Discipleship is About Learning… by Doing

Some things you can only really learn by doing.

I remember several years ago I took our son on his first camping trip. I did not grow up doing a lot of camping, but I figured it couldn’t be that hard. After all, our borrowed tent came with instructions. So did the little propane stove I had purchased. For extra measure, I had even found a few articles about “camping with kids” that I had read.

All that learning added up to a miserable experience. The tent did not get set up before the sun went down. I couldn’t figure out how to attach the propane tank to the stove. The tent, when it did get set up, wasn’t facing the appropriate direction to shield the run off from the rain (because of course it rained that night). Even the cooking utensils were ruined when I put the wrong element on an open flame.

Miserable.

And yet here we are, some 10 years later, with two tubs of equipment securely packed in the corner of the garage, ready to be thrown into the car the few times a year when our family still goes camping. We learned.

We learned that you can actually cook on an open flame if you have the right cast iron skillet and dutch oven. We learned that you need to sweep the ground before you set up a tent to make sure there aren’t any rocks underneath you. We learned that few things improve a campsite like a french press. We learned all these things because we committed ourselves to be a family that enjoys camping, and after every trip we made, we came back and replenished our supplies and added some piece of equipment we didn’t already have.

We learned by doing. There are lots of things in life like that:

  • You learn to throw a baseball by throwing a baseball.
  • You learn to write a book by writing a book.
  • You learn to drive on the highway by driving on the highway.

This isn’t meant to mitigate the need for learning by studying, because in each of the simple examples above, you can glean information that’s important through study. It’s only meant to point out that in these examples, and more, that the true learning that results in the actual doing doesn’t come until you actually start the doing. The “learning” and the “doing” do not come in sequence, that you learn and then you do, but rather happen at the same time.

Discipleship is like that, too. You learn to follow Jesus, by following Jesus.

How do you learn to deny yourself? By starting to deny yourself. How do you learn to pray? By starting to pray. How do you learn to memorize Scripture? By memorizing Scripture. And on and on it goes. “Following” is not a static posture by its very nature; it’s active. When we follow, we are in motion.

Here again, it’s important to understand that this doesn’t mitigate the need for learning by studying. We should read, study, and cognitively learn about following Jesus. But the real learning doesn’t come in a static posture; it’s active. Not to put too fine a point on it, but perhaps there are some of us – maybe many of us – that need to stop learning about following Jesus and just start following Jesus.

True enough, when that happens, we will stumble. We will get bored in prayer. We will not be able to memorize great portions of the Bible. We will lose our patience, and we will say the wrong thing when we are trying to share the gospel. All that will happen as we are doing. But the other thing that will happen while we are doing is learning.

You might think of it like this – when a young child is learning to walk, you don’t give them a manual about how to walk. You set them on the ground and put your arms out, asking them to come to you. They start, and then they stumble. When they do, no one is annoyed. No one jumps to their feet to admonish the child for not walking better. No – everyone in attendance cheers. Such is the case here. We have a better Father, one that knows that following Jesus, especially at certain moments, looks like a toddler barely motoring along. But one that also recognizes that the only way we can do this better is by actually doing it, and is willing to pick us up and cheer us on.

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