I’ve forgotten most of what I heard in my college Christian education classes, but one class rocked my world. That day a guest lecturer made an innocent-sounding yet subversive observation: “Jesus’ methods are just as much a part of the gospel as his message.” How we make disciples, he claimed, is just as critical as what we teach. That sentence blew up most of what I thought I knew about Christian education.
“A disciple is not above his teacher,” Jesus said, “but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40, ESV). Jesus did not say a fully trained disciple would know everything the teacher knows; he said the student would be like the teacher.
The essence of disciple-making is not communicating information, but transformation. If Jesus’ goal had been to teach his disciples as much knowledge as possible as fast as possible, he probably would have started a school. But he had a different goal, and so chose a different strategy: “He appointed twelve…that they might be with him” (Mark 3:14, ESV).
This single sentence captures Jesus’ deceptively simple strategy. Jesus’ goal was for his disciples to be like him. So he chose twelve to be with him. They would go where he went, sleep where he slept, watch as he healed, listen as he taught, ask questions, and work alongside him.
Did this “with him” strategy work? When Peter and John were arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin, Luke says: “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13, NIV). Jesus chose twelve to be with him. The only way the Sanhedrin could explain the wisdom of these unschooled men was that they had been with Jesus. It worked!
Well, you might say, that’s fine for Jesus, but I’m not comfortable setting myself up as an example. Yet Paul says, “Be imitators of me as I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1, ESV). Knowing full well that he followed Christ’s example imperfectly, how could he urge others to follow his example? Larry Richards explains:
We will not be able to model perfectly, as Jesus did, the character that is to become ours. What then do believers model…? We model for one another the process of transformation. We can afford to let ourselves be known as imperfect persons, for in revealing our imperfection we also reveal the ministry which the Holy Spirit is performing in working His progressive change![i]
To make disciples, we don’t have to have arrived. We just have to be real about the journey.
Modeling transformation means letting others in on both our struggles and victories, inviting them to witness the “during” of the transformation process as well as the “after.” How well do you model the process of transformation for those you lead?
(This post is adapted from THE MORE-WITH-LESS CHURCH by Eddy Hall, Ray Bowman, and J. Skipp Machmer [Baker 2014], pp. 35-38.)
 Lawrence O. Richards, Christian Education (Zondervan, 1975), p.45. Italics original.