“A wise man will hear and increase in learning, and a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel.” (Proverbs 1:5 NASB)
Last week I was meeting with a college student I am mentoring (scary, huh, that Baylor would allow me to ruin a college sophomore) and we were talking about how to create a sermon. I gave him the task of evaluating my sermon that night at Sola and told him that we would talk about it the follow week. Well last night we met again, and shockingly he couldn’t tell me a single thing I said the week before. This would be depressing if I hadn’t been exposed to this reality of preaching years ago. The truth is you hope that people walk away with the impetus to change after hearing a sermon, but you rarely think that people will be able to recite exactly what was said even 10 minutes after the preaching event. This is because the sermon is an experiential event, not the most effective means of training and discipleship. But often times we boil the life of faith down to, “If I could just study more Scripture or hear the right sermon, then maybe I will grow as a disciple.”
The problem is this doesn’t happen in any other avenue of life, so why do we expect it to happen to us spiritually? This is why more and more universities are moving towards establishing “living and learning” centers similar to Brooks College at Baylor University. That is because you learn more, grow more and retain more when you live what you study. What a novel idea: you can learn more by discussing concepts in a group over dinner than by sitting in a lecture for an hour and taking notes. Perhaps this is why one of the ways Jesus taught was along the road as he was living life.
Community is a crucial idea to following Christ, but so many of us ignore this aspect of our Christian walk. At Harris Creek, we are trying to establish what we call an “overarching discipleship model” that treats each stage of life as a unique stage rather than serving up the same process of discipleship from the time you are in youth until the time you die. This is a challenge because each phase of life has unique needs, distinctive gifts and comes with a variety of expectations. Our church has a lot going for it and has a ton of incredibly talented people. The one thing we sometimes fall short on is finding enough mentors that are a stage ahead that are willing to pour into the generation behind them. The funny thing is we have plenty of young adults and college students that are willing to disciple teenagers, but we have less adults that can disciple someone in their 30s or 40s. And what happens when you don’t have wise counsel speaking into your life from someone that has lived it out is, you stop “increasing in learning” and really stunt the discipleship process. In short, you create a herd mentality that is detrimental to your spiritual growth.
In working with students, the herd mentality looks like this: Everybody you know is sleeping with whomever they happen to be dating at the time, so you just assume that is the way the world works. But what does it look like for adults? Maybe it looks like this: Everybody you know works sixty hours a week and sees their family primarily on weekends, so you assume that it must work out. Somehow. The problem, of course, is that everybody is headed for a similar destination at which no one has yet arrived. It feels safe at the time because surely everyone can’t be wrong. But this approach to discipleship is about like taking directions from someone who is also lost. How can they ever help you get to where you want to go if they don’t know how to get there themselves?
In the core arenas of life—finances, family, morality, spirituality, friendship, profession, etc.—we all have a mental picture of how we want things to turn out (See Andy Stanley’s The Principle of the Path for more great advice on this topic). So why wouldn’t we want to learn what we can from people whose lives and lifestyles reflect our goals and aspirations? A while back my wife was talking about her aspirations, dreams and goals in reference to who she wanted to be spiritually. I asked her who she knew that was producing this type of fruit in their life right now, and she named a lady in our church. I told her I thought she should begin meeting with her regularly in order to have this woman’s wisdom rub off on her. They now meet weekly and are in a type of relationship that allows wisdom to be passed on from one generation to the next.
When you really think about it, what made us ever start believing that simply praying about it is the more biblical and spiritual way to make any decision? When I encounter students that confront me with their relational tragedy or other issues in their life, I usually ask, “Did you talk to anyone who faced a similar situation?” Most of the time they answer, “No.” Sometimes I get, “No, but I prayed.” Now I’m all for prayer, but Scripture would say you’ve got to also seek outside assistance along with prayer.
But this is more than just getting any person to talk to about your life goals, dreams and aspirations. Most of us think getting our life decisions rubber stamped by our friends is the primary way we should receive wise counsel. This is what Rehoboam chose to do in 1 Kings 12 and it ended up costing kingdom of Israel dearly. The great thing about having friends who share your season of life is that you have so much in common, but the downside is that they aren’t much farther down the road of life than you are. Friends are great for friendship. They aren’t always that great when it comes to dispensing wisdom.
The point of all of this is you are taking cues in life from someone right now. Since that is the case, you would do well to stop and reflect upon who you are emulating, who you are following, and who you are consistently seeking counsel from. Are you just moving with the herd or are you seeking outside counsel from someone further down the road than you? In the last meaningful decision you made, did you seek advice from someone older and wiser? Whose pattern are you following?