I hate failing. Being the perfectionist that I am, I’m never satisfied with anything less than my best, let alone, flat-out failure. And what’s worse than failing is failing in front of other people. Why? Because it exposes my inadequacies and I hate feeling inadequate.
When exploring the ministry of Jesus we find that there is a threefold manner in which He makes disciples. You might say it looks like this:
There are many different places in the gospels where Jesus teaches His disciples and passes along information (Matt. 5, Luke 6, John 13-15). And there are definite times when Jesus sends out His disciples to take what they have learned from Him and be innovative in spreading the gospel to others (Matt. 10). But when He calls the disciples, above all else, He first calls them to simply be with Him and to learn to do what He does (Mark 3v14). He is calling the disciples into an imitative relationship.
In the Jesus model of discipleship, the imitation piece is crucial. Having the right information and having an innovative spirit, with no imitation, can be a recipe for disaster. It would be like an innovative/creative person reading a book on how to do brain surgery, then walk into an operating room thinking they are ready to perform an actual brain surgery. Maybe that is a bit extreme but you get the point. Anyone who does any surgery of any kind goes through an intense process of working alongside surgeons who have been doing surgery for years before they ever do a surgery on their own. The imitation piece is crucial.
As I think through my up bringing in church, I recall a strong emphasis on teaching and knowing the word. I also remember being exposed to all sorts of innovative and creative ways of reaching people with the gospel. But I have very few memories of anyone inviting me to apprentice them as they live out their calling to follow Jesus.
I wonder if one of the reasons we don’t make disciples is because we are afraid of having people imitate us? And if that’s the case, I would venture to say there are two reasons why we’re afraid of people imitating us.
1) Maybe there isn’t anything in our life worth imitating? Maybe the sum total of our faith is church attendance, in which case we don’t actually spend time with Jesus in order to learn from Jesus to do what Jesus does. And in that case, since we aren’t learners, we can’t be expected to lead anyone else?
2) However, my guess is that most people reading this blog do spend time with Jesus and are learners from Jesus. So that leads me to my second reason. Perhaps we are afraid of having people imitate us because we are afraid of failing. And more over, failing in front of others. As mentioned above, no one likes their inadequacies to be exposed.
In college I was a tutor. I tutored in anatomy and physiology. I tutored at the same time I was enrolled in the class myself. I can remember the first time one of my students that I was tutoring, did better than I did on a test. Quite a bit better at that. I believe I got a C and she got and A. And notice I said, “the first time…” it happened more than once by different students.
On one level you could say that I failed, right? In our way of thinking, the teacher is always to be ahead of the student. But not in the way of Jesus, discipleship is in fact the opposite. The purpose of discipleship is to train up people to actually surpass what it is you are doing. This even happened with Jesus. In John 14 as Jesus is teaching the disciples before He makes His way to the cross He says,
“I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14v12)
Did Jesus fail? Was Jesus inadequate? No. Jesus knew that in order for His movement to flourish and to grow His disciples needed to take what He was doing to the next level. He was preparing them all along the way to surpass what it was He was doing.
This is what discipleship is all about. Jesus’ words in John 14 carry the assumptions that in order for His disciples to do what He did, they first had to be with Him in such a capacity that they could see, imitate and do what He was doing.
This also gives us incredible freedom not to be the “expert.” Jesus is the expert not us. Therefore, we don’t have to be afraid of feeling inadequate or feeling like a failure when our disciples surpass us. If Jesus is the expert and He set His disciples up to surpass Him, shouldn’t we do the same?
Also, we don’t need to put the pressure on ourselves to think we have to have it all figured out. If we are setting up people to surpass us, we should expect to lean on others in the process, even those we are discipling.
So a few closing questions:
1. Is there anything in your relationship with Christ right now that others would want to imitate?
2. What relationships have you had or do you have where you imitate and apprentice someone else as you follow Christ together?
3. Who are those currently in your life who you think you would want to imitate?