3DM’s Mike Breen likes to say that if you focus on doing church, you’ll never get round to making disciples — and your church won’t be very good either. But if you focus on making disciples — what Jesus said to focus on — then you’ll get disciples, and you’ll get church along the way.
Hold that thought.
We all can agree, I think, that it’s important for ministers to be trained, and that there are varying degrees and types of training needed. Not everybody needs to know Greek and Hebrew, but we certainly need some that do. Not everybody needs to have a solid grounding in how to minister to the homeless population, but we certainly need some that do. And so on.
In our culture, we default to preparation that involves a lot of time spent in a classroom, which at first glance seems strange. In the classroom, we are constantly seeking to import real-life scenarios, bring in guest speakers, or send the students out on internships in order to get them some real-world experience. The classroom is very far removed from the front-line realities of ministry; why did we ever think it was a good venue for preparing people for ministry?
The removal from front-line reality, of course. Withdrawing to the classroom permits time for discussion, reflection, long debates about the varying merits of different approaches to this and that. In real life, you very often don’t have time for that. You shoot up a quick prayer, make a decision, and if it’s wrong, you fix it as best you can on the fly. For exactly that reason, it’s a good idea to have made most of your big philosophy of ministry decisions long before the specific situation arises, and that means you need a certain amount of leisure for the necessary reflection and discussion.
This is not a big surprise. Jesus “often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed” (Lu. 5:16). Jesus also withdrew with His disciples on a number of occasions (Mt. 5:1, Mar. 3:7, 13), and they traveled together, which afforded them a lot of time to discuss and debate. Becoming the sort of person that Jesus was shaping His disciples to be requires time apart, time for learning and reflection and prayer.
So…hence the classroom prep.
But are we really doing what Jesus did?
Well, there is a sense in which Jesus spent three years preparing the disciples, and then launched them into their mission. Three years’ preparation — that’s an M. Div. program, right?
Jesus was capable of erudition. He amazed the Temple academics when He was only 12, and His disciples later amazed the Sanhedrin in the same way. But he wasn’t an academic; He was out in the field. When He called the 12 disciples to follow Him, they followed Him as He preached and worked miracles — and then He sent them out to do the same. He took time apart with them, but it was always in the context of being deployed to actively do the work. The world was their classroom, and He prepared them to do what He was doing by leading them into doing it.
In seminary, professors train pastors. At its worst, the Western mentality is to find someone who’s really good at writing for other scholars, and invite him to teach pastors how to be pastors. At its best, the Western mentality goes out, finds a pastor who’s really good at what he does, and relieves him of his pastoring duties so he can spend all his time teaching pastors how to be pastors. What we don’t do is precisely what Jesus actually did: go do the work, never stop doing the work — and take a disciple along, because that’s part of the work.
We don’t do this because it’s cumbersome and labor-intensive. It takes one pastor/mentor for every student or three, and the pastors already have enough to do. You’ve got to use so many mentors that quality control is effectively impossible. And what would the accreditation process look like? But this is just to say that Jesus’ process for reproducing leaders is not amenable to the metrics of factory production. Why would that cause us to abandon what Jesus did? The goal isn’t to make ball bearings; it’s to make more people like Jesus.
I want to suggest that if we focus on making disciples, and we really have a full-orbed understanding of what a disciple is — if we focus on that bullseye, then we will get all the erudition we need. Jesus certainly did. But we’ll get it from people who are doing the work, and new disciples will develop it in the context of doing the work themselves, which will mean far less silliness and a lot more love. (Which will be the subject of next week’s post.)