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A Story of Discipleship with Special Guest Abby Norris

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Episode Synopsis

Jani interviews a member of one of her discipleship groups about her experience in Jani's group, and then asks her to share advice regarding how she began discipling women herself. Listen in to the discipleship story of Abby Norris.

Audio Transcript

Jani: Hello, everyone. This is Jani Ortlund. Welcome to He Restores My Soul. As you know, we’re going through a new series on discipleship and it’s been kind of exciting to hear from some of you to see how the Lord is using this in your life and in the life of many of your friends. Oh, thank you for letting us know that. You can always contact us at our website at herestoresmysoul.org. We love hearing from you.

Special Guest Today: Abby Norris

Jani: And I want to let you know that today is going to be a little bit different. I have a special guest with me. So if you are in the middle of a discipleship group, you can listen to this together, and then discuss it and spend some time sharing and in prayer. And then we’re going to pick up next week with our next lesson.

Jani: I would love for all of my listening friends to meet my dear friend, Abby Norris. Welcome, Abby.

Abby: Thank you so much.

Jani: I’m so glad you’re here.

Abby: I am excited to be here.

Who is abby and how did she become interested in discipleship?

Jani: Abby Norris is a friend of mine from church. And several years ago, she was in one of my discipleship groups and the Lord laid it on her heart to just begin discipling herself. And she has been doing that the last few years and I thought it would be helpful for all of my listeners, Abby, if you’d be willing to join me today on the podcast and let’s discuss together a little bit about discipleship and your life. Maybe you could begin by telling our listeners how you first became interested in discipleship?

Abby: Yes, well, my heart for discipleship began to take root when I was in high school. I had a youth leader that modeled godly discipleship to me and I knew at that point that I wanted to be discipling in some form for the rest of my life. In college, I thought that God was calling me to women’s ministry. And so I graduated and after college, the Lord began opening doors for me to disciple students. And so I had the privilege of walking with a group of high school girls from 9th grade to 12th grade.

Abby: While my heart has always been inclined to discipleship, I had not had somebody intentionally invest and pour into me until I had the privilege of being in your group, Jani. And as I sat at your table each week, I felt the Lord calling me to pass on what I was learning. I felt equipped and I felt enabled in a way that I hadn’t felt before. The year of discipleship was so life changing for me, that it lit a fire in me to want other women to experience the same level of accountability and growth that I had experienced.

Abby: I was struck by examples we see in the Bible of intentional discipleship. I know you’ve talked about Moses and Joshua and Elijah and Elisha, Paul and Timothy or even Lois and Eunice (who are the grandmother and mother of Timothy), that pass on their faith to the next generation in their home. I believe so deeply that we need one another as we walk towards Jesus together, and that’s why my heart has been drawn to discipleship and why I began to disciple groups of women after I finished your group.

Abby’s Experience in Jani’s Group

Jani: Well, that really helps our listeners and me to understand a little bit better about where you are in discipleship. Could you describe for our listeners, Abby, your own discipleship experience that year you were in my group. It was such a fun year together. What a great fun year we had. It was an interesting group. Were there things that surprised you or overwhelmed you or challenged you or helped you? Maybe you can describe that for our listeners so they’ll know from your perspective what it was like.

Abby: Yeah, well, I became a Christian when I was five years old. I grew up in a wonderful Christian home. And I would say that I had a deep understanding of who Jesus is and what it means to live for Jesus. And so coming into discipleship, I was really excited for the intentionality of having someone pour into me. And I think the thing that surprised me the most was the life change that happened for me as I learned to be more intentional and developing habits to grow in Christ. 2 Peter 3:18 says,

“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

2 Peter 3:18

Abby: I knew the right things to do, but in discipleship, there is accountability each week and so I grew in consistency in those disciplines to be more Christ-like. After my year of discipleship, my husband actually commented that he had seen more growth in me spiritually during that year of discipleship than he had in all the years of our marriage. And I just praise God for that. I would have told you and I would still tell you that I was a strong believer at the time that I began discipleship, but I saw firsthand that we’re never too mature to grow. And this helps me now as I walk through discipleship with other women, it helps me to be humble, it helps me to keep running hard after Jesus. And I am convinced that every woman regardless of maturity in Christ, or years as a Christian benefits from a discipleship relationship.

Jani: Wow. Never too mature to grow. I need to remember that as I’m coming up for 72 years of age. I want to keep growing, Abby. So this was something that helped you grow in different ways. I heard you use the word “habits”.

Abby: Yes.

Jani: Certain disciplines. We’re going to talk more about those in the in the week ahead. But I loved how you quoted, was it 2 Peter 3:18? Can you read that for us again?

Abby: Yes, it says,

“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”

2 Peter 3:18

Jani: But grow, I wonder, it probably means like keep growing, grow and keep growing in the grace and the knowledge, both his grace upon us and our knowledge of Him. Yeah, I love that. And I’m glad that Jeff noticed a change. That’s encouraging if those around us can see “Oh, there’s a depth. There’s new meaning in your life in certain areas.” Well praise God for that.

Abby: Yes.

Jani: Well, now you are discipling your own groups of women. You’ve told us a little bit that you had been before those high school girls 9th through 12th grade. Do you still hear from some of them?

Abby: I do. That was a really sweet season of life. Jeff and I had just gotten married. And it was kind of our first ministry together. He was discipling a group of high school guys. And it was just a really sweet time of ministry for us as a newly married couple.

How Abby Started Discipling Others

Jani: Yes. Wonderful. Well, maybe you can tell our listeners because this is a question I often get that someone might write in and say, “I’ve been a Christian for a long time and I would love to pass on what I know but I don’t know how to get started. I don’t know who would be interested.” It seems kind of arrogant of me to walk up to someone and say, “My name is Jani. May I disciple you?” So perhaps you could share with our listeners how you got started discipling others?

Abby: Yes. Well, as I mentioned, as our year of discipleship with you, Jani, drew to a close, I knew that the Lord was calling me to lead groups of women. But honestly, I felt very overwhelmed at the prospect of that. I had three young children, I was homeschooling. And I just didn’t know that I would have the capacity to lead a weekly discipleship group. But I also knew without a doubt that the Lord was asking me to do this, to be faithful in it, and I knew that he would help me if I did it. I kept coming back to a few verses that I prayed through 2 Corinthians 12:15,

“I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls.”

2 Corinthians 12:15

Abby: And then 2 Timothy 4:17,

“But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me.”

2 Timothy 4:17

Abby: And that really gave me courage and confidence that I was not going to have to do this alone. The Lord would stand by me and strengthen me. And so I began to pray for women who would want to be a part of my group. The first year, the Lord provided seven women, and I did not know any of them before our first meeting.

How God Provided Women For The Group

Jani: Now how did he provide them?

Abby: You know, I sent an email to several women in our church, younger women, college age women, and I just asked them, I said, “I have had this wonderful privilege of being discipled, and I wonder if you might be interested in being in a discipleship group.” And it was scary, Jani. It was so scary. But the Lord prepared the hearts of these women. This group of women that he provided was a gift to me that I did not, I had no idea was coming. But I met these women at my front door. The first week, I introduced myself. We said “Hi!” we sat down around the table and we just started sharing life together.

Abby: It sounds crazy now but you know what: I’ve maybe known two or three women in the four years that I’ve discipled out of any of my groups. I’ve met most of them at the door. But the Lord knit our hearts together in this beautiful way. And he’s continued to do so with each group that I’ve led, he’s shown himself faithful.

Abby: So I’ve had the privilege now of walking with four groups of women. Leading discipleship groups has stretched me, it’s grown me in ways that I never imagined. I’ve grown to love the women in each group. But it’s also taught me dependence on the Lord. Because, honestly, there are days when I feel tired, and I feel overwhelmed, and I feel unqualified to sit at the table, and teach these women. But I’ve learned how to trust God in that how to really claim that verse that the Lord stood by me and strengthened me.

Abby: And I’ve learned how to love. I’ve learned how to extend grace. I’ve learned how to be bold and encouraging others towards Christ’s likeness, inviting them into the journey with me. I think that’s been one of the biggest blessings for me is having friends that come alongside me as I walk towards Jesus. It’s been a huge gift to get to lead these groups, more of a blessing for me, even then I feel like for the women that sit around the table each week with me.

Jani: I love that, Abby, I find that true as well. That we tend to think when we’re going to disciple women that will be pouring so much out, but we receive more than we give.

Abby: Oh, yeah. Totally agree.

Jani: All the time. And I love that process that the Lord took you through of first going to the Word and you found many verses, these two in particular, that meant so much to you, and you could keep going back to them. So you sensed God was working on you, you prayed, you laid it before him, asked him to keep working, then you decided to send an email to some women who you knew casually but didn’t know well, right? Wasn’t like you were best friends, or you had it all in a small group necessarily together already a church, and the Lord entered in.

Abby: Yes.

Jani: And these women responded. And then you told them, “Well we’ll begin on such a such a date…”, they showed up at your door and you introduced yourself.

Abby: Yes.

Jani: Abby Norris, that’s one of the reasons I love you. Do you see, dear listener, how it doesn’t have to be perfectly laid out for you? This is a command that the Lord gives us in Matthew 28 and everything that he commands us to do, he will empower us to do. 1 Thessalonians 5:24 says,

“Faithful is he who calls you who will also do it.”

1 Thessalonians 5:24

Jani: So I have to check that reference listener or you can, but I think that’s where it is.

Some of the Joys of Discipleship

Jani: Well, Abby, I’m just finding this so helpful. I know our listeners are going to as well. I’d like to ask you to share with our listeners some of your greatest joys in discipleship. Kind of help motivate them because it’s scary to disciple.

Abby: It is, yeah.

Jani: And maybe as well, some of the challenges you have faced or you’re facing.

#1: Friendship

Abby: I think hands down. One of the greatest joys of discipleship has been friendship. 1 Thessalonians 2:8 says,

“So being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God, but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.”

1 Thessalonians 2:8

Abby: And I think that verse encapsulates discipleship: it’s the gospel of God and sharing your own life. What happens when you do that is we become very dear to one another. And getting to be a part of a safe and vulnerable group of women has been a great joy. Having a place where you feel safe to share the real state of your heart and know that you will be loved and prayed for is rare. And it’s a great joy that comes from discipling.

Abby: The women that were in discipleship group with me around your table, Jani, are some of my dearest friends. We regularly check in with one another, usually daily. And we’re still going on weekend trips together, we’re praying for one another, encouraging one another, holding one another accountable, and it is truly a gift. The friendships that are born out of vulnerable and intimate relationship is a beautiful thing. It’s the gospel of God lived out in our lives.

#2: Accountability

Abby: I think another great joy that I’ve discovered in discipleship is accountability. We’re all more motivated when we know someone’s going to hold us to our word, right? I definitely am. And so discipling has given me weekly accountability, whether I’m leading a group or whether I’m sitting at a table with a group of women. I know that they’re going to check in and they’re gonna check on what I’ve said that I would do. And so having accountability, but with women who care about my heart, is a great joy.

Some Of The Challenges

Abby: I think there are also challenges though, definitely for leading discipleship groups and being in a group.

#1 Lies & Opposition – The Enemy of Our Soul

As I’ve led groups over the last four years, I’ve learned that Satan knows exactly where my weak points are, and exactly how to make me feel inadequate. And it can be challenging to combat those lies and know that investing in relationships that point us to Jesus is actually Kingdom building work. And so wherever the kingdom is being built, we should expect opposition, it shouldn’t surprise us. But it can feel challenging to continue to fill our mind with truth in the midst of those lies. And I think even if you’re sitting around a table, as a group, as you’re participating in a group, I felt a lot of lies coming at me, as I said, even lies, like, “Nobody really cares about that,” or “You don’t need to share that part. They don’t need to know about that.” And so I think the thing that helped me the most and helps me to check to find those lies, is Isaiah 26:3. It says,

“You keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”

Isaiah 26:3

Abby: God keeps us in perfect peace as we trust in Him, He keeps our minds in perfect peace. That’s so encouraging to me, because most often, the battle is in my mind. We have challenging days for sure, but the battle is oftentimes fought in my mind. And so I’ve found that inviting others into those challenging moments and asking them to pray for me has been really helpful and encouraging.

My sweet friend Ashley, who also was in your group, Jani, a couple years ago, moved to Dallas, and she’s leading women in Dallas through these discipleship groups as well. And on the days that our groups meet, we send each other just a simple text that says something like “I’m praying for you”, or “Praying for calm moments in your day today”. And I can’t tell you the life that it breathes into me to know that a sister is praying for me, and approaching the throne of God on my behalf on days where I’m pouring myself out in ministry. And we did that as a group, Jani, when we were in your group. The women around your table, we would text one another and say, “Hey, today is hard. Can you pray for me that I get the things done I need to so I can focus at group tonight?” So inviting others into those challenges has been so helpful to me.

Jani: That is really clarifying I think for our listeners, because as you would know, Abby, in the first few lessons, we talk about both intimacy and accountability. So thank you for sharing that. That among friends, you can feel vulnerable—you can open up—and yet, you also need them to say, “How’s it going? You asked me to pray for this. I have been. Share. Let me hold you accountable for what you asked me to hold you accountable for.”

Abby: Yes.

Jani: And it is very helpful. Thank you for those challenges, too. I think our biggest challenge is the enemy of our soul. Yes. Those lies, as you mentioned that he fires away into our minds or hearts, even around the table. I mean, sometimes when I’m teaching, I’m thinking, “Oh, this must be so boring”, or “Oh, I can’t believe that. I’m sure they already know this”, or “Oh, who am I to be doing this?” and the Lord says, “I’ve called you. So I’m going to help you.” Oh, that’s so helpful. Thank you.

A New Discipleship resource

Jani: Well, you mentioned your friend, Ashley Ginsburg. Oh, she was in our group together, wasn’t she and Ashley, as she said, has moved to Dallas, and she has been discipling. And the two of you talked to me, emailed me about something that’s kind of exciting that I want our listeners to hear about. Could you tell us about this discipleship manual that you and Ashley Ginsburg are writing? Who is it for? And when do you hope to have it available for use?

Abby: Yes, we are so excited about this. Jani, you’ve invested your life and discipling other women and the lessons that you have walked through already in this podcast and we’ll walk through in the future are foundational to our relationship and growth in Christ. But we also realize that every woman is not going to have the chance to sit around your table with you. And so our goal in writing this curriculum manual was to take what you’ve taught us and make it accessible to any woman who would desire to disciple others. So we’ve added some lessons so that there’s an entire year of curriculum in the manual, it will have 30 lessons that will be an open and go format. So anybody can pick it up and teach it.

Jani: Describe for me what an “open and go format” is.

Abby: So that just means that it will be scripted for you. So everything that you need to say—the teaching and the lesson—will be written out.

Jani: Oh, I love that.

Abby: Yes. So that way, it feels accessible, it doesn’t feel as intimidating maybe to pick up a lesson that you actually have to maneuver and formulate and write. We have it all for you right there. It will also have handouts to give to the women in your group, it will have assignment sheets that you can pass out for different assignments that you’ll be given throughout the year. And helpful tools and even some training for you as the leader, if that would be something you would want help in or advice or whatever.

Our heart behind this project is that any woman would be able to use this curriculum to teach and to train other women in their groups with confidence. Because as believers, discipleship is not optional, but knowing where to start and what can do can feel very overwhelming. And so we have worked to make this curriculum manual thorough and intentional, so that women can feel equipped to do the significant and eternal task. And so we’re hoping that it will be available sometime between late 2022 in the spring of 2023.

Jani: Oh, that is so exciting to me. I can’t wait to see it and use it. That’ll be wonderful. 30 lessons that are open and go with it.

Abby: Yes, we want to make it as easy as possible for you to be able to disciple and be discipled.

Jani: Well, I might ask our listeners to pray for you.

Abby: Yes, please do.

Jani: As you’re writing this, and as you seek a publisher for it. And I’ll be praying and offer my assistance in any way I can. Oh, Abby, thank you. You have four little children. You’re homeschooling and feeding and reading too. And also and oh, and you also have a husband and laundry and all those things. And you’re doing this discipling and writing. Abby, thank you for investing your life.

Abby: It’s a joy.

A final Prayer

Jani: Oh, it’s been a joy to have you today. I wonder, would you be willing to pray for our listeners, those who are have started a discipleship group or already discipling and those who are in their groups? And then maybe also those who are still on the fence wondering how can I obey this command of Jesus?

Abby: Yes, I would love to.

Jani: Thank you.

Abby: “Lord, God, thank you so much for your example of discipleship. Thank you that you invite us into that, that you allow us to be a part of this great chain of women that are teaching the next generation about Jesus. Lord, I pray 2 Corinthians 12:15 over us God that we would gladly spend ourselves on behalf of others. God, I pray that you would give us boldness and courage to be vulnerable and to link arms with other women as we walk towards Jesus together. God I pray that when we feel overwhelmed when we feel tired, when we feel scared to be vulnerable and to be open, Lord, I pray that you would help us to see our lives as an offering and as a tool to build your kingdom through discipleship. God, stand by us, strengthen us as we walk towards you together. Thank you, Father, that we get to be a part of this great joy called discipleship. God give us courage give us strength. Equip us to walk with you closely and to invite others to do the same. In your name we pray Lord, Amen.”

Jani: And may he restore your souls as you seek to obey Him in this way.

Thank You

Thank you for joining us today. This podcast is generously funded through Renewal Ministries. If you would like to discover more about Jani and Ray’s ministry or make a donation, visit their website at renewalministries.com. If you have a question for Jani or would like to learn more about this podcast, please visit our website at herestoresmysoul.org.

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He Restores My Soul with Jani Ortlund seeks to encourage women with God’s renewing power for their busy lives. Episodes include relevant biblical teaching, stimulating gospel conversations with other Christians, and “Ask Jani” sessions where we talk about what’s on our listeners’ hearts.

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