When preparing any kind of lesson, a Christian educator has four sources which are available to him or her. All of these sources are acceptable in certain situations but one stands above and beyond the others. The four sources of a Christian educator’s message are tradition, observation, participation, and the Holy Spirit.
Tradition can be great, assuming that it is based on truth but it has a major pitfall as well. With tradition comes the statement “this is the way we’ve always done it.” That statement is like fingernails across a chalkboard to a pastor. Given the current state of the church, the way we’ve always done it may have been effective at some point in the past but it’s not working now. There is nothing wrong with doing things the way that they’ve been done in the past so long as the system is still working. There is no point in reinventing the wheel just to be new and exciting. But if the system is no longer working and what has always been taught is no longer getting through to people, it is time to change the message or the approach.
Please not that this in no way means changing the gospel or abandoning the teachings of the Bible because people don’t find them relevant today. In fact, it means just the opposite. Our message cannot change but the way that it is communicated needs to change.
Observation can definitely teach us but the onus of applying it is left on us. We can teach someone about something that we did not experience but observed instead. For instance, we can help someone who is dealing with an illness because we watched a loved one who experienced the same illness. While we observed what happened, we don’t truly know what the experience was like however.
Observation can only go so far however. One can watch a thousand shows on home repair or cooking but that doesn’t mean that they can fix a faucet or cook a gourmet meal. Seeing something done is not the same as actually doing it and often one needs to learn from experience as they aren’t naturals at it the first time.
Participation can be a very effective teacher. Jesus sent His disciples out two by two to give them a taste of what was to come. They preached and performed miracles, then returned back to Jesus and reported everything that happened. This was a very valuable experience that would serve them later on. But participation has to be based on good experiences where a person learns from their mistakes and needs to have a sort of shakedown period afterward to reflect on what has been learned. Without proper feedback from Jesus, the disciples’ experience would have been beneficial but not as much as it could have been.
Inspiration of the Holy Spirit provides the best source for a disciple maker. When God is involved in the instruction of disciples, it makes the entire process better. The easiest way to make sure that one is teaching under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is to teach the scriptures. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 tells us “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
The other sources of disciple making can be and should be affected by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. When teaching tradition, it is far better to teach the tradition of the Lord than that of man. In 2 Peter 1:16, Peter writes, “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ…” What Peter taught was tradition that had been passed on by inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
In regard to observation, the Holy Spirit provides a mirror in which a disciple can view themselves. 2 Peter 1:12 says, “So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have.” A disciple may observe the truth in scripture and compare whether their life is an accurate reflection of that truth.
With participation, the Holy Spirit is very much an active aid in discipleship. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, “I did not come with eloquence…but with the Spirit’s power.” He also says in Romans 15:18, “I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me…” Paul would not teach nor have his disciples participate in anything that was not something that he had experienced through the Holy Spirit himself.