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.
How many professors do you know who actually have their students living under the same roof and sitting at the same table for every meal? Can you imagine professors sharing the same bathroom with their students, doing laundry and making trips to the grocery store together? What if a professor had his students with him when he went on speaking trips or on vacation with his family? How many people would volunteer to be professors if they were required to live with their students 24/7? How many people would enroll as students?
Well, this approach to teaching students isn’t really necessary when the subject matter is primarily academic. (Again, we almost always make the mistake of thinking that discipleship is primarily an academic endeavor.) Taking turns with the washing machine would probably not help anyone come to a better understanding of microbiology or sixteenth century literature. But it very well could provide the context for teaching about patience, respect and service.
In our training institutions most instruction is scheduled into weekly time slots that usually last an hour or so at a time, up to three times a week. Both professors and students appear for the class, instruct or receive instruction, and disappear until the next scheduled appearance. Again, this works well for learning about topics. However, it doesn’t work well for molding behavior or skills. It could work well for molding our thinking, but without more exacting supervision, there is no guarantee there will be lasting application.
The word “disciple” bears a close resemblance to the word “discipline.” In English, discipline can mean “punishment,” “course of study,” or “training.” A disciple, in the model of twelve disciples of Jesus, is one who is being trained. A disciple is not someone who is just being taught (or punished, for that matter).
Training goes beyond teaching. Some say training is void of teaching—getting people to learn skills through repetition without any instruction regarding the concepts or reasons behind those activities. However, that is not true training—that is animal training. True training is where trainees are taught the concepts and reasons as a foundation for understanding and then are coached repeatedly until they are able to master the skills at hand. Mere teaching is assuming that if the concepts are taught, students will be able to go out there and do them on their own. And, unfortunately, this is where most of our Christian leadership training stands.
The difference is in what we impart to those we instruct. If we have students, we primarily impart knowledge. If we have disciples, we impart behavior as well as knowledge. And, to put it bluntly, knowledge is much easier to impart—especially if we ourselves fail in the behavior arena.
When I think about Christians I’ve known through the years who have most influenced me, I don’t think so much about the ones who may have been very smart and full of good knowledge and theories. Instead, I think about the people I’ve seen actually live out their faith in their daily lives and consistently demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control). These are the qualities, if possessed, that will make Christians the most effective as they purpose to influence those around them. These qualities will make them more effective than if they just have a lot of knowledge, but do not possess these fruit. And so having these fruit of the Spirit is so much more important than academic knowledge. Yet, in most of our modern training institutions, students are never rigorously graded on these behavior qualities like they are on academic knowledge. Our grading systems betray where our real values lie.
Now, before I go further, please don’t assume I am saying academic knowledge is not valuable. It is very valuable! However, it is not primarily valuable. It is not an either/or question—everyone will agree that the best student or disciple is one who possesses both the academic and the behavioral qualities. The problem is when we pay “lip service” to training people to be loving, patient, good, gentle and self-controlled, and then spend 95% of our time filling their brains with knowledge. Even Paul said that knowledge “puffs up” but love “builds up.” (1 Corinthians 8:1)
As an instructor of others (whether that might be a professor, preacher or teacher) it is easy to fool people. I can appear for classes, services and conferences to teach on a topic such as “evangelism” and give the best and most inspiring stories and theories. People may love what I teach, write it down, publish it and teach it to others. But what happens when I leave their presence and go out among people who do not believe in Jesus? When an opportunity arises to speak about Christ do I share, or do I move on because I am too busy? Do I treat them with the same love and respect that I do my peers?
If I had a disciple traveling with me, he would feel me rather hypocritical if he heard me speak one way and then live another. However, if the opposite were true, and my disciple saw that I shared with people a certain way and I therefore taught about evangelism in the same way, then he would most likely learn to put it into practice. Those who just hear me teach learn about evangelism as a topic. Those who see me teach one way and live another are disenfranchised. But those who see me live the right way and later on teach accordingly, will be the ones who really get the lesson.
This is what Jesus did with his twelve disciples. Jesus didn’t simply make scheduled appearances to his disciples to teach them. No, he invited them to live with him. In fact, most or all of his lessons to them weren’t even scheduled, but were in response to real events and circumstances that arose in their lives. The disciples watched Jesus. They saw what he did when he encountered children, beggars, Pharisees, widows, prostitutes, soldiers and sick people. They lived with Jesus 24/7 and were therefore able to see what really motivated him—what he really was all about.
Effective discipleship (which produces effective people) demands that we share our lives with our disciples. It requires more than making “teaching appearances.” First of all, it requires that we, ourselves, possess the behavioral qualities we wish to impart to others. Secondly, it requires that we let our disciples into to our lives enough so that they see us react and respond in the right way to unplanned events that arise in course of everyday living. When they experience this with us, then they get the lesson.
Our approach here in our location is to have this close relationship with our disciples. Not only us, but those we have discipling our interns live with them on a daily basis to demonstrate proper behavior and to coach and guide them in the same.
Three post summary:
1. Jesus’ life was already an ongoing example of effective ministry, of which he later included them, before he called them and before he sent them out to do ministry on their own.
2. After spending time in prayer Jesus chose specific people to be his disciples, to live with him and follow him for about three years. He chose a limited number of people and poured himself into them rather than trying to get as many as he could.
3. Jesus didn’t simply make scheduled teaching appearances with his disciples but invited them to live with him 24/7. They did not only hear what he was about, they saw it every day.