Training Disciples for the World That Is

Ask any Army veteran about basic training, and you will get a pretty standard description. There are brutally long days of conditioning marked by running, carrying heavy packs, more running, firearms training, running, bayonet drills – and more running.  Just making it through is a triumph. It is a rite of passage and a badge of honor for soldiers.

            But this year, for the first time in thirty years, the Army is implementing a complete overhaul of its basic training standards & practices. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have show that modern warfare requires that soldiers be equipped to dart across alleys, patrol in heavy body armor and packs, roll out of a crippled Humvee or drag a buddy to safety.  A recent article reported that “Sgt. Michael Todd, a veteran of seven deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, said, “They have to understand hand-to-hand combat, to use something other than their weapon, a piece of wood, a knife, anything they can pick up.”

. Today’s soldiers need to do zig-zag sprints rather than 5-mile jogs, and exercise to specifically develop their core muscle strength, such as abdominals. They need to be flexible, and able to improvise both weaponry and military strategy.

It is also a nod to a softer generation that has forgotten how to play outside—and shows it.  After a recent series of core stretching exercises, recruit Jeremy Winn said, “I didn’t know I had muscles there.  You’re using parts of your body you’ve never used thumbing PlayStation or even shooting hoops.”   But it’s more than that.  Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, from Ft. Knox, KY said, “We have a very unique generation of Soldiers coming into the force.  They learn differently and (the Army) must train them differently.”

Thus, the nature of the battle determines the nature of the training.  The Army has decided to train for the battle that is, rather than the battle that once was (ie Viet Nam or even World War 2). Victory depends on strategically intentional training.

What if we apply that truth to our disciple-making and local church ministry design? For far too long, most evangelical churches have insisted on doing church and training disciples with methods that reflect a world that no longer exists.  Most are developed out of church and educational models from the middle of the last century. We tend to treat adults like children who can only parrot back already evident answers while avoiding the more troubling questions of faith. We use teaching approaches & lesson plans are heavy on content (think classroom information dump) and light on application.  

We make assumptions with our children and students that are left over from a time when there was a shared moral viewpoint in our society, or from a time before the information revolution changed the way people think and process information. Thus, we find that our coming generations have a tenuous grip on the basics of “the faith once for all delivered to the saints”. We’re training our people to answer questions nobody’s asking anymore. (James White says we have moved from having to offer proofs for Jesus’ resurrection to responding to a far more troubling question: “Jesus rose from the dead? So what?”)

Our training approaches are producing pretty good church members who are no longer capable of engaging the world as it actually is.  They are equipped in a way and with tools for a world that simply no longer exists; it is a remembered fantasy.   Our approaches feed and affirm insider thinking, values and priorities, which means we are excellent at talking to ourselves. But our disciples are soul-weak, and often don’t have the spiritual understanding, vocabulary or stamina to handle the demands of spreading the gospel and penetrating a Jesus-indifferent culture.

And make no mistake: we are losing.  Our churches and denominations are graying at at astonishing rate.  We are losing the next generation (or two) who increasingly reject Christ, or express spiritual allegiance to “nothing” instead of Jesus.  They join the billions of people on the planet who do not know Jesus and are headed to eternal torment apart from him.

So, what can we do? 

Well, the Army is willing to completely overhaul its training to connect with the realities of today’s combat and to win temporal battles.  They do that because they know that the quality of the individual soldiers shapes the effectiveness of the entire fighting force and ultimately determines the success of the war.

But our calling is different – and far more important. “repentance and forgiveness of sins shall be proclaimed in His name to all nations”  (Luke 24:47) because “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”  (Acts 4:12)

Our weapons are different:  “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh.  For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.  We destroy arguments and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:3-5)

Jesus made it clear that His mission strategy was based on disciples—people in a life-defining relationship with Him, who are apprenticed to Him, being consistently trained to do life with the same character, love, passion and priorities He lived on earth.  The quality of individual disciples will shape the effectiveness of the entire Church and ultimately determine the success of His eternal purposes on earth.

Yes, we sometimes refer to that as the Great Commission.  But please remember that the Great Commission and the methods of church and disciple-making we have been using are not necessarily the same thing.   The Great Commission’s disciple-making mandate is so much larger and more dynamic than our methods.

So, the question lingers: Should we not be willing to do the hard work of overhauling our basic disciple-making approaches so that we equip disciples ready to live Jesus mission in the world that is?  If we have a different kind of people living in a different world, we simply must train them differently.  It might be messy, scary and feel really weird—but it also might result in more passionate disciples, stronger Churches and the spread of Jesus’ fame among the unreached peoples across the street and around the world.

What might that look like?  Some thoughts in future posts…


One response

  1. Very interesting comparison. =)

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