Most of what I learned about discipleship was wrong. Here is how I learned it. It is sort of like how I learned to ride a bicycle. My dad took me out into a vacant parking lot, held the back of the bike, pushed, and told me to peddle. After a while, that magical force that holds up bicycles (to this day I don’t understand what that is) grabbed my bicycle and my dad let go. I continued to peddle and ride all the while thinking that my dad was holding me up. Just to be sure, I turned around, and to my surprise, my dad was what looked to me like a country mile down the road. Immediately, I fell down. A few more rounds around the parking lot, however, and I was riding all by myself. I no longer needed my dad to hold me up. This is how I learned to ride a bicycle and this is how I learned to disciple someone.
Here is how it works. At first, I hold the bicycle. I teach you how to read the Bible and pray and memorize scripture. Then I ask you to do it at some prescribed level. You agree to do it. I hold you accountable, which means, a week later, I ask you if you prayed and read the Bible and memorized scripture. I continue to hold the bicycle by holding you accountable for a time–perhaps a year or two. The idea is that eventually a magic force will get a hold of you (analogous to the force that holds a bicycle up) and you will be able to pray and read the Bible and memorize scripture for the rest of your life without any supporting external influences. I no longer believe this to be true. Let me tell you why.
I work at a home office. I am a self-employed, independent seminar presenter and church consultant. I am gone a couple of days a week, but the rest of the time, I work for myself out of my home office. No one tells me what to do, when to do it, or how to do it. Like lots of self-employed people in the home office revolution, I am my own boss and manage my own life. If I want to take the day off, I do so without checking with anyone. If I want to work till 2:00 a.m., that is my choice. And, I love it. If I ever have to go to work in a real office again, I think I might die.
I was talking to a friend about this the other day and he startled me with his reaction. “I could never do what you do,” he stated flatly. “If I tried, here is what would happen. I would sleep in, sip coffee over the morning paper for too long, flip channels and catch up on the news and next thing you know it would be noon and I would not have done a cotton-picking thing. And here is the deal, Josh. I think more people are like me rather than like you.”
I think he is right, and I think there is a lesson here in Christian discipleship. More people are like my friend John, than are like me, spiritually. That is, most people need ongoing, life-long external influences to remind them and encourage them to do the things they want to do, and need to do to grow in Christ.
Josh Hunt. (2000). Enjoying God. Josh Hunt.