Transformational

Putting Our Teaching Into Practice

In This Edition:

  • Dallas Willard & The Cost of Apprenticeship

  • A Conversation with Randy Harris

  • Top Picks: This Week’s Recommended Resources


Dallas Willard & The Cost of Apprenticeship

“The greatest issue facing the world today, with all its heartbreaking needs, is whether those who, by profession or culture, are identified as ‘Christians’ will become disciples—students, apprentices, practitioners—of Jesus Christ, steadily learning from him how to live the life of the Kingdom of the Heavens into every corner of human existence.”

Dallas Willard, The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’ Essential Teachings on Discipleship

In Pursuit of the King

Discipleship is a loving response to a gracious invitation that brings blessing into our lives. It is the pursuit of the blessed life, since it is the pursuit of the Blessed One. To help bring out this point, Dallas Willard speaks of the disciple as an “apprentice” to Jesus. In his book, The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering our Hidden Life in God, Willard writes:

“A disciple, or apprentice, is simply someone who has decided to be with another person, under appropriate conditions, in order to become capable of doing what the person does or to become what that person is.” (Divine Conspiracy, p. 282). 

“Living as an apprentice with Jesus in The Kingdom Among Us” involves being “the constant student and co-laborer with Jesus in all the details” of your life (p. 291). Think of the change that would occur in our churches (and in ourselves) if we thought of discipleship as apprenticeship.

For one thing, it would help confirm our identity. Willard points out that “in our religious culture…there is a long tradition of doubting, or possibly even of being unable to tell, whether or not one is a Christian”—mainly in places where identity-shaping definitions were reduced to one question: “whether or not one was going to ‘make the final cut’” (p. 281).

But apprenticeship offers a healthier approach. “There is no good reason why people should ever be in doubt as to whether they themselves are his students or not,” writes Willard, because “being a disciple, or apprentice, to Jesus is a quite definite and obvious kind of thing” (p. 281).  Just think about whether one knows where they work, or for what profession they are preparing, or who is the teacher shaping their lives.

“People who are asked whether they are apprentices of a leading politician, musician, lawyer, or screenwriter would not need to think a second to respond. Similarly for those asked if they are studying Spanish or bricklaying with someone unknown to the public. It is hardly something that would escape one’s attention. The same is all the more true if asked about discipleship to Jesus” (p. 282).

We probably struggle with identity-shaping definitions because we recognize our failures. But being a disciple and being a better or worse disciple than we were yesterday are two different conversations altogether! Willard reminds us that a person learning a trade or working in a business would have no problem identifying themselves as an apprentice in that craft. “But, if asked whether they are good apprentices of whatever person or line of work concerned, they very well might hesitate” (p. 282).  He continues: “Asked if they could be better students, they would probably say yes. [But] all of this falls squarely within the category of being a disciple, or apprentice” (p. 282).

Church as an Apprentice Workshop

To help churches become apprentice workshops, Willard urges them to develop a “curriculum for Christlikeness”—one centered around, for example, the Sermon on the Mount. “Imagine, if you can,” writes Willard, “discovering in your church letter or bulletin an announcement of a six-week seminar on how genuinely to bless someone who is spitting on you” (p. 313).

I can imagine that very thing, thanks to Lee Daniel’s The Butler. I remember watching that emotional and memorable lunch-counter scene, where the movie shoots back and forth between the staged protest in the restaurant, and the grueling preparation it took to get them there.

“You know that ya’ll can’t sit here.”

“We would like to be served please.”

“This is unprecedented, what we are talking about,” declares a voice, harking back to their earlier preparation. “But it needs a patience that none of us have ever seen. We are organized. We have a leader with every group. We have lookouts, and local phone numbers with ambulances ready. And when one wave comes off that lunch counter, what follows? A whole ‘nother wave of students sitting at that lunch counter, blowing their minds.”

When one student expresses discomfort hurling such insults, the leader responds “you came here to get yourself prepared, and to get her prepared.”

The scene shifts back to the lunch counter. A mob forms outside.

Coming into the restaurant, the hate-filled racists treat the men and women at the lunch counter mercilessly. They smack their heads, pull their clothes, scream in their faces, pour food all over them. And even spit in their face.

But the men and women sitting at the lunch counter endure it all. Because they were prepared.

When you read the Sermon on the Mount, you are reading an outlined curriculum for Christlikeness. The “hardness” in the message speaks to the seriousness of the cause. We are apprentices to Jesus—and Jesus prepares us for the cross.

Taken from my fuller blogpost “The Cost of Apprenticeship” on the Healthy Theology website.

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A Conversation with Randy Harris

For 32 years, Randy Harris taught Bible, theology, philosophy and ethics, first at Lipscomb University (Nashville, TN) then at Abilene Christian University (Abilene, TX). He says that, if he had to do it over again, he would have "invested more in fewer," illustrating the importance of personal relationships in ministry. His book Living Jesus charts out how a covenant group can commit to living out the Sermon on the Mount on a daily and weekly basis. I sat down with Randy for episode 10 of the Avenue for Faith podcast.

Q: Randy, why do you say Bible classes should be “communities of practice”?

What has really gone wrong in our Bible school programs is we have assumed you primarily learn by listening rather than by practice. You can’t learn to do martial arts by listening to a book, and you can’t learn about being a follower of Jesus by reading a book. At some point you have to go out and practice and find out whether any of it is true or not. The missing ingredient in our Bible school programs has been the practice part. There is this general encouragement “you need to live like this;” but there hasn’t been “if we are going to take this passage seriously, what are we going to have to do or say this week?” I remind people that in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ emphasis is not understanding it, it’s doing it. I’ve always wondered what would happen if our Bible classes became communities of practice.

Q: Is a focus on “practice” good pedagogy?

There is a fundamental educational shift that is being implied here. It goes from “we know in order to do,” to “we do in order to know.” Practice isn’t just the outgrowth of knowledge. Practice is the way that you learn, that you find out what’s true and what’s not. Education has been moving that way for a good long while now, where we come to learn more about “active learning.” People just listening to me may not be the best way if what we are after is transformation.

Q: How can we have better small groups?

Generally the biggest obstacle that churches have to having effective small groups is the small groups they already have, which tend to go for low-hanging fruit, and they never quite reach the level of covenant. It doesn’t have to be a formal covenant; but it does need to be “let’s commit to do life in a certain way. And let’s hold each other graciously accountable and encourage each other in that way of life.” The concern about that is that it can become legalistic; and of course it can—people being what they are, it can go bad. But it doesn’t have to.

Excerpts from Episode 10 of the Avenue for Faith podcast, titled “Transformational.” Available on all podcast platforms.

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Top Picks: This Week’s Recommended Resources

Three Interesting & Helpful Christian Web Journals & Magazines

Christianity Today. A premiere evangelical magazine.

First Things. A quality theological journal on religion and public life.

Leaven (1992-2017). Ministry journal from Pepperdine University.

Three Interesting & Helpful Podcasts

Faith in the Folds (w/Kevin Burr). A podcast for ministry, biblical studies, and Christian living.

Spiritual Steps (w/Steven Hovater). Helps in your spiritual formation.

The Cult of Pedagogy Podcast (w/Jennifer Gonzalez). All things education.

Three Interesting & Helpful Personal Blogs & Websites

Dallas Willard Center for Spiritual Transformation. Resources/teaching videos.

Max Lucado. Enjoy Max’s daily one-minute audio devotionals or his blog.

Renovare. Resources by an international ecumenical group emphasizing becoming like Jesus.

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Avenue For Faith is a publication of the Adult Education Ministry of Sherrod Avenue Church of Christ in Florence, Alabama. My name is Nathan Guy, and I am the Minister of Adult Education. I am happily married to Katie and also serve as President of Mars Hill Bible School. You can find more resources on our website over at avenueforfaith.org. Follow us @avenueforfaith (fb/tw/ig).