Beginner, novice, apprentice and then...

1/20/2012

By Dr. Brad Brady

It will not surprise those of you who know me to read this confession:  I am not a plumber or electrician or mechanically inclined in any way!  I have several hilarious stories about previous attempts of trying the most routine projects only to end up with extra parts and non-functioning equipment.

Recently, I tried another project.  This time, I went to YouTube and searched for a video intended to guide a first-time “self-helper” to do a basic plumbing repair.  I watched two or three videos from different presenters.  I learned how to diagnose the problem and what new parts were needed.

With problem diagnosed, new parts and necessary tools in hand, I turned off the water supply and started the “repair.”  Praying without ceasing, I moved slowly and carefully—remembering some of my past repair attempts gone awry.

As you would expect, things did not come apart as easily as they did for the folks teaching on the videos.  I went back and forth to the video clips to see details I missed. Finally, (I mean 45-60 minutes later) I had the old part off.  It took the experts only five minutes for the entire project!

Now, after watching the replacement steps one more time, I started putting the new parts in place.  Slowly, carefully, with multiple un-dos and re-dos, I finished.  As you would predict, there was a not-so-slow leak when I turned on the water supply.  After a few more twists, the project was completed.

I know you have been wondering where this article is going, so here is the connection.  I thought back to this repair project recently while reading about how we human beings ideally learn new information and skills.

Mike Breen observes that we learn best when we progress through stages of instruction, apprenticeship, and then immersion.  In my plumbing repair episode, I missed the apprenticeship stage and went directly from instruction to immersion.  There was no safety net and I don’t feel like I am any more qualified as a plumber.  I was just lucky (and extremely blessed) things didn’t go awry. 

Of course, Breen was not writing about plumbing.  His e-book, “Building a Discipleship Culture,” talks about the important process of faith development and disciple formation.  Breen takes this basic learning progression and applies it to our efforts of guiding spiritual beginners through the proven stages that lead to mature disciples of Jesus Christ.

Most congregations and spiritual leaders have the first stage of offering instruction down to a science.  We proclaim the gospel through word, song, visual image, PowerPoint, DVDs, and repeated explanation.  We offer this instruction in classrooms, in sanctuaries, in fellowship halls, in homes, on the Internet, and in just about any place a person can receive it.

For most, our instruction is a one-way transmission of information: very few opportunities exist for genuine dialog to clarify meaning, to test comprehension, or to guide the emerging disciple in the practical application of the faith concepts into his/her life.

Next, Breen observes we learn best and develop in discipleship when we apprentice under someone who is more experienced and more proficient in spiritual things.  Apprentices watch as the coach expresses and lives out faith in a variety of settings and circumstances.  After instruction and observation the emerging disciple attempts to apply what he/she has learned under the watchful eye of the spiritual coach. 

Apprenticeship is much less formal than our lectures and sermons.  Apprenticeship is a dynamic laboratory experience with much more conversation and with deeper connection between student and coach.  These coaching moments are filled with the trial and error, and with the many starts and restarts that come in real life.  Apprenticeship is conducted intentionally in a safe environment and yields mutual learning by apprentice and coach.

After a season of instruction and apprenticeship, we are ready for immersion.  That might mean we lead a small group or class, or we organize a service project, or we visit the hospital, or we invite someone to faith, or we engage in any of the thousands of expressions of risk-taking service.  The coach turns us loose with a foundation of basic knowledge and faith experiences and the ever-present Holy Spirit to venture out own our own as an ambassador of Christ.

Jesus, the Master Teacher, followed this same pattern when he developed disciples.  There are many biblical examples of Jesus teaching the spiritual concepts (the multitudes and the 12), coaching (the 12, the 3 in the inner circle, and 1-on-1), and sending the disciples out for their immersion experiences (2 by 2, and the 70).

Do you and your congregation have this holistic pattern for disciple-formation?  Do you instruct, intentionally coach, and then launch people into immersion experiences?

For most, we depend heavily on instruction and immersion.  We received little and we offer little coaching, which allows emerging disciples to apprentice with a more seasoned disciple. 

If making disciples could be completely accomplished through one-way transmission of content (instruction) followed by turning people loose to figure it out by themselves, we would have churches full of mature followers of Jesus Christ.  But we know it is not that easy!

As we begin this New Year, will you join me in pondering our disciple-formation methods?  Will you join me in praying for God to lead us toward the right person or two that we could connect with for in depth spiritual coaching?

No doubt, we need to be coached before we coach others or else we fall in to the same old trap of jumping straight into immersion.  We all need a safe environment to develop the necessary skills and spiritual experiences that will prepare us to coach others.  A good coach will prepare us and then push us out into our immersion experience—to the spiritual benefit of those we coach and ourselves.

Dr. Brad Brady is the Assistant to the Bishop for Connectional Ministries.