I am for education. I went to school for quite some time and did a fair amount of graduate work. My wife also has a number of degrees. Needless to say, we love education and could be in school the rest of our lives. Education is good. Please don’t read this and think I am against a good education (not all education is good education).
Education as a barrier to making disciples
Education can also cause a barrier in making disciples. It *can* do this in several ways:
1 – We can make disciples in a way that is dependent on the education of the one doing the discipling. If you present things from a complex theological paradigm, you inadvertently communicate that making disciples is two generational (you and the one you disciple) and that they are not capable of making disciples like you are because they aren’t educated like you are. They will walk away from your time glad you invested in them but completely unaware of how they might do that with someone they know. Your discipleship ends with them and is not reproducible unless they decide to go to seminary and invest years and lots of money.
2 – We can learn paradigms of ministry that must be undone in order to be successful at making disciples. Many of us learn programmatic models of church ministry that aren’t really scalable and make learning discipleship difficult. We learn church size dynamics, how to deal with conflict, leadership methods that are sometimes heavily influenced by worldly models, etc. Some of these things can become so ingrained that they are hard to let go of in order to embrace another model. Homeostasis sets in – the gravity of reverting back to what you know. As you learn to make disciples it gets harder and harder to do because it isn’t what your experience pulls you back to. For example: our ministry experience often trains people to be dependent on us (job security!) but making disciples is about helping them launch to do with without you so that 4 generations in, no one has ever heard of you or are aware that you exist. That’s a win in making disciples but not the typical way we go about things. That has to be unlearned.
3 – Our method and topics of study can focus too much on what we are most interested in and that can create a divide in our group between those who get what we are talking about and those who do not. I once had a discipleship group and one of the members was extremely bright and well studied. Another member was just getting their feet wet with Jesus. After a few weeks of the advanced student and I bantering about 500 level topics, I finally realized that we had left our other friend in the dust. We had to course correct and save those discussions for another time when it wouldn’t communicate to our friend that this level of understanding is what is required to do it right. Again, this ends up being un-reproducible among those you are discipling and it can easily make someone jump ship. Rather than starting with where people are and going from there, we might have a more educated group member we jive with who has higher level questions and comments that we thrive on and end up in a conversation with a discipleship group member that leaves everyone else wondering what on earth we are talking about. It is enjoyable to us but it is not beneficial to the group.
I hope you will study your entire life. I hope you will even be able to go to seminary if you have the chance. But let us always be driven by so much love for those we disciple that we are able to discern what they really need and they don’t typically need a 500 level theology course as their introduction to Jesus!
Second, make sure to tease apart what you are interested in and what they really need to learn and obey…between what you enjoy doing (study and teach) and what they really need (to learn, obey, serve, share, etc).
Third, we have a paradigm that values learning/knowledge over obedience. If you have learned it, that’s the goal! We think. But that isn’t what Jesus taught us. Jesus taught us that obedience matters. For those of us who love to teach we need to make sure that we are emphasizing faithfulness to the learning (obedience) and not just cramming more facts into people’s heads without the corresponding call to live according and commitments made to do so.
We need the theologically educated and we should never be anti-intellectual. God gave us brains and it is good stewardship to grow in our knowledge. But make sure that as you grow in knowledge you are also living faithfully to what you are learning so that your growth in faithfulness tracks with your growth in understanding.
We truly don’t understand what we do not live.
PS – If you want a degree that focuses on learning relevant competencies, check out Lipscombs Competency Based Education Master of Arts in Christian Ministry that is online with local application. They have a discipleship track.