A Rabbi of mine once said to me, “You can have anything I have, but it will require proximity and pace.”
We know the kingdom of God is often better caught than taught. Why? Because it’s the way we’re wired to learn and grow. From our earliest hours as infants we spend most of our time attached to a family member absorbing, through our five senses, the world around us and we catch the basics of human behavior. First, by experience and then later by explanation. In fact, the reference point for the Rabbi-Disciple relationship is the parent-child relationship. For this reason, Jesus invited His disciples to ‘be with Him’ in His life and mission instead of trying to set aside extra time to disciple them. He integrated the disciples into His life, rather than making them an extra appendage to His schedule. Jesus made a massive sacrifice to create this space for the disciples, but they would have to make an equally significant sacrifice in order to be with Jesus. If they wanted what He had, they would have to leave everything behind and be with Him. This is the nature of a discipling relationship. It requires significant proximity.
I often hear leaders lament about how their people won't commit more of their time. Here’s a simple interpretive grid - either they aren’t ready to become disciples or they aren’t ready to be your disciple. Either way, it is a waste of valuable time and energy to spend lamenting about what others won't do. I’ve never seen a great response from beating the sheep. Instead, pay close attention to those who are showing signs of wanting more. They may not be the ones you expected, but you can only disciple someone who wants to be discipled, and a great early indicator is their willingness to make sacrifices to be with you. It’s important to make the distinction between those who ‘want’ to be disciples and those who are ‘willing'. The willing will make proximity possible. This goes for both Rabbi and disciple. We must offer them access to our lives and they must enter in.
God walked in the garden with Adam and Eve. Moses took Joshua with him into the tent to meet with God. Samuel lived with Eli in the temple. Jesus did the same for His disciples.
Proximity allows us to move beyond the investment of good information to an opportunity for imitation. Our disciples need to watch how we follow Jesus in every area of our lives if they are to learn the way of Jesus in our life.
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” This African proverb highlights an important aspect of the discipling culture Jesus demonstrated for us - pace. We’ve already talked about the importance of integrating our disciples into our life and mission, but what of the pace? I often think that Jesus could have done everything more easily and quickly had He not been dragging twelve knuckleheads around with Him all the time, but then I remember that Jesus’ mission wasn’t just to redeem us from death, but to reteach humanity how to live. As in parenting, this takes time and patience. Jesus chose a pace that would both allow Him to deliver on His personal mission as well as develop others who could operate in the same way. Too often we choose 'either or' instead of 'both and', therefore finding ourselves sacrificing one on the altar of the other.
The Rabbi’s pace will determine who can follow them. A faster moving Rabbi will require faster moving disciples. The opposite is true too. Our work as leaders is to pay attention for those who are both willing to sacrifice for proximity as well as keep up with our pace. We aren’t meant to disciple everyone and so we must resist the temptation to be all things to all people. Instead, we must trust, like Jesus did, for the Father to give us those who are ready to follow us and we are ready to disciple.
"All those the Father gives Me will come to Me, and whoever comes to Me I will never drive away." John 6:37
There are no shortcuts to discipleship. Like raising children, it will require everything from us. It has as much to do with our leadership as their followership, but as leaders we can only take responsibility for our part. Learn how to integrate your disciples into your life and mission, demanding both proximity and pace, giving them a living example to follow. Let them apprentice you by seeing your marriage, how you budget finances, how you resolve conflict, your successes, your failures and struggles, and how you follow Jesus in the midst of it all. Only in this way will they have a chance to learn the character and competencies of Christ in your life. This is discipleship.
Being a disciple requires we deny ourselves, lay down our life and follow in the way of Jesus. So does making disciples.
Is this journey easy? No, but it is definitely worth it!