One of the pivotal moments in any story is the point at which the master sends the student out on their own. All of the training, practice, and instruction culminate with this point of sending and the questions of whether they will make it and whether the training will all pay off. If you don’t have an example already in mind, think of the scene from Karate Kid where Mr. Miyagi signs up Daniel as a black belt for the tournament.
This point of sending is the fourth and final point in the Peopling Framework side of our Discipling Imprint. On some level, it is the logical end point for the ideas discussed in our earlier post on why we do Missions: if you are going to make disciples who follow Christ, then at some point you will have to release those disciples to follow the command to make disciples. However, it would be a mistake to assume that this point merely means that at some point disciples will move on. Instead, it informs the rest of the discipling imprint by giving a target for the other facets to shoot towards. In my experience, there are two different ways people respond to this target: Insulation and the Exploration.
The Insulation response, knowing that sending disciples out is sending them into a dangerous place, tries to keep students gathered with the leaders and insulated from the outside world as long as possible. The goal is to use this time to pump their disciples as full of knowledge and arguments as they can so that they will leave with a defensive shield of Scripture stuff that will not be penetrated by any divergent ideology. As a new dad thinking about the training of his children, I can appreciate the pull of this mindset. After all, we want to keep our disciples safe and help them avoid the terrible decisions and ideologies which are “out there.”
At the same time, this insulating tactic has several significant flaws which can lead to its undoing. Disciples which are being insulated from the world generally learn everything through an intermediary, making that intermediary their source of grounding, continued growth, and stability. In point of fact, God has been replaced with the person or group pushing their growing forward. Very often, their confidence in their faith is tied to their proximity to the teacher or resources which served to ground them.
Added to this is the fact that ideas don’t work like viruses. You cannot present a disciple with a neutered form of a bad idea and expect them to then be inoculated from the real-world version when they run into it. Or, for that matter, from a mutated, similar, but slightly morphed version of the idea. When you are insulating your disciple though, it is very tempting to present neutered versions of bad ideas. Anything that is messy, complicated, or nuanced has the potential to leave confusion and questions about the validity of the positions they are being taught to espouse. Weak arguments from the other side, which are easily refuted, give a much greater sense of confidence for you and your disciple.
The combination of these two facets, though, leaves disciples which are severely handicapped when it comes to spreading the Gospel to the world around them. Not only have they been ill equipped to effectively engage with their neighbors’ ideas, they have also not been adequately grounded to deal with challenges and questions which they cannot immediately answer. When the world isn’t as neat and tidy as their training lead them to believe, these disciples are often left with a real crisis of faith.
Which is why we lean in the other direction. Knowing that our disciples will be leaving us at some point, we strive to help them learn to navigate their faith without us. That is, rather than becoming the dispensary for God’s Word and direction for them, we help them to discover and utilize the means and opportunities available to them to learn from God. To quote the old sports adage, “the best defense is a good offense.” Rather than huddling in to avoid the attacks from other worldviews, we show disciples how to keep moving forward in their own faith. In the end, because they have been equipped to make their faith their own, and have experienced learning directly from God, they are in a much better place to weather the storms of struggle and doubt that life brings. Their faith is grounded on the actual life line, their relationship with God, not on the mediated life line of what we said the relationship with God should look like.
Avoiding a “holy huddle” also includes finding times and places to send your disciples out to start serving the people around them. We get a picture of this in Luke, where Jesus several times sends out groups of disciples. As we compare the accounts in 9:1-6, 10; and 10:1- 2, 17 notice that the disciples came back. The sending was not a rite of passage—it was part of their training. Go, serve, come back, debrief. As real world service brings up questions that the abstract classroom could not, there are new opportunities to walk with disciples as they bring those questions back to God.
Coming at this idea of sending and mission from a final angle is the example of John the Baptist. “He must increase, but I must decrease” is one of the better known phrases in the Bible, but it has particular relevance to discipleship. The question that prompts John’s response has embedded in it the implication that Jesus is muscling in on John’s turf, taking away John’s followers. With that context, “He must increase, but I must decrease becomes more than just a cute fortune cookie saying. It instead is the model for our entire outlook on making disciples. If we are not helping our disciples move their focus from us to Christ, then we are doing something wrong. Indeed, if our god is not big enough to care for our disciples, if we must be the ones who solely shoulder the burden to protect them from nefarious influences and teaching, then perhaps our god was not worth them following in the first place.
And so, your mission, should you choose to accept it: Help your disciples see God. And, as they see Him, facilitate them following His call to go. Some might need just encouragement and release, and some might need a bit of a push—but they all go if they have learned to follow their King.
What has been your experiences with good and bad focuses on Mission?
What are some of the options your current group of disciples has to go and serve people around them?
Often a person, but sometimes it could be a book or an organization.
John 3:30. Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standad Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Aka, so vague as to be applicable to almost anything.