In hisbook about discipleship1, Mike Brean speaks of three basic ways that we learn:
We assimilate information. It may be in the form of a book or a lecture or a video. We listen or watch and hopefully recall what we have learnt. Our education systems in the west largely reflect this way of learning.
We learn through apprenticeship. We can read a book about how to change a plug, but to watch someone who knows how to do the task is a far more effective way of learning
We learn through immersion. This is a far more subtle form of learning. It involves people being emerged into a culture, which by the very act of immersion into that culture, creates a context for learning and change. Mike Brean says that this requires two things of that culture. First, that it is easily accessible; second, that the culture is fluent. That is, it behaves in ways that understand, articulate and live the culture.
Of course, good learning requires a complex interplay between all of these three ways in which we learn. The first two ways of learning will be reinforced by a healthy culture in which people learn simply from being a part of it.
Thinking about our discipleship learning, I suspect we live with the fantasy that simply feeding people information sermons, books, etc. will, somehow of itself, lead to people deepening their faith. The evidence that such an approach wont just lead to stuck Christians is there to see.
Do we need to think more about apprentice type learning? Can we honestly claim that our local church is a culture where we learn simply by immersion into that community what being a discipleship looks like.
The Rabbinic Jewish tradition of learning was in schools of learning where the aspiration was not just to imbibe information, (though it certainly was that) but also to become like the rabbi from whom the disciples were learning.
Mike Brean says that if you do church you wont get disciples, but if you do discipleship you get church!
In a world that is highly visually oriented, we might ask whether the world needs to see what the Christian life looks like. God's great plan was that people would look at the Church, the new community of God's people, and see how the Christian life works out.
We have a witness as individual Christians, but we also have a witness as local churches. Are we as welcoming as we imagine? Is coming to our church tantamount to asking people to enter a culture it is bewildering to people who have no cultural background of Church? More worryingly are there churches where relationships are so adversarial that actually to immerse someone in them would be to harm them. Sadly I fear that may be the case.
One of the smart things about that Rabbinic culture, which Jesus built on, was that we learn better in community. Jesus spent time with the three, Peter, James and John, the twelve disciples and he briefed the seventy in Luke 10 before he sent them out to do ministry, not simply to talk about it.
I think discipleship is a critical issue for us to engage with in our churches. Superficial commitment to Jesus will not persuade an increasingly hostile public that Christianity has anything to offer. Neither will simple devotion to the Church be attractive. We are followers of Jesus.
People really do need to see what that looks like.