The Stoic philosopher Seneca wrote, “…the road is long if one proceeds by way of precepts but short and effectual if by way of personal example.” Seneca knew something about discipleship. He was the tutor for the infamous Roman Emperor Nero.
He once told Nero, who was intent on killing everyone he thought wanted his job, “However many people you slaughter you cannot kill your successor.” He was a smart guy.
Seneca understood what modern educators and many Christians have not: the difference between making disciples and merely conveying information.
Attending law school lectures day after day didn’t teach me how to practice law; at best it taught me how to think. I learned how to practice law working under two fine attorneys and watching what they did. It was much more personal and a better education relationally, intellectually and ethically than I ever got out of a law school lecture.
A law school lecture to a class of 60 students is more expedient and seems more effective than one student being apprenticed by two lawyers. However, just as symbols and metaphors convey information on many more levels than mere description, apprenticeship imparts more information more than class room lectures, or weekly Sunday sermons.
Jesus’ parting words are significant, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…” (Matt. 28:19). Weekly sermons were never intended by the Master to be even the primary means by which Christians grew spiritually.
Jesus preached to the crowds to be sure, but He sowed His life into His disciples. Jesus wasn’t fooled into believing that if He just had bigger crowds He could achieve greater change. Jesus went from town to town preaching, but His disciples were always with Him and it was to them He revealed the meaning of what He said to the crowds.
Jesus told His disicples, “To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables…” (Mark 4:11). Jesus apparently wasn’t even that concerned that the crowds understood everything He said to them.
The disciples lived with Jesus, watched Him and learned from Him, and they would later disciple others, who discipled others, and so on and so on.
So, here is the question: Are you a disciple or merely a student? GS