Over the next few days I will share with you some of my thoughts regarding how we prepare young people to serve God. I believe that the most effective leaders are not the ones who are taught, but the ones who are discipled. Jesus knew what he was doing when he took twelve disciples to follow and serve with him for three years rather than opening a school offering classes on theology.
The very first thing that we must do when we want to teach or train (disciple) others is to do it first. We must do the things we want them to learn how to do before we begin training them. We must be the things we want them to be before we begin teaching them.
When you first read this, you might say, “Well, of course!” But this basic principle is so often bypassed. We feel we don’t need to be actually doing something in order to teach it to others if we already understand the theory. So, we just teach the theory. Or, maybe we’ve done it in the past, but are not currently doing it any more. That is better, but it still falls short.
The problem is that we major on theory and minor on experience. We think that we can train someone in a classroom to understand every facet of the theory (and we can) and then send them out to be effective in doing it. This is a flawed model, depending upon the subject of study. It is a very flawed model for preparing people for ministry, but it is the model we mostly employ in our Sunday schools and Bible colleges. Sure, Bible college students may be required to put in so many “ministry hours,” but those hours are usually not spent with their professors who are also doing the ministry, and in comparison to hours in the classroom, it is very small. We major on theory and minor on experience.
Jesus did the opposite with his disciples. First, Jesus was involved in ministry (successful, difference-making ministry) before he even called his disciples. When he did call them, he took them along. For a period it appears that they just followed him around and assisted him in his ministry. The best method for discipling others is to give them a good example of a successful ministry, and to let them take part in that ministry over a long period of time.
In most Christian academic settings (Why do we think that preparation for ministry is primarily an ‘academic’ endeavor?) students are mostly impressed with the teaching ability, the intelligence or the publishing success of their most talented professors. Students who are inspired by such professors typically want to become professors themselves—because that is the example they’ve been given. What is unfortunate is that the vast majority of Bible college professors spend nearly 100% of their time around other Christians and next to no time with people outside the Christian community.
Jesus didn’t make this mistake. A quick reading of the Gospels will show that he spent as much (if not more) time with the “unreached” community as he did with the religious leaders and even privately with his own disciples. Jesus’ ministry was at the junction of the rubber and the road and consequently spent the most time on the very issues that are the most common when it comes to serving and reaching the lost. He spent very little time in deep theological debates on whether or not angels have free will or in the linguistic parsing of Hebrew verbs. The Pharisees and Sadducees were good at that.
When the Pharisees met Jesus’ disciples they noted (pointed out) that the disciples were “unschooled” men. This meant that they hadn’t attended religious schools of the day, been ordained or theologically trained in a formal setting. They certainly had that option in those times and that was the typical route for religious people to take. Instead, the disciples were learning “on the job” with Jesus. He was their example of how to make a difference in the world—not just how to understand abstract theories.
As we seek to train young people here at our location we purpose, first, to be doing the kinds of things we want them to do. If we want our disciples to evangelize, we need to be sharing the gospel and allowing them to join us as we do. If we want them to lead a Bible study, we need to give them a good example of how that is done. If we want them to read their Bibles, we need to be reading it every day. If we want them to love others and serve them, we need to be doing that, first, so that they will see how it is done, and then what happens when it is done.
Not only must I be an example, but so must those I have overseeing our interns on a daily basis. For this reason I have been very careful in choosing those who will disciple our interns. I found a couple of good young men who are honest seekers and servers of Jesus and good examples to all the interns who will come and study with them.
Someone once said, “Jesus didn’t practice what he preached. He preached what he practiced.” This makes a very good point. We must ‘be’ and ‘do’ before we attempt to teach others to be and do those same things.