Saturday, January 29, 2005

Come and Follow Me - Discipleship in the Footsteps of Jesus

In manufacturing (my day job), we have a saying, “go to the Gemba”. The Gemba is the place where the process is actually taking place and where observation and learning occurs. The phrase means that a group of engineers sitting in an office, talking and analyzing a problem, cannot discover any new learnings unless they first observe the process itself on the manufacturing floor. The phrase was developed from the observation that western engineers spend so much time in the office and so little time actually observing processes. To learn and discover, the student must “go to the Gemba”. We “go to the Gemba” to observe and to learn. All real learning is at the Gemba. Again the Gemba is the place where the parts are being actually made as opposed to the office where people think about parts being made.

How does this concept of learning at the "gemba" relate to discipleship? I am arguing that if we understand the place of learning and how we actually learn a new skill (like loving your wife or working well on a team), then we will grow far faster and become better at multiplying virtue in those we are attempting to disciple.

Let me give an example.
The following example is stated in what I think is the best example of the common methods of mentoring and discipleship that is currently practiced.

Just today, I am aware of a man who went to visit a pastor for help with his marriage.

Here is an example of the method this pastor, if all goes well, will use to disciple this man and his wife.
The man comes into the pastor's office. After some small talk, he gets to the point and says, “I am having a problem in my marriage. We are always arguing. We go round and round until I am drunk with anger. This is no way to live. I cannot take it anymore. Can you help me?” The pastor says, “I respect your honesty. Tell me more.”

The man proceeds to say how he gets home from work and is very tired. His wife usually is pretty tired too, and the house is a bit of a mess. He is patient and even helps a little with the kids but he continues, “If I help too much she will say, ‘I can do that’. So the man will let her do the particular chore and he eventually is pushed out of helping. After dinner, he often falls asleep or watches TV.

And then he says, “And last night, I was watching TV and she was putting the kid to sleep in another room. She came in, and I was asleep. She yells at me, ‘How come you never spend time with me?’ I guess I was relaxing for awhile, but what am I supposed to do? Well, it turned into a knock out drag out fight. She says I think she isn’t pretty anymore. I respond by saying that I am tired. The problem is this happens a lot. We just do not get along.”

The pastor is very wise and says, “You know I think my life is rather similar in terms of stress, and my wife, when the kids were young, felt pretty bad about herself as well. During that time of our life, we learned a few lessons. I learned edification. The bible says husbands need to build up our wives. I learned that my wife is very prone to feeling less than pretty. So I began to make it my job to build her up. I discovered she likes gifts and little tokens, so I made it my job to build her up even when I was tired. What do you think would make your wife feel better about herself?”

To this the man answered, “She likes to go out and be pampered. I think she likes time. I need to give her my time. Maybe we should start a date night.”

“That sounds like a good place to start. Why don’t you set up a date night for this weekend and set another appointment with me next week. I would like to hold you accountable for maybe a few months until the two of you get through this season of difficulty” said the pastor.

This example is a very simple example of a man not knowing how to make his wife feel loved and his wife being in a season in her life where it is hard for her to receive love. The pastor gives what I consider to be pretty inspired advice. It might even be helpful. Lets say that the two work at this accountability relationship for a year. The couple visits the pastor together. They read a few good books and get somewhat better. Not perfect but better. Obviously the idea of an accountable relationship is pretty dedicated discipleship by this pastor.

By no means is that bad discipleship relatively speaking. It actually is pretty good in today’s church. I intentionally used what I believe to be probably the best method of discipleship used today, which is very intimate small group accountability. These groups come in all different types and the pastor meeting weekly with the husband and holding him accountable for following through on some new behavior is one form of accountability.

Lets analyze what the pastor did. He listened and then distilled the behavior that is needed down to a principle. Then he gave a learning task. Then, the pastor and the husband met the next week for follow-up. He explained. He instructed. He followed-up. Pretty close to learning by doing.

But this is not how Jesus would do it. !!!!!!!!!!!
The proper method of discipleship is to invite this man over to your home. The disciple must observe how the mentor treats his wife if he is to learn. The discipleship method of Jesus requires the living of life together, and the primary method is observation and imitation of the teacher’s example. Then, after the disciple attempts to imitate and experiment with learning the new behavior, the teacher distills the lesson through explanation. Is this how we disciple in the church today? Is not this the obvious method of Jesus? Observation, imitation and explanation.
Notice that the method always begins with the modeling of kingdom living by the mentor and observation by the student. The call is to live with and learn the life of Jesus by observation. Thus, living the kingdom together is the primary activity of discipleship. I must admit I have only very rarely seen other pastors in their everyday life with their families. I have been mentored for years and it is rarely or never by an observation, imitation, discussion model. Instead, we talk ideas. We seem to follow more the educational model of Socrates and Plato than the discipleship model of Jesus and Peter.
If anything comes from this series of posts may it be that you and others come to understand that if we desire to make disciples in the footsteps of Jesus, we must begin by allowing people to see our lives. We must first model the desired behavior. Let me say it again. The proper answer to almost all our disciple-making needs is to say “come follow me”. That is the call to discipleship. “Come and learn from me”. This phrase means learn from my example. Certainly there is a place for communication and the use of the abstract but the priority is Observe, Imitate and then Discussion.

I began this post by talking about manufacturing and the "gemba". It is a vital worldview shift when managers and engineers learn that the place of real learning and becoming better at "making stuff" is to observe people actually working and doing their jobs. The office is not the place to actually learn to do the stuff of making stuff. So too, in discipleship, we must go to the place of living and observe life as it is being actually lived. Observation of the teacher and the student is the place where learning starts. When this method again becomes the paradigm of discipleship both the role of the teacher and the role of the learner will completely change, and the 21st Century Reformation will begin to bear fruit!!!

Observe Imitate and Discuss – That is Jesus' method.

God Bless, brad

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