Subcontracting discipleship

Turkeys are not known for their intelligence. But I did not realize how much help they need until my older son, who is quite knowledgeable about sustainable farming, informed me that even chickens can teach turkeys how to survive and thrive. Turkey chicks, called poults, tend to lack basic life skills such as knowing when to eat, drink and stay warm. When left to themselves, they have a tendency to commit involuntary turkicide at alarmingly high rates. Joel Salatin, who runs nationally known Polyface Farms in Virginia, has discovered how to remedy this problem. He found that when raised in a ratio of one poult to five chicks, the poults learn to survive young turkeyhood at much higher rates than if left to themselves.

Admittedly, a 5 to 1 teacher to student ratio is rather high. Aren’t we thankful that our children’s schools don’t require that? You thought education costs are high now!

I am in no way comparing the intelligence of people to that of birds, but in an odd way this tidbit of animal husbandry suggests how churches should change their approach to discipleship. David Platt’s book Radical, introduced in my last post, points out that by virtue of Christ’s command to make disciples of all nations, all of us are expected to be teachers. Don’t panic. That doesn’t mean speaking in front of a group, (said to be the number one fear of most people). But the Great Commission command to “teach them to observe all things that I have commanded you,” means that every Christian is called to teach someone.

Platt asks a few simple questions to make his point. “What would be the most effective way for [a] new follower of Christ to learn to pray? To sign her up for a one-hour-a-week class on prayer? Or to invite her personally into your quiet time with God to teach her how to pray?” He asks similar questions about teaching new Christians how to study the Bible. Other potential lessons of discipleship abound.

In many cases, new Christians coming into churches don’t even have the limited benefit of a class on prayer, on how to study the Bible, or how to lead someone to faith in Christ. All too often, discipleship is equated with Sunday School classes, which may or may not offer relevant group instruction. Even the addition of special group classes perpetuates the impression that discipleship depends on a program rather than a personal process.

I am not completely opposed to such special classes. In fact I have taught a few myself. But if the Bible teaches a discipleship program at all, it undoubtedly is the “one another” program. This requires our time, our personal attention and our faithfulness. Though it’s not a flattering comparison, Christians, like turkeys, require a lot of personal attention if they are to thrive. That applies to all of us, whether new or experienced believer.

Were we to act on Platt’s prodding, how would that change our outlook and practices? How would it affect our prayers, our Bible study, or how we see unbelievers with whom we have contact? If we didn’t depend on the “experts” in our congregations to do all the teaching, would it change why we go to church? What would happen if we started practicing discipleship the way Jesus taught?   

Special note:

My post “The end of the world” led to an extended conversation thread with one reader (“Heartspeak”), who disagreed with me on the importance of membership in a local church and what that entails. His thoughtful comments should challenge all of us to think carefully about our beliefs and practices. Others are welcome to read and add to the conversation.

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4 Responses to Subcontracting discipleship

  1. eric says:

    I find it so easy to slip into the mindset you mention, thinking “discipleship is covered by the ‘New Christians class’ or the pastors and deacons.” As I read through the Psalms, I’m struck by how many times, the Psalmist talks about praising God in the congregation and declaring his Word among the people. I’ve thought of this in connection with praising God during the worship service, but putting this together with what you are talking about, I realize that personally praising God and sharing his Word with each other, new and old Christians is exactly what is meant. We all are responsible for discipling each other.

    Also, I appreciated the way the conversation with Heartspeak has been uplifting and Christ-centered.


  2. Michelle says:

    Thanks you for my morning devotions, Stephen. Of course, I will further read in the Scriptures but my take away for today is to identify some people (5?) I should make sure I am encouraging in the faith. I think if I am more purposeful to do that, I will be more effective at getting it done.

    I know much work goes into blogging, and I appreciate (and read!) your every post.


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