Indoctrination vs. Discipleship

Indoctrination vs. Discipleship

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I know it sounds cliché, but being a parent is one of the greatest gifts in life, children challenge us and help us grow and mature as adults in so many ways. I have three kids, ages 10, 8, and 7. Sure, we’ve got our hands full, some days I feel like I’m yelling more than saying “I love you” (or on really hectic days I’m yelling “I LOVE YOU!”), but I can’t even begin to describe the depths of love and faith that have expanded in my heart and soul over this last decade as a parent. Children with their questions and need to know the world around them is an always exhilarating journey filled with joy and challenge. Now that we have a child in double-digit age, our questions and discussions about life and faith are growing ever more complicated. Whether it’s a discussion about injustice, evil, or violent acts around the world (or in the Bible passage we just read together); or whether it’s a question about pop culture, politics, sexuality or the poor, our discussions can get quite deep and rather delicate.

Let’s be honest, as parents, and dare I say, as pastors, we do not have all the answers. I’m still learning and discerning my way through many complicated issues and interpretations, but when my own child asks, “What does transgender mean?” while we’re listening to the radio in the van and we’re already running late for their gymnastics class, I am very quickly reminded why we are all wired to be people of prayer! As I carefully and cautiously make my way through these conversations with my children, what I am learning, or what the LORD is showing me, is that we need not hurry to provide for our children the whole truth in a single answer. Just as we all know that we can never preach the entirety of orthodox Christianity in a single sermon, when we teach our children and our congregations we have to trust that the truth is the LORD’s, and therefore we need not hurry.

As I continue to grow and mature with the help of my children, I’ve started to learn about the difference and the distinction between indoctrination and discipleship. These are two very different methods or ways of building and developing one’s faith and I think it has everything to do with how we preach and how we parent. The process of discipleship, whether it be with a child or adult, is slow and patient. It does not hurry and it does not provide answers to questions that are not asked. Like Jesus teaching his disciples, this takes years, because the process of discipleship takes place along the road of life. It takes place in community, in the safety of trusted friendships, but it also takes place in the midst of our world, passing from town to town, from one trial and trouble, or question and doubt, to another. It’s like developing or strengthening a muscle or tendon–over time these natural God-given fibers grow stronger and more flexible the more they’re used and the more they’re tested. With every passing event or experience, there is little worry or fear because we’re ready and prepared, and because we’re in this thing together. Then the question arises in your congregation like, “How should we respond to the horrific acts of war and violence our country is entangled in?” or when your child asks you, “What does abortion mean?” we need not worry or hurry about the answer. We need only take the time to rely on Jesus, see it as another opportunity to draw closer to Him, and to respond in trust. Trust that God is indeed leading you to an appropriate and Christ-like response, and trust that God’s got this! He is in control, and He is already at work in the life of this child or congregant.

Such trust and time, however, is rarely exhibited when we’re knowingly or unknowingly practicing the process of indoctrination. Unlike discipleship, which takes the time to develop and strengthen the muscles and tendons of our faith, indoctrination is much more interested in trying to clone delicate blocks of belief. This is what we believe, this is what I believe, therefore this is what you should believe. Often times as part of this process, we will sit the child or congregant down and in large doses expect them to swallow all of orthodox belief as a whole. When questions or doubts arise, we find ourselves quick to answer and articulate responses that relieve the listener of any responsibility in wrestling with and praying through the subject matter for themselves. Rather than providing a simple answer to their question, which would create a dialogue, we find ourselves providing them answers to questions they didn’t even ask. In many ways, the process of indoctrination is a delicate and cautious one and therefore requires a bit of isolation from the world. Because of this seclusion, these cloned blocks of belief can rarely withstand the pressures and doubts, the trials and troubles of a life lived in the real world.

So, I’m learning to let go of the insistence and the urge to keep speaking when asked an important and sincere question. I’m learning to trust God in His timing and in His truth. I’m learning that I need not hurry. Today we can simply respond to the question or concern that has been raised and leave the rest of the conversation for another day when they’re ready and have taken the time to grow in their trust in the truth of God, too.


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