We tell believers what they should be and do to experience the Christian life, but then do not help them develop the practical skills essential to ensuring their success.
Of all the 17 flaws in our thinking about disciplemaking, this is the most basic and critical of all, even though in some respects it is the smallest and simplest. Why?
Because all the other 16 flaws have to do with how we think about disciplemaking. They are very big and strategic in their impact on the effectiveness of our disciplemaking. But we could correct our thinking about all these other 16 flaws and lay out a seemingly perfect approach for disciplemaking, and yet we would still not make any disciples if we fail to address this 17th flaw.
What is it that turns right thinking, right attitudes and right approaches into right actions? In the end, I believe it comes down to SKILLS -- skills that are clearly taught, well-practiced, and given oversight or accountability until they are mastered and become lifelong habits.
In Every Man A Warrior, Lonnie Berger says that the lack of emphasis on building the needed skills into believers is one of the biggest blind spots of churches in America. I agree. Here is how he illustrates the need for skills:
I have two wonderful, beautiful daughters, now both grown. But just a few years ago they wanted to learn how to drive. The state of Nebraska required fifty hours of driving with an adult. First, we got the learner’s permit and started driving in a big parking lot. Then we spent five hours over the next few days driving on some quiet neighborhood streets. We recorded every minute until each hour was completed. Eventually we graduated to busy streets and finally the interstate. Later I got a map of Omaha and said, "Take me to this address," and each learned how to navigate the city.
But why did I do it this way? Because developing a safe teenage driver is about skills, skills, skills! What would have happen if I had just lectured my daughters for fifty hours about driving a car? We could have read books, discussed the value of different auto makers, and talked until I was blue in the face about avoiding accidents. We all know what would have happened. They would have crashed during their first driving experience.
The Christian life is like that. It has to be experienced. In fact, to succeed, like driving, you must give significant time and energy to develop your skills.
Early on as a new believer in Jesus Christ, I remember hearing about the key “disciplines” essential to building my relationship with the Lord. (Sadly this was not at my local church; it was at a conference led by the Navigators.) One of these disciplines about which I heard was spending time with God each day through His Word and prayer. Many people call this a “Quiet Time.” Intuitively, I knew that this was a good idea.
But not having anyone who came along side me and showed me how to do this effectively, I was left to making up approaches based on what I read or heard from others. These primarily included trying to read through the Bible on some sort of plan and using various devotional booklets. The success of these efforts was sporadic, with many fits and starts. (How many times did I bog down in Leviticus?!)
The first breakthrough came a few years later when I came across Jeremiah 9:23-24. That helped me realize that the point of a Quiet Time is not to master a Book but rather to become intimately acquainted with the Author of the Book. The goal of a Quiet Time is more about hearing from God about something applicable to my life than about just learning the content of the Bible or reading through the whole Bible in a year. There is a place for these latter activities, but Quiet Time is about developing a love relationship with God by spending quality, consistent, focused time with Him. This moved my Quiet Time from being a duty or discipline to an appointment or date that I was eager to keep.
This first breakthrough changed how I viewed or approached my Quiet Time. But what has really made my Quiet Times rich and rewarding has been learning and cultivating some specific skills and methods to use in my Quiet Time. These skills have enhanced my ability to “hear from” God and to focus on what He is saying to me. The skills have also helped me to share what God is saying to me with other men in my small group. I have learned some of these skills in just the last couple of years. I wish I had learned them long ago.
Having a daily Quiet Time involves skills that needs to be developed. These skills will take time and effort but will determine one’s success or failure. The sharper your skills, the more effective your Quiet Time will become, and the deeper your love for God will grow.
And isn’t that God’s highest desire, that we would know Him so well that we would start to perceive His love and begin to love Him back? That’s what God tells us in Deuteronomy 6:5 and Jesus reiterates in Matthew 22:36-38.