I recently came across this post lamenting the disappearance of apprenticeship-based learning. I was never the best at tennis, but I remember that I got to a point of learning where a group setting was no longer ideal. I had a private coach because that was the most effective way to really progress.
This idea of 1:1 teaching/learning by doing used to be the norm, especially in the marketplace. The piece begins with the assertion:
Once upon a time, we learned only by doing. A quality education meant finding an expert to take you under his or her wing. Whether you wanted to be a blacksmith or a shoemaker, the ultimate break was ultimately a relationship. In exchange, your capacity would be stretched. You would learn in real-time, soaking up the knowledge through trial and error. You would learn the trade in practice rather than theory. You would also build a network and gain respect based on your performance rather than any sort of degree.
Though the article’s focus is not the Christian life, I can’t help but think of the parallels. We often think of “the Great Commission” in terms of evangelism, but what does Jesus really say we are to be about? Consider Matthew 28:18-20:
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
Discipleship is at the core of who we are and what we are to be about. We have been entrusted with the Gospel and we are to pass it along. But this raises the question about how this is best achieved. Are disciples best made in a class-room setting? Knowledge is certainly a part of discipleship but it is not the totality. We often seem to believe that once we pass along a certain amount of knowledge, we have done our part.
But the best way to learn tennis is not in a classroom. You have to get out on the court and play. You have to learn from your mistakes and this happens best when you have someone there with you every step of the way, someone who knows your tendencies and who can call you out when you fall back into old patterns, someone who can correct your swing and urge to you continue when you feel like quitting.
This seems to be exactly the idea the New Testament presents of the community of faith growing together in real-life time. Paul urges older men and women to mentor younger people (Titus 2) and to gently correct one another when we fall into sin (Galatians 6:1-2).
All of this has prompted a series of questions I’ve been thinking through. Are disciples best made in institutions or daily life? Has the American church done well in making disciples? Why or why not? If yes, what can we learn? If not, what can we learn? What do you think? I wonder if our churches might look different if life-on-life discipleship was at the center of what we did? Would we still seek to fill classrooms multiple nights of the week? Would Sunday morning be the main-point of our weeks? Or might we actually try to live life together, holding each other accountable, learning together in community on mission? What if the bulk of responsibility to do “the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:11-13) is not on paid staff but on the saints? Would paid ministers approach their “work” differently if convinced that their goal was to equip the saints, to, in a sense, work themselves out of a job? Would church plants still need a year of fundraising before “launching”? What does it even mean to “launch” a church if Sunday morning is no our organizing principle? If discipleship is our aim and not Sunday morning, should the amount of time and energy that go into making Sunday morning “go off” well be changed? I could go on but I won’t. What do you think?