Over the years, I have recognized that many of those I have taught, coached or mentored have become better communicators and more effective leaders than me. I may have been their teacher, but their gifting and competency have surpassed my own. This has been a cause for celebration. I have even seen it as an indication of God’s blessing on my life.

Upon first reading, Jesus’ words in John 14:12 might seem to suggest that he had the same sentiments.

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. – John 14:12

However, I think D. A. Carson is right in saying that Jesus is talking about the greater impact the disciples will have once the resurrection has made it clear who Jesus is. The works of the disciples are greater than those that Jesus did, because in the light of his death and resurrection, these works will more clearly glorify him for who he really is.1D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John, p. 496.

Like your teacher

In Luke 6, Jesus gives a more realistic evaluation of the potential of his disciples. But it is still a pretty lofty perspective!

The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher. – Luke 6:40

 The student’s or trainee’s progress is limited by the teacher or trainer he or she chooses to learn from. When the person is “fully trained”2In Greek, this verb is in the perfect tense, indicating that the process is complete, with ongoing effect., he will be like his teacher, and not greater than that. In the previous verse (Luke 6:39), Jesus warns his hearers not to follow the blind, likely a reference to the Jewish religious teachers of his day who did not see who he really was. But he also encourages his hearers to continue to learn from him (see Matt. 11:29). In other words, the process of becoming “fully trained” is not complete until we become like Jesus. 

Implications for disciples

What implications does this have for us as disciples of Christ? Three come to mind:

  1. Let’s pick our mentors and role models carefully. We should intentionally seek to learn from those whom we want to resemble.
  2. Let’s make sure Christ remains our primary teacher. We never graduate from Jesus’ discipleship school. We are continually invited to learn from him, no matter how long we have been believers or how long we have been missionaries.
  3. Don’t become complacent, concluding that we have received enough training. We are not yet fully trained, if we are not yet like Jesus in all aspects of our lives. 1 John 3:2 encourages us with the hope that when Jesus returns, we will finally be like him. But until then, we all still have some growing and maturing left to do.

Within a few weeks, we will be entering a new year. In SEND, that means we are all asked to develop an Individual Growth Plan (IGP) for the new year. Many of us look at three different growth areas: spiritual formation, self-management and ministry skills. Each of us need to ask ourselves in what ways we are not yet like our divine teacher. In what areas are we not yet fully trained?

Implications for disciple-makers

What implications does this principle from Luke 6:40 have for us as disciple-makers and church-planters, who are also disciples of Jesus? Four stick out to me:

  1. Those who disciple others must never neglect their own growth and discipleship. We do not reach back down from the peak to help up others. We keep forging ahead in our own learning, calling others to join us in this pursuit. See Paul’s example in Philippians 3:12-14.
  2. If we are not practicing what we know, we should not expect our disciples/trainees to put into practice what they are learn from us. If our “learning” is limited to just theory, don’t expect anything more from those we are teaching.
  3. We should not expect those whom we teach to surpass us in their ministry effectiveness, unless we direct them to other teachers as well. This would include learning from good books. By reading or listening to good books, our students can learn from teachers who are not physically present or even no longer alive. For those of us who are seeking to make disciples cross-culturally, we need to seek and recommend good “native” role models who belong to this culture.
  4. We need to share with those you are teaching and discipling our thirst for lifelong learning. Let them see us often in a learner mode, not just a teacher mode. Make sure that we don’t ever give the impression that we have all the answers, or that we are no longer willing to learn from others (even from our own students).

Like your teacher – a passion for learning

So, in the light of Luke 6:40, was I mistaken when I observed that those whom I am trained were more effective than I was? No, not at all. I just was not recognizing that these gifted servants of our Lord’s had learned from many other teachers and trainers along the way. Most importantly, they had learned from Christ himself. In this way, they had compensated for the inadequacy and weaknesses of the training that I had provided.

They learned from me, but their learning and growth did not stop there, thank God! Maybe the most important thing they learned from me was that we need to be continually learning. I trust that my own passion for learning somehow rubbed off on them.

We walk the Jesus road together with those whom we are discipling. We are disciples and learners alongside of other disciples and learners. This is even more important for us as cross-cultural disciple-makers. We are learning together with them how a Jesus follower is supposed to live, think and act in this culture. For a helpful book on this topic, see Evelyn and Richard Hibbert’s book, “Walking together on the Jesus Road: Intercultural Discipling.”

One limiting factor – me

What limits the progress of those whom we are discipling?

Well, there are obviously many factors. But based on Luke 6:40, one clear limiting factor is us. Since we have committed ourselves to making disciples, we must also be committed lifelong disciples. As church planters and teachers, we look for disciples who are humbly teachable. Don’t we get excited when we notice that someone is passionate about learning more? If what Jesus says is true, then as disciple-makers, it is imperative that we need model this teachability and passion for learning. Our disciples are not going to be avid learners unless their teachers first demonstrate that commitment to learning.