Discipleship: From Application of Scripture to Performance of Scripture (May-Jun 2008)

By Matt Dabbs

by Fred Peatross
May – June, 2008

The Making of a Disciple“Over the last decade there has been a total dumbing down in the church. I don’t think you can argue with me about that. People are reading less; fewer churches are meeting for Wednesday night Bible class, Sunday morning bible class attendance is down, and fewer Christians read and study their Bible. If you ask me the church is ill prepared to navigate the future.”

This comment was made in the heat of a recent discussion. And this was just one of the comments among many. It didn’t catch me off guard or concern me. But why should it? (I chose not to verbalize this.) I’ve heard similar sentiments expressed on other occasions. Actually many times before.

Listen. I’m a writer – I like the idea of people reading books. But I wonder if there’s a bit of conceit in the idea that the welfare of the body of Christ depends on the welfare of the print era?

Civilization has been on a journey of changing worldviews: from the oral culture of Jesus’ day, to the print world introduced by Gutenberg’s Bible, to the broadcast era of television, to today’s digital culture. In Jesus time, the magic of the oral culture was a world in which burning bushes, parting seas, miraculous battles, and resurrections were entirely plausible. Conversely, “how to manuals” are staples of the print era.

In Jesus’ day trades were learned through apprenticeships, observation, and practice with little verbalized instruction. The apprentice hunter hunted with the experienced hunter. The novice Roman seamstress worked on a toga with a skilled Roman seamstress. What the apprentice learned was not so much abstracted rules or decontextualized generalities (the stuff of how-to-manuals) as a vast range of particulars and a varied repertoire for responding to particulars.

Church leaders have acknowledged the importance of coaching and mentoring in the formation process but rarely has there been proficiency in process and training. Kingdom values have been exhorted, sometimes discussed, with hopes of maturing disciples to practice selfless love in a selfish society. But the facts are we have spent more time in educational committees that rely upon the pulpit and the classroom in pursuing transformation rather than getting our hands dirty in the time-consuming work of discipleship. The result is few Christians can point to a specific someone and say, “He or she is my spiritual mentor.”

My early journey of faith was guided by a wise man who quietly participated with God in leaking the life of Jesus into mine. His steadfast devotion and lucid coaching allured me to a greater level of practice and maturity. He never barreled his way in, only nudged me closer to the Savior. Patience was a prerequisite for apprenticing a new disciple with thirty years of dysfunction. But my friend’s love and longanimity made a major contribution to my early spiritual formation. I didn’t always understand all that was said in our conversations, but my mentor’s example was unmistakably clear. I knew he was someone I wanted to be like.

Now twenty-nine years later the Spirit, to a large extent, has dismantled the impaired living but, I must confess, when the heat is turned up I still contemplate justice in lieu of mercy, kindness, and patience.

Imagine you wanted to be able to play the saxophone like Branford Marsalis. You go to Mr. Marsalis, and ask him politely, “Mr. Marsalis, I would like to be able to play the saxophone just like you. Would you teach me?” Then, imagine he says, “Okay.” For the next three years, you spend ten hours a day learning how to play the saxophone. After three years straight, you are playing some amazing jazz, but you are still a beginner. You stay on with Branford, learning the nuances of classical jazz as well as learn to write your own music.

Fifteen years later, you are approached by a young person who says, “I know the music of Branford Marsalis, and when you play I can’t tell the difference.”

You have become like your teacher.

In a time much more analogous to the first century (more so than any other period in recent history) the apprentice model rises from another era to charm today’s leader with an effectual training process. If ever there was a moment in time for leaders to become the purveyors of wisdom for the next generation the time is now. Teaching God’s people to love, to turn the other cheek, to walk the extra mile, and grow in one’s prayer life demands far more than an educational model.

You cannot diagram the formula or sprinkle salt on a cucumber to get a pickle—you have to marinate cucumbers in vinegar or salt water. To look like, and then leak the life of Jesus one must “marinate” in a mentoring relationship, absorbing the things of life—unaware—until one day you realize you are a different person with a new serenity and love, a different kind of mercy and grace, a different kind of humility and openness.

Teilhard de Chardin reminds us that, “we are not human beings having a spiritual experience but spiritual beings having a human experience.”

Fred Peatross lives, works, romances his wife and exudes deep feelings of love, awe, and admiration for his Creator while living in the heart of Appalachia. For over two decades Fred has resided in Huntington, West Virginia where he has been a leader in the traditional church. He has been a deacon, a shepherd, and a pulpit minister. But his greatest love is Missio Dei.
Long before thousands of missionaries poured into the former Soviet Union Fred, in a combined effort with a Christ follower from Alabama planted a church in Dneprodzerhinsk, Ukraine. Today Fred lives as a missionary to America daily praying behind the back of his friends as he journeys and explores life alongside them. [Fred Peatross’ book Missio Dei: In the Crisis of Christianity, reviewed in New Wineskins]. He blogs at [Abductive Columns].

 

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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