One evening last year, my youngest son, ten years old at the time, ran himself a bath. He’d been in for a little while when, with his permission, I nipped in to grab something I needed from the bathroom cupboard. I noticed he had added plenty of bubble bath and also that he was in the middle of washing his hair. He had a good amount of lather on his head, yet also quite a lot on his shoulders. When I asked him about it, he said he was just following the ‘instructions’ on the shampoo bottle. It was at this point I realised he was using my regular brand of shampoo, Head & Shoulders. Yes, it’s precisely what you’re probably thinking. He’d seen the name and thought you literally had to wash not only your head but your shoulders as well! We all had a good chuckle about it later.
In more recent months, we’ve started using an iPhone app to give our kids little jobs around the house. They tick off the jobs on their phone when done and pocket money is paid accordingly at the end of the week. The amount paid is dependent on the percentage of tasks accomplished. The app even gives them interest payments every month when they have managed to save money. Let me describe that more accurately, I pay interest to them using the app, but the app figures out the amount! Making them use the app for jobs that they didn’t do much of beforehand has brought to light that they didn’t know how to do some of jobs well, or even at all. Jobs such as: How to fill the dishwasher correctly and where stuff goes when it needs emptying. How to use the vacuum cleaner and how to unblock it.
The simple fact is that children don’t learn how to do stuff by some strange kind of osmosis, absorbing our knowledge just by living with us. Teachers at school might teach them how to spell and do maths and science, but it’s up to parents and careers to teach them how to the ordinary or little things correctly.
It’s the same throughout our lives. Rarely, for example, do we know how to perform well in a new job immediately. We need training, and experience over time, to get good or even competent at what we’re being asked to do. We might need to go over stuff many times. We might need to ask the same kind of question over and over to enable us to hold onto the knowledge that’s being shared.
In our culture, we might think of this as a kind of mentoring. Mentorship can be defined as a relationship in which an experienced or more knowledgeable person helps guide a less experienced or less knowledgeable person.
The Bible contains a word that might be described as being similar to this, it’s called discipleship. But when the Bible talks about discipleship, it’s talking about something much deeper than just passing on knowledge or experience. It’s talking about a person known as the disciple actively learning to imitate the life and teaching of the master (discipler). A Wikipedia entry on discipleship describes it as a “deliberate apprenticeship which makes the disciple a fully-formed copy of the master.” Jesus Christ is the most famous example of someone who is a discipler, and His close circle of 12 being the most famous of disciples.
Jesus commands all who follow Him to continue to make disciples of all nations. Those of us who believe have a responsibility to do all we can to become more like Christ. To not only imitate Him but to live life from such a deep connection with Christ that we become a fully-formed copy of Him. As we do, we pass on through our teaching, and show in our lives, what it is to be a mature believer. It’s worth noting that I think a sign of maturity in a believer is that they never want to stop learning, and they never think they have it all together. They value the practice of asking good questions.
Imagine my youngest son in twenty years still washing his head and his shoulders because someone had never taken the time to teach him how to read correctly or, without malice, described to him what the bottle of shampoo really meant. That situation sounds absurd, doesn’t it? But we all need help with the small and seemingly mundane. Think of the new student arriving at a university hall of residence needing to ring back home for help because they don’t know how to use a washing machine or boil an egg! It sounds like a cliche, but cliches often become that because they are based on repeated truth.
So who are you discipling? Who are you sharing not only your knowledge with, but sharing your life with? Who are you investing into so much that they take on some of who you are, those characteristics of Christ?
Are you submitting your life to another? You’ve submitted your life to Christ already if you’re a Christian. Still, if we are to follow His command of making disciples then surely it must follow that we are someone’s disciple while on Earth, submitting to someone who is helping us grow spiritually?
If we learn, we grow. And the Bible, through Christ, shows us how we do that in the best way possible.