In 1978, as a young Christian who was zealous for God but greatly lacked knowledge and wisdom, I was led by the Holy Spirit to place myself at the feet of the president of a small Bible college.
I scarcely knew what discipleship was, yet that was what God called me to – to be discipled.
To say this was a life-changing four years would be a gross understatement.
I read about discipleship and experienced it, first-hand, up close and personal. One on one, in the presence of a wise sage of God.
Having grown up in a thoroughly unchurched home (at age 16, I didn’t know why crosses were on churches), I assumed that the manner of discipleship I was experiencing, in keeping with how Jesus discipled twelve men, was normative in American Christianity.
Tragically, I would learn in subsequent years how wrong that assumption was.
There are many activities in churches that are called “discipleship.” Some-times they are; more times than not, they aren’t. A Bible study or a program, while each have merit, is not discipleship as Jesus modeled it for us. The Apostle Paul stated what seems to me to be a significant characteristic of the Jesus model of discipleship. In I Cor. 11:1 he writes: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”
The esteemed Christian apologist and philosopher, Os Guinness, provides us keen insight into Paul’s exhortation in his book The Call:
Paul’s use of the word imitators is important. Modeling – observing and copying – is vital to discipleship because of the biblical view of the way disciples must learn. There is always more to knowing than human knowing will ever know. So the deepest knowledge can never be put into words – or spelled out in sermons, books, lectures, and seminars. It must be learned from the Master, under his authority, in experience.
The theme of tutoring and imitation, which goes far deeper than current notions of “mentoring,” is conspicuous in the teaching of the early church. We grow through copying deeds, not just listening to words, through example as well as precept, through habit and not just insight and information.
This is what is so frequently missing today, the intentional pouring of the life of a mature believer into the life of a young believer who then imitates what is “poured.” We are awash in information about Christianity. What we desperately need is what Jesus modeled for us, life example which is imitated for the purpose of life transformation.
For four years, I experienced the inculcation of a great deal of knowledge and wisdom in the context of observing a wise sage of God live life. I confess I did not appreciate this as fully as I should have at the time, nor did I imitate him nearly as well as I could have. But to the degree I did, I experienced life transformation. This, I would come to understand, was the “renewing of the mind” Paul speaks of in Romans 12:2, a renewing that is more than knowledge, and even more than wisdom. As Guinness writes, this is “the deepest knowledge [that] can never be put into words.”
Would you like to unpack this with me? Then I look forward to corresponding with you.
My email is firstname.lastname@example.org.