Tables or Roads

Friday, March 28, 2014

Growing up I watched my dad disciples thousands of people.  He had an unbelievable ability to get people around a table and change their lives.  He can walk you through a book of the Bible and leave you a completely different person.  It’s amazing.

Understandably, I worked to do the same.  I would bring together guys that I wanted to build into and we would spend hour after hour working through God’s word, and they would leave, bored.  Most of them struggled to see any change in their lives at all.  It was often a complete failure.

At the same time, however, I began to notice that the lives of those I served with changed drastically.  People would often talk to me about the impact that I’d had on their lives.  Unfortunately it wasn’t the people sitting around the table with me.  It was the people serving alongside of me.  They would bring up conversations we’d had while serving and talk about how it helped them understand God and the scriptures in a life changing way.  I experienced this more and more while consistently banging my head against the table wondering why I couldn’t do what my dad was so good at.  Why couldn’t I disciple people?

It frustrated me for years until I realized something.  There are two methods of discipleship.  One involves primarily tables.  Books are written for this type of discipleship.  The other involves roads.  You can’t write a book for this, you have to experience it and model it.  Both are, and this is crucial to understand, equally valid and important.  Both change lives if in the hands of the right person.  Both require a little of the other.

I remember realizing one day as I was listening to someone talk about the impact that I’d had on their life, this is what I do.  I’d never sat at a table with this person, but we’d talked after service events many times.  In those conversations we’d talk through frustrations, we’d talk through motivations, we’d talk through faith.  I realized, I’m not built to disciple around a table, I need a road.  Take a walk with me, and I’ll share what God’s taught me along the road.

Below I’ve quickly broken down the two methods to give you a chance to ask yourself which you connect with.  Both are valid, both have weaknesses.  My goal is not to compare or champion one or the other.  My goal is to help you identify which is your natural bent.  My hope is that as you do you will value the other, you will address your weaknesses and you will leave behind the frustration of tying to be the one you are not.

The Table

Strengths:  The strength of the table discipleship method is that it is extremely thorough.  It leaves little to chance as it is systematic in nature.  There is no question of whether the necessary truth has been covered.  It also lends itself to groups.  Along the road truth is explored in the moment meaning that it includes those in the moment and may miss individuals who aren’t currently with you.  The table doesn’t struggle with this because truth is explored within the group consistently as all are seated together.

Weaknesses:  The table can be void of application.  Often even the best teacher can struggle to assist the student in transferring truth into specific life situations.  Truth explored at the table can also seem irrelevant due to the fact that the individual is not in that situation currently.  This can lead to a lack of interest and a lack of retained truth.

Supplement:  If you can force those around the table to serve in some capacity together on a consistent basis, you will be able to demonstrate transferring truth to action.  This supplement, even when it is not your strength, can be powerful in the lives of those being discipled.


The Road

Strengths:  The road addresses real life situations with real life truth.  It communicates truth in it’s most relevant form and therefore can increase retained truth.  Application is not a next step, it is the learning process.  Students are not allowed to lie to themselves about growth as they are seeing the real time impact of their faith or lack thereof.

Weaknesses:  Not everything you need to know comes up along the road.  There are certain truths that you need to communicate in discipleship.  The thorough nature of the table is lost on the road and key pieces to the puzzle can be missed.  The road also requires a greater amount of time as teaching is not as intense or systematic.  Conversations present themselves out of circumstance, that can take time.

Supplement:  Set aside time every month to sit at a table and walk through the fundamentals.  Decide yourself what those will be and lay them out.  If they have already been taught along the road move on to the next.  This will give you confidence in your discipleship and fill in the gaps.

Obviously there is much more that can be said about the strength and weaknesses of each method, but I wanted to begin the journey for you.  As you begin to understand which is your natural bent you can continue the exploration of strengths and weaknesses.  As you do, address supplements that will give you confidence in your discipleship process.  It’s not a question of which is better, it’s a question of which fits you and how you can continue to develop disciples of Christ to the best of your ability!