Information is everywhere. In fact, I have read that one weekday edition of today’s New York Times contains more information than the average person in seventeenth-century England was likely to come across in an entire lifetime. That’s not to mention what is available through one single Google search.
Can you say “information overload?”
I’m sure John felt a similar overload when he closed his gospel by explaining, “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25).
Think of the implications for discipleship. If a disciple-maker assumes that his/her job is to transfer information to a disciple, surely he/she will quickly become overwhelmed with the impossibility of the task. But that is ok. Jesus didn’t call disciple-makers to “teach everything [He] commanded,” but instead Jesus commissioned disciple-makers to “teach them to observe everything [He] commanded” (Matthew 28:19). There is a huge difference. Teaching everything is impossible; teaching to observe (obey) is transformational!
Information sharing has a limited scope. For instance, the final lesson of a Bible Study or the last meeting of a class completes the transfer of knowledge unless skills have been imparted to continue learning.
Transferring information alone is comparable to sharing a printed page with someone, while the teaching of skills is more like sharing a computer search engine –such as Google. If discipleship efforts are exclusively information sharing, like the printed page, they end with the last word (unless the disciple has already developed skills for learning). But like using Google, when a person has been entrusted with a skill, the learning has only begun. Greg Ogden explains, “As one who has been a pastor and a professor, I do not oppose acquiring knowledge. But information alone does not lead to transformation.”
The most important skill in disciple-making is implicit in the title, disciple. It means “learner.” Teaching someone how to learn is like adding yeast to dough. Unlike flour, salt, or other ingredients, yeast transforms beyond the chef’s initial design. That is what happens when a person is taught to learn rather than merely given information. This is not to downplay the importance of information. In fact, information is vital for learning how to learn. However, the end of information transfer is knowledge alone. In contrast, the end of discipleship, as exemplified and commanded by Christ, is a learner equipped for more learning. Then, as the disciple spends a lifetime learning –but never exhausting- the knowledge of Christ, he/she will observe (obey).
That’s the idea behind discipleship. But don’t just take my word for it –Google it!