Disciples are Learners
The term for “disciple” in the original Greek is mathetes, a term that etymologically means “learner” and is based on the same root as the term “mathematics”. The Greek term “mathema” means study, knowledge, or learning.
It is easy to believe that the word discipleship means only to create new disciples, but that is far from the truth. The term also implies to be a disciple as well. It has both active and passive meanings, and for Christians of any denomination, discipleship means to be a lifelong student of Jesus. For those in leadership roles within the Church, it also implies the element of teaching. This is significant because there’s much that the study of how we as humans are hardwired to learn can teach us about how to be effective teachers. It also reminds us that we must first be effective learners.
The Three Stages of Learning
Learning comes in three stages. The first stage is the classroom setting in which information and facts are passed on to students. The second is the apprenticeship stage in which students acquire practical knowledge or skill from someone who has already learned those skills. The third is the immersion stage, which never really ends. Learners in this stage learn by doing, experiencing, and applying the knowledge that they’ve been given.
While the first stage of lectures and facts has its purpose, there are significant limitations to what can be accomplished by passing on information alone. The apprentice stage is vital to the overall process because it’s the very practice that will prepare one for the immersion phase. The apprentice stage involves actually means employing some of the skills that are learned under the guidance of one who has been practicing the trade for years.
But most of the learning happens in the final immersion stage. Consider the fact that the first two stages aren’t required for a toddler to learn how to speak. The toddler intuits the entire process simply by being immersed in it.
Discipleship as a Process of Learning and Teaching
Immersion works effectively when everyone in a group is fluent in something. More often than not, even Church leaders struggle with the realities of creating disciples. That is, in fact, the mission. Creating a culture of discipleship is the goal, because this allows the learning to happen more naturally, but the didactic and apprenticeship stages of learning are still key to imbuing others with the knowledge of making disciples.
The majority of Churches get stuck in the didactic phase. One or two Church members may themselves understand the process, and there may be a few that desire to learn it, but there is little effort put into creating a culture of discipleship. Yet as we can all readily intuit, it is precisely that which fosters the growth of our churches.
It is this strategy that we at 3DM Publishing seek to understand and have intended to make pracitcal by creating tools and resources such as Building a Discipling Culture. It is more than merely learning through instruction, and learning by example. It goes beyond both of those stages. The instruction must become a part of us, and a part of our very being. For more information, please visit our website.