural realm too, among people who are currently strangers to us. Some mothers might begin looking beyond even while the children are young. God might call some of us to foster and adopt. He might call some of us to go beyond the natural bounds of culture and language to an unreached people. He might call some of us to enter into the world of the prisoner, the refugee, or the recovering addict, that we might make disciples of them as well.
Some of us might seek out the elderly in our community to come alongside one or a few in friendship. Some of us might open our homes to international students. Even mothers with young children can break routine and transplant dinner to someone else’s table or nap their young children in someone else’s home as they read Scripture together. We can pray by name for those being reached and discipled by others, and our husbands and church families can also help us carve out focused time for ministry outside our normal routines. Every mother is different, so we cannot compare schedules, capacities, or individual callings, but all of us can ask God where else we might pursue relationships with gospel intentionality.
If self-love rules us, then disciple-making will find no room in our priorities, no matter how many ideas we are given. But if the love of Christ controls us (2 Corinthians 5:14), we will love even those toward whom we have no natural obligation or affinity, and we will make ourselves servants to all to win more to Christ (1 Corinthians 9:19). We will pray, “Lord Jesus, there is nothing I want more in my life than what you bled to obtain.”