A Rector Goes Back to Elementary School      (by Jon Shuler​​)

It is one thing to learn a new thing, it is another thing altogether to change a behavior learned over a lifetime. I established the right purpose for the new ministry, I have no doubt, and set worthy standards and goals. But I had still to realize that to make a disciple means more than being a teacher. It means someone learns to imitate you as a disciple-maker. We created a wonderful profusion of little groups that largely imitated the life of the very system I was trying to escape from. How was this so?

The groups almost to a fault became microcosms of the bigger parish. I hoped for disciple-making small groups but we developed small fellowship and learning groups. This was not intentional, so how did this happen? I knew the new leaders and their apprentices needed to be coached into new behaviors, so I established another class! Once a month I met with all the leaders, and after songs of praise and prayer I taught a lesson focused on some skill necessary to be a good group leader. We then broke them into small “huddles” to discuss that week’s lesson and any other matter arising from the past month’s ministry in their groups. At first we developed another night for Apprentice Leaders to meet, but we soon were asked to fold them into the Leader’s night , and so we did. It felt so good to the rector to have multiple dozens of men and women coming on a Monday night and leading small groups. I did not see what was happening.

There is no way that I would wish to undo much of what transpired over the next several years. This new addition to parish life became the most dynamic and exciting ministry opportunity for our people. Good and godly activities sprouted everywhere for a season. But what I did not see, or understand, was that the small groups were becoming as limited in their understanding of disciple-making as the whole church had been. Leaders who excelled in the work established little groups who looked forward to their leading and teaching. They brought what I taught monthly to their groups, and they became  versions of the old saw: “We four and no more.” They did not multiply. They became “teaching and fellowship” gatherings, not kingdom spreading groups. And the reason was the limited understanding of the rector.

The content of my teaching was on target, but my understanding of the difference between teaching and training was still lacking. People who are trained begin to exercise the new behaviors, but those who are only taught become eager for more teaching. I did not see that there is no shortcut to making a disciple-making disciple. It requires time and persistence, and always presupposes a person wanting to learn the new behavior alongside someone who already is living it. Someone wanting to be a doer and not a hearer only, must spend time with someone who already is. We found it easy to gather those who would read another book, attend another fellowship meeting, even engage a new ministry task, but not learning to be disciple-making disciples. And why? The students become like the teacher.

 

Next Week: A Rector Goes to Junior High School

 

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