Education has changed. People who grew up on Sesame Street and Blues Clues and now entertain themselves with YouTube videos resist sitting in neat rows listening to someone talk. Schools have adapted. Education has become more interactive and utilizes multiple forms of media simultaneously—sound, movement, images, and words together. Lecturing and orderly outlines don’t resonate with younger folks much anymore. The church could learn something from this as we attempt to disciple people.
M. Rex Weber (The Millennium Matrix: Reclaiming the Past, Reframing the Future of the Church) writes about “Impartational Discipleship” where the church takes on the dynamic of a family in which the more experienced (normally parents and grandparents) impart to the less experienced (normally the children) what they have learned from their journey. This means that we disciple people in the same way we raise our children. We do not weekly sit our children down, give them a lecture on moral development, safety, and good hygiene and then send them out for the week. Rather we walk with them through their lives helping them draw lessons from their successes and failures. We listen to what is happening in them and around them and then help them sort out their decisions and weigh competing values. Impartational discipleship is like that. David Kinnaman wrote that disciples are handmade one at a time; they cannot be mass produced. Growing in faith and obedience is not a classroom exercise; it is a lab project. The church provides the graduate students who supervise the experience. Note that those supervising are students themselves, still learning and growing. Those teaching others demonstrate what faith looks like. This makes discipleship an interactive enterprise rather than a passing on of information. Another way of putting it is, we hang out together and make sense of what is happening in our lives and sort out what faithfulness might look like in our situation.
Does this sound innovative or ring of something you have read of someplace else? I’ll give you a few hints. Paul wrote: “Indeed, in Christ Jesus I became your father through the Gospel. I appeal to you then, be imitators of me [1 Cor. 4:15-16]” and “To Timothy my true son in the faith [1 Tim. 1:2].” And what about the three years Jesus spent with his disciples, helping them draw instructive lessons at the growth edges of their lives? His preference was to ask probing questions rather than to lecture. He demonstrated daily what obedience and love and justice looked like. The disciples were to take note and do the same. Jesus was the master practitioner of impartational discipleship. Life was the lab, and his follower were his students.
Yes, what is old is new again. It was there all the time.
Executive Minister-American Baptist Churches of New York State