My last post, Real Discipleship is Very Inconvenient to the Flesh has gotten a lot of traffic, and a few comments on social media that it merits following up on it real quick. Like I said, from the perspective of a student and now as a teacher I see and understand both sides of an issue.
Someone commented that we appreciate things more when we’ve got some “skin in it”, which is to say, we value it more if it has cost us something. But at the same time, how much should being mentored or discipled cost?
Should discipleship training be done the same way academic studies are done, where an institution or organization charges tuition and the protegé pays an exorbitant fee in order to obtain some kind of recognition for their studies?
Does receiving a diploma stating that you’re “ready for ministry” truly mean you’re a disciple? Or does graduating a leadership training course truly make you a leader?
I’m sorry to offend whoever will take offence with this, but my personal answer to the last two questions is no. My answer to the first couple questions is not so black and white.
Education Alone Does Not a Disciple or Leader Make
I know people who’ve gotten four-year bachelor degrees in pastoral ministry who are adulterers and at age 30 have already been married more than once, and not because their first spouse died, if you catch my drift. I know others who may have gotten educated by a great Bible institution, but I wouldn’t cross the street to hear them preach.
Meanwhile, some people who are older than me and aren’t clergy per se are the first persons I go to for advice over Skype or email because they walk closely with Jesus and hear His voice, and have been fashioned further and further into his image. They haven’t ever had the chance to go to Bible college like others have, including myself.
I was recently in an email exchange with a person who considers himself a spiritual father to thousands, maybe tens of thousands. I appreciate that when we revere someone and they have been an influence on our lives, we might refer to them affectionately as a father. But this individual himself considered himself such a father basically because of his reach.
In his email gave me the link to a recent message he preached on this very subject. As I listened my heart sank as the pastor talked about someone coming up to him in the hallway and telling him that he was the only “father” they had ever known. He shared another story of playing volleyball and a young lady on his team told him the same thing. He then admitted in his sermon after sharing more stories like this that he had no idea who either person was.
He didn’t even know any of their names.
I’m not trying to condemn such leaders. But I do think such a story also sheds light on the types of people from my generation who have never had good father figures or had a true father modelled for them. As a result, they view their pastor or a teacher as the only father they’ve ever had.
When I listen to such a thing I try not to judge, but I have questions come to mind: If we reproduce what we’ve learned and have seen modelled in our lives from our earthly parents, can the same be true of our spiritual fathers? If so, then how we were discipled will play a big role in how we believe discipling is done. And if we have never had access to mature individuals in our own spiritual upbringing, we’ll likewise believe setting up classrooms is the way disciples are formed.
How we learn it will be how we reproduce it.
The problem is many people confuse Jesus preaching to the multitudes with Jesus discipling the twelve for 3 years. The twelve had different access to him than the crowds did. The twelve spent time with Jesus and learned how to do what he was doing. The multitudes didn’t. In fact, by and large, they abandoned him when they got offended with him. So numbers of people following us and hearing a sermon is not disciple making, nor does it indicate necessarily that our hearers are producing fruit.
I’ve had face to face conversations with people where I ask them questions about how they’re making disciples, and “training centers” and programs are very often the answer. These are not bad for the fruit they produce and the goals and mission of those who run them. But, a class of say 200 people and one or two teachers will not produce disciples as effectively as it will transfer knowledge from the teacher to the students. Please read Information, Imitation, and Innovation for more on that.
Can Those Who Need It Truly Afford It?
Then there’s the issue of who can have access to such “discipling” — only those who can afford it?
What about believers in third world countries who don’t have the resources or cash capital to pack up and move to a first world nation where some of these amazing cutting edge Bible colleges are? We have to explore other situations where we bring such teaching resources to them instead of collecting and gathering them all to us in our school locations.
But how many want to go?
I’m not trying to use what we’re doing in Peru as the template and say “this is the only way it can/should be done!” But I do cite examples from personal experience to at least show the reader I’m practicing what I preach and not just sitting on my butt criticizing others who are doing something I perceive as wrong.
What we’re doing in our Oikos ministry school is funded by donations and the first year students pay nothing to be in the school. We have an extensive interview/application process we’re using to determine who really should be in our school and we take about 6 each year. The second year follows a similar pattern but now as I mentioned in the last post, they need to raise about $200 each to cover some of the expenses but are also placed in charge of ministries.
Our school is small and not large but 16 hours of classroom instruction is but one part of an integrated approach within a missional community as we also live in apartments in the same neighbourhood, spend time together, minister together, and so on.
Not everybody is called to disciple in this fashion.
However, one of our strengths is the atmosphere of community which is the backbone of instruction, instead of doing this exclusively in a classroom setting. Plus, each of the six students are mentored by someone in leadership one-on-one or someone mature and solid within our community.
It truly is difficult to fall through the cracks in such a small relational setting, and over the course of 8 months the students’ strengths and weaknesses are made evident, as well as what spiritual DNA they’re made up of and how they minister. This helps us figure out how to help them grow in their leadership in the second year. Some will go back to the Jungle and flourish and multiply themselves there. Others may possibly join our leadership permanently and multiply what we’re doing in Lima.
Anyway, thanks for processing my thoughts with me.
What do you think?