Josh and I were having lunch together a while back, before he was “Sensei” to me, and in the course of conversation Josh lit up when he started talking about students that were, as he said, “my black belts.” At the time, I was in a leadership program that emphasized the importance of apprenticeships in the church, so my ears perked up.
His black belts are students he’s trained. They trained, learned, advanced, and competed under his guidance. They imbibed the culture of the Academy—with its emphases on kindness, respect, discipline, anti-bullying, and being a black belt on and off the mat. When they reached a certain level, then they started teaching others. And Josh could trust them as instructors because he knew how they’d been taught.
Our conversation about students who become teachers made me think of Jesus and his disciples. The pattern back then was for a rabbi to select disciples who would learn from, follow, and imitate their rabbi. Jesus’ disciples were with him in the synagogue and in the market, on the fishing boat and on the road, in their family homes and on remote hillsides. They ate, talked, and sang together.
Then, as Matthew tells the story, Jesus’ last words to his disciples are, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).
The Apostle Paul wasn’t there for that particular talk, but he apparently caught it’s drift somewhere along the line. When Paul writes to his young apprentice, Timothy, he says, “And what you have heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will be able to teach others as well” (2 Tim. 2:2). Paul identifies four generations of disciples in this one verse. The transmission of faith heads in this direction: Paul -> Timothy -> faithful people -> others.
This is about disciples making disciples who make disciples who make disciples who…you get the idea.
If you’re thinking, “Yeah, right, I’m no Apostle Paul. I’ve got nothing to teach.” Join the club. But then remember this old song, “If you cannot preach like Peter, / if you cannot pray like Paul, / you can tell the love of Jesus and say ‘He died for all’.”
Passing on and forming others in the faith is essential to what we’re about. There are some ways we try to formalize this mentor-apprentice relationship, like with confirmation mentors for our confirmands. During baptismal services, every one of us has made a covenant to help raise children in the faith.
Before Nathanael’s baptism, some of us were sitting around under our carport and someone asked, “What do you want him to know about God?” In some ways that’s where this begins, not with facts and things to do, but with our living relationship with God.
For today—at the beginning and all throughout—take moments to pause and ask, “Lord, what do you want me to learn from you today?” Ask Jesus to help you follow his lead in the places where you work, live, and play.
Gracious God, thank you for choosing us to follow you, and thank you for being patient with us as we get tripped up from time to time. Give us encouragement to share the gifts you’ve given us so others may come to know the abundant life you came to give. Amen.
The peace of Christ be with you,