If I Can’t Read, Can I Be a Disciple?

Part of the mission of FCMC is to pass on skills for discipleship.  We feel called to equip people with the tools they need to imitate Jesus Christ in their daily lives and help others do the same.  We want to be able to help anyone God brings us.  We want to equip people and motivate people to be disciples who can make disciples.

There’s a potential road block – at least there was for me: there’s a temptation to think of discipleship more or less exclusively in terms of education.  My background and training is Presbyterian.  We’re all about education.  To be considered for seminary, I had to have a college degree.  To be considered for ordination as a pastor, I had to earn a three year Masters Degree from an accredited seminary.   I had to pass a series of written professional exams.  And furthering education was encouraged.  Every year, I was given two weeks’ study leave.  And my denominational culture actually pushed seeking doctoral degrees.  Don’t miss my point. I’m not anti-intellectual.   I’m in favor of an educated clergy, and it was a wonderful, enriching education.  But there was a bi-product that isn’t so good.

I thought discipleship and education were one and the same.  For that matter, I thought the main thrust for following Jesus was knowing and believing the right things.  And right actions would follow right belief.  (I’ll save that idea for another blog.)

In my work, I was always trying to get people to take courses, read good books, and have thoughtful conversation.  Like many of my colleagues in ministry, I even designed curriculum and courses of study, and moved people toward it.  And I saw some fruit come out of that season.  But I noticed early on that a lot of people would not come to those classes.  Some even got mad at me for inviting them.  These were good church folks.  They would worship, serve, and enjoy times of fellowship.  But call it a class and they’d stay away.

And there was another problem that came to me one day: what about the people who can’t (or won’t) read?  What about the ones who for who sitting in a classroom was basically torture?  What about the ones so shy and nervous they would never share their mind in a conversation, let alone challenge what was being said?  I have life-long friends for whom at lease one of those conditions is true.  It was a sad day when I realized there was no place in my traditional church for people some of my personal friends to grow and thrive as disciples of Jesus Christ – simply because we equated discipleship and education.  What could be done to help people who can’t learn through the literary-verbal model of discipleship?  How would they learn to imitate Christ?

I was only a few years out of seminary when I first began to realize the two weren’t the same.  I tried to change the name of our Christian Education ministry to Christian Training.  I thought it was more action oriented.  I talked it over with the elder for Christian Education.  She said, rather dryly, “I was taught we train animals and educate people.”  Ouch!

Well, several times in the gospels, we read, “Jesus taught his disciples…”  I’ve studied it in the original Greek.  It means… he taught them.  And he used words.  He taught with stories, illustrations, straight concepts, and questions.  He was a good, diverse literary-verbal teacher.  But Jesus also showed them what to do.  He involved them in what he was doing.  And then he tasked them and  sent them out to do what he was doing and reviewed it with them.  So 1) Jesus taught with words. 2) Jesus taught by example. 3) Jesus taught by involving his pupils, 4) Jesus taught by sending them out and debriefing.  Don’t take my word for it.  Read a gospel – any gospel…  You’ll see it.  My classical experiences with Christian Education were very much weighted on the first part.  In the gospels, I see Jesus being very intentional about all four phases.

So at FCMC, we focus on trying to imitate Jesus in the way we do discipleship.  Although we do make use of courses and books, we don’t really have a course of study.  Instead, 1) we have a language that can be learned and passed on.  2) Whoever is leading models using the language.  And 3) we practice what we’re learning together.   4) We go out and serve and seek to bless other people and debrief afterward.  There is a teaching/talking/reading part.  We try to be in formed about what it means to follow Jesus.  Then there is practicing.  We work with each other and think through the way we’re doing things.  Is it faithful to the pattern we see in Jesus’ life?  Finally, there’s going out and doing.  Putting things into practice outside the safety of our huddles.

I’m seeing fruit.  I’m seeing the people in our huddles praying, talking, and living their faith with more confidence.  More importantly I see evidence of cooperation with the work of the Holy Spirit, more love for others, and – something that was truly rare in my churches – a deep interest and engagement in reaching out to  others in order to encourage others to follow Jesus.

Okay.  Your turn.  A few months ago, I blogged this: “Earlier today, a friend asked me about our church.  As part of the answer, I was explaining our approach to discipleship. He stopped me and said, ‘I think people are really hungry for that.’  He went on to tell me how frustrating it has been for him, because he feels he’s had opportunity to talk about following Jesus with some co-workers, but doesn’t know how to approach them.”

So what’s your plan for discipleship?  Does it line up with the pattern you see in the Gospels?  In other words, does intentionally follow the pattern you see in Jesus’ life?  1) Teach them. 2) Show them.  3) Involve them.  4) Send them out to do it themselves.  Or to put it another way: 1) Information.  2) Demonstration.  3) Inclusion.  4) Imitation.  Or yet another, 1) I do.  You watch. 2) I do.  You help.  3) You do.  I help. 4) You do.  I celebrate.  (That last one is the Discipleship Square.  You can read about it here.)

So what is your plan?  Is it logical?  How well does it line up with Jesus’ approach?  And will the people you are discipling be able to and motivated to pass on what they have received?

Ah, but what if you are a church leader and are not discipling anyone?  That was true for me for many years.  So try this: review Matthew 28:16-20, figure out what Jesus is saying, and put his words into practice.  And your heart will be glad!

About Pastor Jesse

I am a disciple of Jesus, husband, father, pastor, and engineer. I am passionate about making deeply surrendered disciples of Jesus who are motivated and equipped to make more.
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