I didn’t get her name. I don’t know where she was from, but I knew she was going to Miami. She told me that as she unfolded her blanket and unloaded her snacks.
“Have you flown before?” she had asked. “I have,” I smiled. “What about you?” “No, and I’m excited but a little scared.”
That’s when I put down my phone and launched into an explanation about how everything would be fine. She interrupted my speech to lean across me and take pictures out the window of the empty tarmac. Then she crossed the aisle to take pictures out the window on the other side of the aisle. And so began our trip.
The takeoff was smooth and routine though I don’t think my seatmate appreciated it through her clenched eyes. The landing was equally uneventful, and perhaps it was in my familiar ritual of earbud and laptop storage that I missed what happened next. My new friend stood up and marched to the front of the plane to disembark. The grunts and complaints of people behind me caught my attention. In my impromptu crash course, pardon the pun, on flying, I’d neglected to explain the unwritten rules of the plane unloading front to back.
I jogged through the gate to catch up to her at the monitors. After a quick word, she was off to her gate and I was off to mine.
It was then that I thought all over again about the process of assimilating our new disciples into the body of Christ, or discipleship.
It was then that I thought all over again about the process of assimilating our new disciples into the body of Christ, or discipleship. Please allow me a few parallels between discipleship and learning to fly:
1. Newcomers carry a lot of baggage that requires patience on our part.
In the spring I fly three or four times a month, and experience has paved a well-worn rut. I’ve got my bags down to a minimum—cute, tidy, and stored out of sight on the plane. My new friend’s blankie, snack bag, medicine bag, and souvenir sack from the airport were inconvenient. Her stuff creeped over into my bubble. A well-timed huff would not have helped; she had no idea what to do with all her bags.
You can see the analogy: discipling new believers is messy. They’ve got loads of emotional, spiritual, and relationship baggage they don’t know what to do with. Huffing and wondering why they don’t just get things together will only hurt the healing process the church should be orchestrating (II Corinthians 5:19). Let us be patient, remembering it wasn’t all that long ago we didn’t know what to do with our baggage either (and still don’t some days).Let us be patient, remembering it wasn’t all that long ago we didn’t know what to do with our baggage either (and still don’t some days). Click To Tweet
2. Give them our seats.
The window seat is my saved preference in my airline of choice. I don’t want my shoulders bumped and toes run over with every ensuing person’s march down the aisle. Wherever that puts me on the corresponding personality test, I’ll live with it and keep my window. In this moment, however, couldn’t I have put my personal preference aside and let my new friend sit next to the window to more easily experience the wonder of flight? When she jumped to film what I thought an inconsequential baggage cart rolling by, why not move and give her the window?
[M]aybe it means being spiritually fed in my private daily devotion so I can focus on ministering to others on Sunday.
The tougher question is if I ever have been guilty of something similar in my care of new disciples? I have my preferences at church too. It would be tempting to go to church for my personal enjoyment, but that would miss the point. If the local church is the vehicle to seek and save the lost, then I want to orient my experience Sunday around others getting to experience Jesus (Luke 19:10). Maybe it means literally giving a newcomer my seat; maybe it means being spiritually fed in my private daily devotion so I can focus on ministering to others on Sunday. Whatever the specific application, I need to give someone the window.
3. Teach the fundamentals of flight.
I felt bad for my friend. She had no idea the subtle or even overt rules for flying. Did she hear the murmurs when she hopped from her seat and bolted down the aisle? I don’t know. But what I realized is that in addition to being in awe of things I take for granted, she was ignorant of things she needed to know to fly. The kindest and most helpful thing I could have done would have been to assume the role of tour guide and coach my friend through each part of the journey to her destination.
I wish discipleship were as easy as being kind to people and being committed to evangelism. Oh, how I wish that were all. I have studied Scripture and I’ve studied a lot of churches. I cannot find a shortcut around teaching the Word of God to form disciples. I know why we might want to. I get it. It’s hard work. After the fourth Sunday in a row on a baptism lesson last week, I said just that to a mentor. To those who’ve asked for four-week discipleship courses, I wish we could somehow cut enough corners to do that. But what part of being an Apostolic disciple are we willing to cut?
The times require we rewind and start thorough biblical teaching in ways more fundamental than we did even a generation ago. I remember the days of a couple coming into church and realizing their need for marriage out of a sort of baseline Christian mindset prevalent in North America. Not only is such a Christian mindset no longer the baseline, but the gender baggage and addictions people carry are much more complicated now. If that sounds dramatic, visit the local hangouts in your neighborhood. I went to one of the few remaining malls in our community and was shellshocked. People are carrying heavy, complex baggage. All our socializing will not circumvent the need to help them discover the truths of God’s Word in Scripture. Teaching without love will not work, but neither will loving people without teaching them Scripture.Teaching without love will not work, but neither will loving people without teaching them Scripture. Click To Tweet
Tools and Tips for Teaching
1. Teaching must be two-dimensional.
With all the baggage people carry, teaching must be redefined not simply as a download of biblical information but the process of guiding and coaching new believers in applying the Word of God to their lives. That means Bible teaching must be application-focused and we must create opportunities for people to talk through where they are and how they need to grow in their relationship with God.
2. Teaching should help disciples build a daily devotional life.
No curriculum is robust enough and thorough enough to account for all the baggage and life situations people within and without the church face; nor will a forty-five-minute class once a week magically resolve all these issues. But it’s a start. And an emphasis on building a daily time of prayer and Bible study can create an innate passion for God’s presence through which He can continually transform growing disciples. That’s something everyone needs—new or seasoned in the discipleship journey.
3. Apostolic tools can help.
While the journey of teaching disciples should be tailored to their unique needs, having a starting point benefits leaders and teachers several ways. First, leaders can ensure all ages of the church benefit from a systematic diet of scriptural teaching. A curriculum can help walk through Scripture comprehensively rather than guessing at what to teach or circling favorite candy sticks. Additionally, leaning in to teaching tools you can trust frees more of your time to focus on what no one else can: your spiritual preparation and building relationships with your group.
Pentecostal Publishing House offers a variety of Apostolic teaching tools:
- For a systematic walk-through of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation, see the newly revised Exploring God’s Word Bible study complete with charts and PowerPoint.
- For a proven discipleship method for new believers based on a topical study of Bible doctrine and life skills, see the Elements curriculum.
- For the vital ongoing work of teaching to disciple all age levels of the church, see God’s Word for Life.
Lee Ann Alexander is an author and the associate editor of the UPCI. She leads the curriculum team at Pentecostal Publishing House. As a preacher of the gospel, she is passionate about training teachers.
Resources and Links by Lee Ann Alexander
Teaching to Transform Hearts – This book makes the case for reviving the teaching ministry of the church. It challenges us to assess our current teaching methods and effectiveness. And it gives us a wealth of strategies for breathing new life into the classrooms of our churches.
More Than Grasshoppers: Reclaiming Your God-Given Identity – This book will help you discover your identity as an Apostolic child of God. By seeing ourselves as Jesus sees us—loved by Him, made in His image, empowered by the Holy Ghost, and equipped with spiritual gifts—we can triumphantly live out the purpose He has for our lives.