Alongsider Briefings: Reflections of a Life Lived with God

Disciplemaking’s Hidden Cost

Shot of a young woman looking stressed while using a laptop to work from home

I’m an HGTV junkie. I love watching home remodeling shows. No matter the quality of the home about to be “flipped” there’s typically one thing you can be assured of — there’s always a hidden cost to the home.

Termites lie hidden in the walls, the foundation is sloping, or mold is covered by wallpaper. These hidden costs build anticipation to the show’s plot line but they’re disappointments to the remodelers.

Disciplemaking has a hidden cost. We rightly extoll the thrill of the Great Commission but there’s a hidden cost to giving our lives to people. No one is immune from this cost not even the Apostle Paul. 

In 2 Timothy 1:15, Paul writes: “You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me… (NIV).” Have you ever checked out Asia in your back-of-the-Bible map? Asia is Asian Minor, what is now Turkey. Asia is the home of the Laodicean, Colossian, and Ephesian churches.

What was the desertion? It doesn’t appear that the desertion was an act of apostasy but shame in Paul’s criminal status. In the next sentence Paul’s grateful for Onesiphorus who “was not ashamed of my chains” (1:16). This theme of shame for his incarceration runs throughout the letter.

 In 1:8, he encourages Timothy “not to be ashamed . . . of me his prisoner.” Paul was “bound with chains as a criminal” (2:9). At his defense “no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me” (4:16). It appears that none of his Ephesian friends showed up to support him; they stayed away out of shame.

This desertion must have broken Paul’s heart. After all, he spent three years (Acts 20:31) living among the Ephesian people not shrinking from declaring what was profitable “teaching in public and house to house” (Acts 20:20). When he said his farewell to the Ephesians elders, “there was much weeping.” Sorrow colored Paul’s heart because they “would not see his face again” (20:36-38). Paul was emotionally involved with this church and they deserted him at his time of need.

Disciplemaking’s hidden cost is a broken heart and disappointment. Anytime that I love there lurks a hidden cost of heartbreak. This disappointment can be personal, like the Ephesian church, or it may be doctrinal like the faith-deserters Hymenaeus and Philetus (2 Timothy 2:17-18). Disciplemaking is an emotional investment in people’s lives that runs the risk of heartache. Allow me to share one heartache.

Matt was one of the first men I discipled. Our lives parted when he chose a career path and I chose Navigator staff. Several years later, I asked Matt to financially support our ministry. In a return letter, he asked if we could get together to talk.

When we met, Matt described how his original profession of faith was a sham. It was later in life that he heard the true gospel. He was coming to correct me and teach me the true gospel. When we left, I looked him in the eye and said, “You realize the implication of our discussion don’t you?” Matt looked back at me and said, “Yes, you’re going to hell with the gospel you believe.”

I thought back on the hours we spent together as friends, the Bible studies we attended, how I helped him to share his faith, the times we prayed together. It was all washed away with his new “conversion.” I was heartbroken and disappointed.

Disappointment and heartache are a part of life and the Great Commission. Whenever we choose to love people our investment may be spurned by disappointing decisions. How do I deal with this heartache?

I learned two things from the Apostle Paul that helps me with disappointed love. I need presence and perspective. Sometimes I need someone to sit and listen to my disappointment. I know the answers but I want a listening ear and a caring heart. I need someone present at my side. Like Paul, I need an Onesiphorus who will refresh me.

At other times, I need perspective — God’s mountain top view of the situation. My needs can run the gamut from presence to perspective. A wise friend or mentor will discern where I am on this arc and counsel or comfort me accordingly. I wonder if some of Onesiphorus’ “refreshing” ministry was a re-telling of God’s faithfulness.

There’s always light behind the darkness of heartache. God did not leave Paul alone and he doesn’t leave us alone. Paul was refreshed by friends (2 Timothy 1:16; 4:11), he was encouraged by his protege’s faith (1:3-5), and he faced death with a clear conscience having “fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith” (4:6). 

Paul was looking forward to the “crown of righteousness” (4:8) from a God who loved him. In life this side of eternity, Paul enjoyed the presence of friends who refreshed him and clung to the perspective of a faithful God. We’re not alone in our heartaches.

Disciplemaking is the greatest adventure I’ve ever undertaken but I would be naive to not acknowledge its hidden costs. When I invest in people, I will face disappointment and heartache. Even Paul was not immune from this. C.S. Lewis paints a realistic picture of this love: 

“To give yourself in a fallen world may mean pain and suffering. Loving anyone is a risky thing. When you make yourself vulnerable, you could get hurt. Love is never seized apart from courage.”

C.S. Lewis

Our loving Father risked loving us. We need His courage and compassion to risk loving others. When disappointed, we need the presence of friends and an eternal perspective. Love always pushes us forward, “bearing all things, believing all things, hoping all things, enduring all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7). Let’s not allow the hidden cost of disappointment rob us of loving people. For every disappointment, there’s the joy of hearing that our children are walking in the truth (3 John 4).


  1. Thank you for this very true, thorough reminder. Ultimately encouraging to understand what the Lord Jesus and those first missionary / disciplers experienced — to embrace all the cost of loving the world and shining light into its darkness.

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