Jeff Goins asked me if I ever used guest posts a few weeks ago. The idea never crossed my mind before that, so I had never had one. This is the first! If you don’t know Jeff, you’re missing out. He is worth knowing. He has worked for AIM with someone I highly respect (Seth Barnes). Where Jeff really shines is in his ability to see. Jeff just doesn’t see like normal people. This helps him in his creativity and problem solving. Also, he is a writer.
If discipleship is defined as “apprenticeship” as Dallas Willard claims, then we the church need to consider changing everything about how we facilitate spiritual formation, especially in the lives of young people.
Discipleship is an organic process, not a programmatic one, so adding more programs to your church isn’t going to make disciples. What many American churches need is a new model for discipleship.
I believe that churches should function more like Montessori schools.
At a Montessori school, the job of of a teacher is to provide a space for a self-directed learning activity. In this vein of education, teachers believe that children have an inner natural guidance and need only opportunity, space, and freedom to learn and grow. A lot of emphasis is placed on the child’s innate sense of what he needs for emotional and intellectual development.
How this relates to discipleship is that if it undermines how we typically help people in churches develop their spiritual gifts. Traditionally, we teach a certain ideal of behavior and then invite others to conform to it. While we don’t always explicitly say it, most of us have some picture in our minds of what a “model Christian” looks like.
The problem, of course, is that this isn’t scriptural. There is no model Christian, nor should there be. We are many parts that make up one body (1 Cor. 12:12-14).
As an alternative to this popular paradigm, I suggest we make disciples by identifying their core spiritual competencies and helping them develop those gifts through apprenticeship.
If you are someone who wants to see people growing in their identity and calling, then you need to become a facilitator of experiences. To put it bluntly, you need to stop coercing and start letting people be who they are.
For you control freaks, this may be an initial challenge. It may mean that instead of teaching a sermon series on the five traits of a mature Christ-follower, you instead identify a unique spiritual competency in five people and pair them up with a mentor. Then, through shared experiences, the apprentice learns directly from the “master” about how to cultivate her gift.
In our hyper-rational, western world, this is uncommon. But in preindustrial societies, the practice of learning a trade through real-life observation and practice (not classroom teaching) is still the norm. Why should it not be the same with spiritual growth?
Jesus wasn’t a “teacher” in the sense that we use the word today. He wasn’t a “pastor” like we have pastors today. He was a rabbi, a peripatetic proclaimer of truth that taught through his life. If you wanted to learn from Jesus, you had to actually follow him and do life with him for awhile.
For you youth workers, this idea of “Montessori discipleship” means two things:
1) You need to start facilitating experiences and stop forcing them.
2) You need to step out of the spotlight and bring in other help.
This means more than a multigenerational ministry or having adult volunteers at your youth group. It means partnering apprentices with mentors in real, adult environments that are not artificial or merely didactic. They need to be experiential learning opportunities in which competencies are explored through doing, not just talking.