Ministry Resources

Helping Christians Grow

Christian nurturing is very important to the church’s ministry. The teaching ministry helps us grow and mature in the Christian faith. It is also very helpful in preparing and training us to become involved in outreach ministries to other people. Studying this course will help you to grow toward spiritual maturity and to become aware of your own need for more Christian teaching. Series written by Dwayne E. Turner.

Like Teacher, Like Learner

Like Teacher, Like Learner

Maria was particularly excited one evening when Juan came home from his fields. That day Manuel had spoken his first word! Juan, realizing the significance of the event, was happy, too. It was amazing to see how quickly Manuel learned other words and their meanings. Encouraged by his parents, Manuel learned to identify objects, people, and places with their correct names. Soon he demonstrated the ability to arrange words into simple sentences. During this exciting period of growth Juan and Maria were often surprised to hear Manuel repeat words and expressions that were common to them. Before long Juan and Maria found that their little boy spent many of his waking hours in communication. He had the ability to express his ideas and carry on a conversation about a surprising number of things, especially those which interested him.

It is normal for children to develop the skills of talking during this period of their lives. But what is significant is that Manuel is growing up speaking the same language that the rest of the family speaks, rather than a different language. He is also learning to eat the same foods they enjoy and to act in ways that are typical of their area of the world. Why? The most reasonable explanation for this is the influence of his parents, because by this association his attitudes, feelings, and behaviors are formed.

Jesus said, “Everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40). This means that the learner is affected to a great degree by the example of his teachers. Informal nurturing, then, has a vital role in developing Christian growth. In this lesson you will study more about the informal pattern of Christian nurture. You will be taught the value of learning through interacting and identifying with others. You will also discover who are the significant models in Christian nurture.

Learning the Wholeness of Faith

Do you remember how your Christian life began? Did you not believe the gospel, accept the offer of salvation, and commit your life to Christ? All of us began by making such a response to the gospel through faith. Because of this we experienced the new birth, which is the gateway to spiritual life. We have found that as we grow spiritually, we become more like Christ. Thus, our relationship with Him increasingly develops and matures so that we reflect His nature, character, and values, which are expressed through our living. That initial faith response to the gospel has led us to a life based on faith, a new quality of life that is characterized by wholeness in Jesus Christ. This wholeness that emerges out of our living faith may be referred to as the wholeness of faith. But how do we learn wholeness through faith? Of what is it composed? How do we learn to live a Christ-like life?

Careful examination reveals that faith which brings wholeness is composed of both knowledge and life (faith applied to everyday life situations). God has spoken His message to us as truth that can be either accepted or rejected. This truth, which reveals both the nature and character of God and His purpose for humanity, has been recorded, preserved, and passed down to us as the Scriptures. Biblical truth is the source of knowledge that causes faith to grow and mature.

Some biblical truth is composed of statements of fact. For example, in the Ten Commandments we see something of what God is like, what He expected of His people, and the results of disobedience. Some truth takes the form of concepts, which are general ideas drawn from a number of experiences with things that are related (for example, oranges, bananas, and apples are called fruit). We learn the concept of holiness by many careful rules God gave in the Levitical law to separate non-sacred things from those that are holy. And finally, some truth appears as principles to be applied to life. For instance, the command to love God with our total being is a principle which governs our relationship with God primarily, but in practical application this principle should be the basis of our relationship with others. Facts, concepts, and principles, then, are the basis for a knowledge based on faith. It is necessary to have this knowledge in order to develop to wholeness in Jesus Christ. Without this knowledge we cannot know how to live the life of faith that truly pleases God.

In addition to the written witness, God revealed himself in living form in the person of Jesus Christ. John says “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory” (John 1:14). Moreover, Peter states that he was an eyewitness of Christ’s majesty, honor, and glory (2 Peter 1:16–18) and asserts that in Jesus’ coming to earth He left us an example to follow in His steps (1 Peter 2:20–25). He demonstrated how to live to the fullest, how to be everything God intends us to be. His life is an example of the faith that pleases God.

You have already discovered that learning involves more than merely acquiring facts and information. Understanding the information, integrating it into our beliefs, and changing our behavior accordingly are also important.

In Lessons 1 and 2 you were taught the importance of God’s Word in spiritual growth. In Lesson 3 you learned of the importance of disciple-making and modeling in spiritual growth. Both biblical knowledge and examples of how this knowledge can be applied practically in the Christian life are helpful in nurturing Christian growth.

We concluded by observing that Christian nurture requires both informal and formal patterns. Biblical information—facts, concepts, and principles—can be taught through formal patterns which involve classroom-type teaching-learning activities. But understanding values and appropriate Christian behaviors are communicated through intimate interactions and the personal identification of learners with others. Learning wholeness that is based on faith requires the formal, systematic study of God’s Word and the informal, often unstructured, nurturing that occurs as one relates on a very personal level with and imitates his or her models.

Because both informal and formal patterns of Christian nurture are essential, we will consider more carefully the informal pattern in this lesson. Then, in Lesson 7 we will focus on practical matters that concern teaching God’s Word in the formal pattern.

Strategy of Socialization

I once heard an unschooled man say, “Some things are better ‘caught’ than ‘taught.’” He was speaking about what the professional might call socialization. Before we can accept socialization as a strategy for Christian nurture, we need to understand the meaning of the term.

Socialization is the process of integrating a person into a given social context—preparing him to function meaningfully within a particular association or grouping of people. It entails developing a meaningful understanding of the society and social order in which one lives. It is the process of learning
language, norms, values, attitudes, and proper behavior as perceived by a given group of people. Socialization refers to learning, not in the traditional, formal sense of schooling, but in the sense of absorbing the affects of our environment.

Socialization Illustrated

How do you eat food? Do you use a fork or a spoon? Maybe you use chopsticks, or possibly you eat with your fingers. The way you eat was learned through socialization. If you are accustomed to eating in a particular way, you may find other ways uncomfortable and unnatural. You learned the proper way to eat food in your culture by watching others and by doing what you saw them do. You may have been surprised to discover that some people eat differently than you do.

This illustration of eating is an example of a behavior which is highly cultural. What is socially acceptable in one culture may be considered unacceptable, impolite, or even rude in another. Values are learned by socialization. You may have observed that different cultural groups live and act in different ways. They hold different values. Children born in one group grow up knowing the ways and wisdom of their group, while those born in another group grow up knowing, valuing, and acting differently. The reason for these differences is that each has learned the ways of his culture through socialization.

How did you learn to speak your native tongue? Perhaps you feel that you have always known how to speak your language. Perhaps you are more comfortable using it than any you may have learned since. While you may feel as though you have always known your native language, we understand that indeed you did learn it. What if, as soon as you were born, you had been taken to live in another area of the world where a different language is used? You would undoubtedly have grown up knowing that language instead of the one you now use, for we learn language through the process of socialization.

Socialization Explained

Socialization takes place in the context of shared experiences in a real-life setting. We develop behavior in ways that are in keeping with our beliefs and values. These actions are observed by those near us and become the basis of their learning through socialization. Because of the nature of the relationship, learning through socialization is often unorganized, unstructured and not systematically planned. It simply occurs as the life setting provides the opportunities.

Learning through socialization is instruction by modeling. People learn by what they see demonstrated, as we have seen in our consideration of the master-apprentice relationship. The way of life and the understanding and values which support a given lifestyle are communicated in such a way that they are clearly seen and understood by those who are members of that society. As a learner practices what he learns from the social models, he desires to experience the same quality of life.

Developing intimate relationships with others is another essential part of socialization. An individual usually knows someone after whom he wishes to pattern his behavior. This other person becomes a model for the learner. Quite frequently, an affinity develops between the model and the pupil. We call this affinity mutuality, which is expressed in caring for each other, trust, recognition of the other’s worth and value, and feelings of interdependence.

Likewise, socialization requires opportunities for the learner to imitate the model. Life provides many such opportunities. Since most effective modeling takes place in real-life settings, the imitation needs to occur in real-life experiences, too. The learner attempts to repeat what he has observed the model do. His effort at doing what he has seen the model do is a learning response. As the learner acts for himself, he looks to the model for signals of approval or disapproval of his response.

Socialization Applied

One way we learn the Christ-life is through socialization. We learn to live the abundant new life given by Jesus in the same way we learned the customs and language of our culture. The values, attitudes, motives, conscience, and behaviors appropriate to the Christ-life are absorbed through meaningful, intimate relationships with people whose lives model the Christ-life.

The learning process goal is to nurture the new life Jesus gives. It seeks to help that life develop to maturity and to be expressed in all areas of our lives. This goal is facilitated through the socialization process. The discipling pattern Jesus used when he taught the Twelve is needed in the Christian nurturing ministry today.

We must recognize the powerful influence which exists in the modeling interactions between the teacher and the learner, and we must encourage these relationships. You can help people mature spiritually by entering into significant, intimate relationships with them, even as some Thessalonian believers did (1 Thessalonians 1:7).

Building Modeling Relationships

When we first experience the new birth, the life of Jesus is not fully developed in us. The task of those involved in the Christian nurturing ministry is to cultivate this new life toward spiritual maturity. The end of this process will be development into the likeness of Jesus—the maturing of His life within us. This likeness is communicated through modeling relationships.

One of our characteristics is to strive for competency—to be adequate, both in our own opinion and in the opinions of others. In some societies, much emphasis is placed on proving one’s competency as a student. In other societies, one might be driven to prove his competency as an athlete, a breadwinner, parent, neighbor, or citizen. Whether you have been aware of it or not, Christians are to be competent as witnesses and effective servants of Jesus Christ. Paul, for example, explains his efforts to be competent as a soldier of the cross (1 Corinthians 9:24–27). This example shows how the desire for competency reaches into the realm of spiritual things. In the process of striving for competency we often seek out those whom we perceive to be competent and mature and attempt to imitate them—to adopt their traits, values, and attributes.

You may have experienced this in your own life. Perhaps you know someone who possesses a skill which you value. You may wish you could be like that person. Have you heard a musician whom you consider to be very good and felt that you would like to be able to play an instrument as that person does? You may have tried to develop the techniques and style of that person. In a certain way, this is a modeling relationship. We also seek to find people whose lives seem ideal and desirable to us. Then we try to emulate their lives and become like them. Modeling is a primary means of communicating likeness.

A modeling relationship is a resourceful relationship. The more mature person provides support and help for the one who is less mature. It is a helping relationship. The purpose of such a relationship is to uphold the weaker or less mature person until he develops competency. In terms of the Christian life, this means that the teacher gives supportive assistance until the learner develops spiritual stature and begins to reflect the likeness of Christ.

The modeling relationship, however, is not a domineering relationship. The model should not “smother” his disciple. He should not decide all the issues for him. In fact, no obligations should exist in the modeling relationship which hinder growth and development. The learner should not perceive the relationship as either threatening or intimidating. Instead, he should respect his model highly and strive to be like him, because he demonstrates true qualities of Christlikeness. The learner will also see how his model responds to various issues of life and how the likeness of Christ radiates from him under all kinds of situations, and how his values and behavior are consistent with the nature of the Christ-life. On this basis the learner should seek to become like him. It is a voluntary relationship, which is based on the exemplary life the model lives and the disciple perceives. The model responds to the biblical commands to nurture the spiritual life of the less mature; the disciple responds because of his own needs for advice, instruction, encouragement, and intimate fellowship.

In building the modeling relationship, we must strive for the kind of response in learners that will be Christ-exalting and that will lead to a deeper commitment to Him and His work. There are, in fact, various levels of response to the modeling relationship. The lowest level, called compliance, is that in which learners do the Lord’s work simply because we ask them to. They simply comply in order to be cooperative and to be accepted by us and our immediate Christian group. They do what is asked without personal commitment. Then there is a second level of response referred to as identification. Because of their great respect for the leader and their own desire to be like him, learners perform the work without any particular commitment to it. While identification is motivated out of sincere admiration for the model and their desire to please him, there is not true dedication to the work. Finally, the highest level of response is that in which learners claim the model’s work and Christian goals as their own. This is called internalization. The purpose of the work is integrated into their own value system. Learners perceive the Lord’s work as an expression of their love to God and an opportunity to exercise their own gifts and commitments. They delight in following their model, but in so doing they reach their own Christian goals as they fulfill the larger calling to do the Master’s work. When learners respond in this latter way, we can rejoice in the fruit that has resulted from the modeling relationship.

Thus, the goal of the modeling relationship is much more being than doing. It involves what the learner is, more than what he does. The desired result of the modeling relationship is for the disciple to “become,” not just “act,” like the model.

In the Christian nurturing ministry we enter into disciplining relationships with people—opening our lives for them to observe and imitate. This relationship may require us to do many of the following with learners: make applications of the Word to life situations, consider Christian privileges and responsibilities, endeavor to know and do God’s will. Above all, we must set a pattern in conversation, behavior, the use of time, talents, finances, and relationships that demonstrate the centrality of Christ in our own life. To prepare yourself for this role, therefore, you need to be the kind of person others will desire to pattern themselves after, to give living expression to the life of Christ in such a degree of maturity that others will recognize that by imitating you their own spiritual life will be nurtured toward wholeness.

The role of a model is humbling. The responsibility of nurturing the spiritual life of growing Christians is great; therefore, James warned that Christian teachers will be judged more severely (James 3:1).

Togetherness and Likeness

How do we get to know someone well enough to develop likeness to him or her? Or, how do we enter into relationships in such a way that the other person will get to know us well enough to desire to become like us?

Modeling relationships require being together with someone frequently in a variety of situations over a long period of time. This togetherness must be developed in a real-life setting. In this developing relationship, the inner life of the model is opened to the learner. The model must exhibit consistency between the ideals of spiritual maturity and his own behavior so that there is no discrepancy between what he “preaches” and what he “practices.” The learner should have ample opportunity, also, to imitate what he observes. All of these foregoing essentials may be observed from what you have previously studied in this lesson. Perhaps we may summarize these observations into four essential factors of modeling relationships: 1) interaction, 2) intimacy, 3) identification, and 4) imitating.

Interaction refers to the impact of one life upon another. Wherever lives intersect there is interaction. As your life touches that of someone else, you interact together. Interaction implies that some form of communication exchange has taken place between you, and it implies that each of you has had an effect on the life of the other. Interaction can be thought of as the first step in the development of interpersonal relationships. Interaction begins on a surface or shallow level, but over a period of time it deepens and intensifies. Interaction engages us in a movement process which takes us from ourselves or from self-centeredness toward another’s orientation and viewpoint. It is as we interact with others that we learn to value their personhood. As we relate together we develop awareness of the worth and dignity of the other person, and we clarify our own sense of self-worth as well.

Relationships which are characterized by interaction often deepen toward intimacy. Intimacy implies closeness and familiarity. It is marked by deep emotional bonds of warm friendship which develop through association. Intimacy suggests informality and warmth which is personal and private between persons who have developed close relationships. Their association is such that each feels secure and at liberty to reveal his innermost thoughts to the other and finds satisfaction and fulfillment in knowing the other person in this familiar way. Modeling relationships are most effective when they are intimate relationships. It is in this in-depth knowing of another person that one observes the model’s true self, sees in him what he perceives to be competency, and desires to be like him.

In the context of Christian community, intimacy naturally results from the commonalty of shared life. Two people who are living the Christ-life possess something in common that binds them strongly together; they belong to each other but as different members of one body. This mutuality in Jesus Christ is the basis for spiritual love, the deepest and highest expression of intimacy.

Identification implies projecting oneself into the life of someone else. It means that we see in another person traits and characteristics which we feel are desirable. Identification implies a person becoming emotionally attached to another person in such a way that he believes himself to be like that person in vital ways. Identification often results in a vicarious sharing of experiences. It means to relate so closely with another that you strive to be like that person. I once knew a small boy who identified himself so much with a sports star that he asked his mother to call him by the star’s name.

Imitating involves relating so closely to another person that you endeavor to become what he is. It is the attempt to resemble another person. It is more, however, than merely striving to act as the other person acts or to do what he does. It involves striving to be what that person is. It means being influenced so fully by another person that you reflect his characteristics, approach to life, including his thinking and feeling, and behavior. You do what he does, not to please him, but to please yourself in your desire to be like him. Imitating results in internalizing the values and lifestyle of another person to the extent you begin to experience them as your own. Togetherness builds likeness. Interpersonal relationships, therefore, develop from interaction to intimacy to identification to imitating.

In the Christian nurturing ministry, where the goal is to help others develop into Christlikeness, this concept finds particular application. The more mature Christian’s most intense desire should be to allow the life of Christ within him to develop until he identifies completely with Jesus and His life becomes a living expression through his own life. In this way others will see the nature of Christ expressed in him. The goal of the body of Christ should be to embody the life of Christ with expressions of the Christ-life which are so powerful that others will want to identify deeply with our Lord. Since you are a part of that body, as all Christians are, your life becomes a living expression of the Christ-life—a model for others to imitate. As they imitate you, they grow toward Christlikeness. What a challenging, yet wonderful, responsibility and privilege!

Appropriate Models Identified

Modeling the Christ-life is a powerful means of communication, which nurtures spiritual growth toward Christlikeness. To whom can new converts look for a meaningful modeling relationship? Who are the appropriate models of the Christ-life?

Parents are involved in modeling relationships with their children. Bonds between tender, impressionable children and their parents naturally exist. All of the essential factors necessary for modeling relationships should be present in normal family relationships—closeness, the opportunity to observe, meaningful involvement together, and mutual love.

These characteristics should be present in the relationship between parents and children.

The Bible recognizes that this natural modeling relationship should exist between parents and their children. In fact, under the Law God commanded parents to be appropriate models by their obedience to His statutes, judgments, and ordinances.

I hope you understand better, from the Deuteronomy passage and the preceding questions, why Moses instructed parents in the nation of Israel to live exemplary lives before their children. Parents were to love God totally—to be examples worthy of modeling. They were to keep God’s commands in their hearts—to value spiritual things. They were to teach these to their children by giving priority to spiritual things in their family relationships. Their homes were to be centers of religious instruction. Christian parents, likewise, are commanded to be models of the Christ-life.

Another level of close association and interaction for an individual is generally a small group of significant friends. This group may include family members, neighbors, and friends of the family. Many of these people may naturally be appropriate models. You may think of persons with whom you maintain such a relationship. They could be models for you, if they are more mature spiritually than you. Or you may be a model for them, if they are not as mature spiritually as you are.

You may have already discovered from your study of this course that God has designed some people in the church to serve specifically as teachers. All of the passages which deal with the gift ministries make particular reference to teachers. People in the church who serve as teachers have a particular obligation to maintain lives worthy of imitating. Teachers have a scriptural duty to live lives which teach the truths of the Word through their own behaviors, values, lifestyles, and attitudes (1 Timothy 4:12).

In a real sense, because of the nature of the Christian church, every believer should be a model for others to imitate. Paul told the Christians at Corinth that they were like living epistles read by everyone around them (2 Corinthians 3:1–3). He said that it was as though God’s Word had been written in their hearts. Clearly, their lives were living expressions of Christlikeness that everyone could see. Because of the intimate nature of the body of Christ, modeling relationships naturally exist. In some cases, others may see in you the quality of spiritual vitality they desire to experience and seek to be like you without your awareness of their desire. More importantly, however, you should seek consciously to develop relationships at the in depth level that fosters intimacy, identification, and imitating.

I have new appreciation for the statement of Jesus, “Everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40). Christian nurturing, in its work of helping people mature toward Christlikeness, accomplishes its task of communicating life through the socialization process. This includes building modeling relationships and leads to a like teacher—like learner result. The interpersonal relationships which exist among members of the body of Christ are appropriate means of modeling the reality which nurture spiritual growth.

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