Student or Disciple

“Do you want to be a student or a disciple?”

That was the question a young man at a recent organic church gathering posed.  It was something he had been wrestling with and he said he thought in many ways that’s what discipleship comes down to.  As simple as it sounds, this is one of the most profound things I’ve heard in a long time.  Unfortunately, I think we are a church full of students, and that just doesn’t cut it.

Of course there is an element of being a student that is a good thing.  Growing in our knowledge of the Bible, church history, and even the culture that shaped the formation of the Scriptures can be very beneficial in forming our faith.  But the downside of being a student isn’t something I’ve ever heard much about.  A student is someone who studies something (duh) but they can do it from a distance.  The things they study don’t necessarily change them.  Being a student of Jesus and the Bible is one component of what it means to be a disciple, but being a disciple is much more about following than it is about learning, about becoming and doing more than thinking.

In addressing some apparently eloquent and persuasive teachers in Corinth, Paul says, “The kingdom of God is not a matter of talk, but of power.”  Too often we settle for lots of talk and little power.

Perhaps most difficult is that the church plays a role in making students who stop short of discipleship.  It’s not intentional, or even understood in most cases, but that’s all the more reason we need to take a hard look at ourselves and those in our congregations to see if disciples are really being made.  Local churches place great emphasis on sermons, “talks” (sermons) in youth group, teaching in Sunday School, small group Bible study, children’s programs with teaching, women’s bible studies, and the list goes on.  All good things that become an end in themselves, thus quietly teaching people that participation in multiple learning exercises is what it means to be a Christian.

I have heard Christian leaders argue that what we need is to teach and teach and teach, and then once we have taught enough, all that teaching will explode in a life of discipleship.  That sounds nice but it doesn’t work.  That is a well intentioned heresy that disables the church.  We learn by studying and doing.  We are not disciples because we read a book about the plight of the poor.  We are not holy because we can list the fruit of the Spirit.  We are not witnesses to Jesus Christ because we can tell stories about his life. 

So will we settle for being students or make the commitment to be disciples?

About Big Tasty

Be better today than yesterday.

Posted on March 2, 2009, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. You’re on it, man. This understanding of “being and doing” working together informing and integrating each other impacts every aspect of ministry.
    Love these thoughts. I’ll try to call on Wednesday.

  2. I absolutely love this post Trevor. This is what I am writing about for school. I’m trying to look at these issues in the context of our congregations and biblical educational institutions here in Tanzania. I especially like how you brought in the idea that we tend to settle with all of those programs as the ends rather than the means to a deeper relationship with Christ.

    I think maybe a lot of people confuse discipleship with mentoring, and mentoring often begins to look a lot like a student/teacher relationship; but I think discipleship is about being connected to and daily pursuing Christ. Unfortunately, I think talking about discipling others has muddied the waters a little and contributed to a misunderstanding about what it means to be a disciple of Christ.

    When you differentiate learning and doing with being connected you’re really on to something. I know an awful lot of pastors and church leaders who know a lot about the Bible and can spout verse after verse in any proof-texting situation, but their hearts are far from Jesus.

    I’m still working through this a lot and trying to see it in the Tanzanian context, so I would appreciate any follow-up ideas you have. Where do we go from here? How can we clarify what it means to be a disciple and what it means to make disciples? How can we differentiate between discipling and mentoring and learning and doing and being…? Can discipleship be taught? Of course I’ve got a lot of ideas about all of these issues, but I’m interested to see you write more along this line that you’ve started.

    Let me just leave you with this thought: I think it boils down to relationship first with Jesus and then with others. We have to be so involved with Jesus in our own lives that when we build relationships with other people they see Him clearly in us. My dilemma is how to teach that to young Christians, and more importantly to people considered to be spiritual leaders, in such a way that their lives are changed by the presence of Christ. As you said, it sounds simple, but for whatever reason, it just isn’t as easy or simple as it sounds.

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