Discipleship is more caught than taught.
I had been invited to a Memorize the Word course for eight weeks in a row. Each week I continually found some reason for not attending the evening meeting. Although told of the benefits of memorizing scripture, it made no impression sufficient to lead me to go. Finally, out of embarrassment from saying no to Harvey Ellis for two months, I reluctantly agreed to attend. At the meeting, I listened to the other participants (all of which had by this time memorized nineteen verses) relate the verses that they knew. As I listened to them one by one, I became convinced that a significant change had occurred in the lives of each of them, and that it was due to the scriptures they had memorized. At the end of that Memorize the Word session, I had “caught’ from others what I could not be taught.
Two months later I met Jim Morris and he began to meet with me weekly. As we visited, he would often share different stories. Often, I noticed, he would repeat the same story! One in particular was concerning a meeting he had organized in Colorado Springs. Although he had responsibilities at the meeting, he could not find a certain individual and left others in charge of the meeting, enabling him to find that person and spend time with them. The first time I heard this story I thought to myself. “That is crazy. Why would he do that?” A few months later, Jim again related the same story. This time, I recall thinking a little differently about that event. I thought to myself. ”Well, I can see how a person might be inclined to do such a thing.” Three months later, Jim again repeated the identical story. This time, a light bulb went on somewhere and I thought the following. “That’s it! Individuals are the key to multiplication!” I started to see what Paul was talking about in II Corinthians 2:12-13. “Now when I went to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord had opened a door for me, I still had no peace of mind, because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said goodbye to them and went on to Macedonia.” I began to understand why Paul did this. If he could find Titus and equip him for the ministry, the effect of Paul’s life and ministry would be doubled! Through Jim Morris, I “caught” the vision of disciple-making rather than having had it taught.
For nearly a full year, Jim and I met weekly and spent time sharing our lives, looking at God’s word together and praying together. These three simple steps were what I saw in his life in regard to discipling others. Although very basic, they were foundational, and equipped me for a life of making disciples. Again, they were “caught,” rather than taught.
The Apostle Paul describes this method of transmission of principles of ministry in this way. “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me– put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. (Phil 4:9) “Join with others in following my example.” (Phil 3:17) “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” (I Corinthians 11:1) To Timothy he related the following. “You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecution, sufferings–what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them.” (II Timothy 3:10-11) Paul was committed to life on life transmission. Although he taught many, they also “caught” discipleship from contact with this apostle.
Over the past thirty five years, I have had occasion to teach numerous Sunday school classes on the subjects of discipleship. These included instruction in evangelism, establishing others in their walk with Christ and equipping them for their ministry. The materials were excellent, the classes were well attended and those present were responsive to the presentations. As I reviewed these efforts, I realized that, with very few exceptions, only those individuals with whom I had met regularly in a discipleship context have continued to make an impact with their lives. In the case of couples, only those with whom my wife and I had met regularly have continued to minister as couples in the area of disciplemaking. Principles about discipleship may be taught, but discipleship itself must be caught. You can’t catch anything from a distance. We will need to live up close if others are going to catch discipleship from our lives.
The main effort of many churches is directed toward gathering everyone together once a week for an hour and listening to a sermon. This may be an adequate method of disseminating information, but it does little in the area of transformation. Our philosophy of ministry will determine our activities. If we are content to merely provide information, we can live our lives at a distance from others. If we would want to see our lives used to transform lives rather than to merely inform them, this will be a costly decision in terms of time and resources. I am convinced, however, that this is the method that God uses to raise up disciples.
II Timothy 2:1-2 relates the following. “Thou, therefore, my son, be strong in the Grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.”
May the Lord encourage your hearts as you live with others in such a way that their discipleship will be “caught” rather than taught.
In Christ, Richard Spann