“Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like.”
James (Jesus’ biological brother) in his letter to the 1st Century Palestinian Jewish Church, Chapter 1, verse 22-24…The Message Paraphrase
Qualifications of the job
Head knowledge doesn’t qualify you to work.
I think it’s rather funny (not funny “haha”, but funny sad) that we live in a society that seems to value education so highly, but then when people get out into the world to find a job, they can’t because they don’t have any experience, which actually counts more in the long run.
We work our tails off in school to get the best grades possible only to find out when we enter the workforce that the grades we worked so hard to maintain don’t count much in getting paid. I’m not advocating ditching our pursuit of knowledge, that would be foolish. I just think it is very unwise for us to put all of our eggs in the pursuit only of knowledge. We need head knowledge, but we also need street cred and experience. We need a deeper educational experience than just sitting in a classroom. We still need the classroom experience. We just need more.
There is more to learn outside of the lecture/classroom experience than what we often give credit for. Life itself is a teacher. We must expand our thinking to include a wider grasp of what actually helps us to learn besides just the classroom experience. That is what I want to talk about today.
Bible Study is not Discipleship
Growing up in the “church” culture, I was always starting or attending new “Bible studies”. I think I studied the book of James more than any other Bible book because that one always just seemed to be the default place to go when you wanted to talk about the Bible. We would get into our small group circle, either at church on a Tuesday night, or in somebody’s home, and we would begin reading the Bible and voicing our opinions and knowledge on what we had just read.
Bible studies always ended up being conversations about nuances of words, theological discussions about what we thought about God, or chances for the Bible nerds in our group who like to talk about those kinds of things to dominate the conversation. At the end, we would usually take prayer requests and our “discipleship” was done for the week.
Discipleship was relegated to a Bible study or a church service that we attended and then we would go out into our real lives at home, at work, or at school and wait for the next “discipleship” event to attend.
Now, hear me out, I’m not suggesting that there was no value in any of this. What I am saying is that our definition of discipleship fell far short of the biblical model that Jesus and all the New Testament writers were trying to show us. Because we thought of discipleship as a Bible Study, we missed out on all the other ways that we learn and become more like Jesus.
What is a Disciple?
In his book Building a Discipling Culture, Mike Breen briefly outlines what a “disciple” actually is. Today I want to share this with you so that you will understand that following Jesus is much much more than simply doing a Bible Study.
The greek word for “disciple” is actually the word “mathetes” which, when translated in a more modern way means “learner“. When Jesus took on the role of rabbi, or teacher, he embraced a life of educating and modeling for his learners not simply a way to think, but a way to live. His final word to his followers was to reproduce more learners of His way, to make disciples. And what was His way? It was the way of the Kingdom.
But how do we learn? Today I want to outline Breen’s three observations about the way we do just that.
- The Classroom/Lecture Way. The predominant way we have been taught how to learn in our country is through the classroom/lecture experience. A room full of desks or seats, a notebook full of lines, a communicator at the front behind a podium, and a class full of hungry minds. There is a lot of value in this method. We must gain knowledge for our minds to process. We can and do learn from listening to a teacher or preacher. But this is not the only way, nor (I would argue) is it the best way for us to learn. Profoundly influential megachurch pastor, Rick Warren, states that people forget 95% of what they hear within 72 hours. 95%!! And yet we put so much time, resources, energy, and passion into a method that only yields a 5-10% return on investment? I’m not saying we don’t need good teaching or preaching from a lecturn, but we must embrace a more holistic understanding of the way people learn.
- The Apprenticing Way. Something we have lost in our modern church definition of discipleship is an understanding of discipleship as apprenticeship. We know that people learn better by doing, but why don’t we practice what we know in our discipleship methods? Our overemphasis on Bible knowledge (which I know it can be argued that you can’t ever get enough Bible knowledge), is creating a generation of people who think that all that matters is what you know and not what you do. How many people know 50 verses by heart in scripture who don’t know how to actually go and apply those verses in their everyday lives? This is where apprenticing matters. People need living examples to follow. A young learner needs a master teacher to watch, to listen to, to join, and to be an apprentice to.
- The Immersion Way. Ultimately, the only way a little bird learns how to fly is being continually pushed out of the nest to test its wings. Not only do we need to get the head knowledge and to follow the example of someone, but we will eventually need to be able to stand on our own two feet with the knowledge and wisdom gained through the other two learning approaches. We need immersion. This involves risk and failure. But it is only through risk and failure that we will learn what we need to learn so that we can gain confidence in the path that is ahead.
As you can tell, I’m pretty passionate about teaching people how to follow Jesus. A radical shift has to take place in our minds if we are going to ever truly learn what it looks like to be a disciple of Jesus.
If we are to take Jesus seriously about making disciples, we are going to have to look in the mirror and see if we really are disciples ourselves. Are you knowledgeable about Scripture? That’s great. Now, you need to go and do what it says.
Obedience and Creativity walk hand in hand in the life of a disciple. We can sing all the worship songs we want and listen to the best preachers and teachers in the world, but if we do not become very intentional about apprenticing ourselves to a mentor and immersing ourselves in the risky business of mission and service to people, then we will be missing the chief message and mission of our Master.
What is your definition of discipleship? Are you content to only gain Bible knowledge? Do you have Bible knowledge? The classroom has its place and it is the best place to start, but be sure that you value more than just a Bible Study.