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disciple makingQandA difference between teaching and training • Becoming a Disciple-Maker

What is the Difference Between Teaching and Training? – Disciple-Making Q and A Series

What is the Difference Between Teaching and Training?

Many of the church’s past failures in evangelism have resulted from attempting to impart through teaching, skills that can best be instilled in one’s spiritual life through training.  Historically, knowledge has always been transferred through one of these two complementary but distinctively different forms of education – teaching and training.

Teaching focuses on the transmission of knowledge and concepts.  Therefore, an outstanding teacher can effectively convey information to tens, hundreds, or even thousands of people.  Typically, facts, examples, and stories are used to express their thoughts.  If they are gifted, they will need nothing else but words to get their point across.  Our Lord was a master teacher.  His illustrations and parables remain without equal.  The size of the groups He taught had no bearing on the timeless impact which His teaching produced.  His uniqueness came from His ability to unforgettably present spiritual truth with authority and profound clarity.  He was equally comfortable teaching a small group of twelve or addressing a gathering of over five thousand.  His amazing delivery during the Sermon on the Mount demonstrates the reality that groups of all sizes can successfully be taught.

Training is different from teaching because it requires observation.  Simply stated, training focuses on the transmission of learned skills.  The term that best communicates this highly practical on-the-job training process is apprenticeship.  Because observation and personal experience are needed for effective training, one-to-one relationships are universally utilized as the most accepted format for skill related instruction.

Let’s use aviation to illustrate the difference between these two well known methods of instruction.  One summer I was flying in a small private airplane with a close friend who was a highly experienced flight instructor.  Having spent little time flying in a small aircraft myself, I became a bit concerned as we crossed a rugged mountain range in New Mexico.  What would happen if my friend had a heart attack while we were flying?  I suggested that he take a few minutes to instruct me on the basics of ”safely” crash landing an airplane.

As we talked, Wortley Rudd asked, “Billie, do you know why I am so convinced about the effectiveness of personal disciple-making?”

“No, but I would like to,” I replied.

“When you go to flight school,” he said, “you are literally discipled in how to fly an aircraft.  Your basic instruction is usually conducted on the ground in a small group.  While in that setting, you are taught the basic concepts of aerodynamics; but later, after ground school, most of your actual training takes place in the air while sitting next to an experienced pilot.  You repeatedly observe his or her example while following his or her instructions.  Every pilot in the air has been individually trained in “how to fly.”  One-to-one instruction is highly effective in today’s aeronautics and it functioned the same way in the early church’s equipping ministry. 

In Jesus’ personal experience of disciple-making, He was sometimes with His disciples in a group, and on other occasions He was with them individually.  He discipled His Apostles using both methods of communication and ultimately they became highly successful fishers of men. 

The same principle of observation holds true in the practice of medicine.  Typically, surgeons who perform the most delicate types of surgery are required to have the longest and most specialized internship.  In general, the more critical the consequence of failure, the greater the need for thorough individual training  If for no reason other than this – training in personal evangelism, which involves eternity, deserves our best and most committed dedication.  From the earliest days of the Lord’s ministry, He personally showed us by the high priority which He placed on relational training.  “As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew.  They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.  ‘Come, follow Me,’ Jesus said, ’and I will make you fishers of men.’  At once they left their nets and followed Him.”  (Matthew 4:18-20)  Their on-the-job training had begun! 

One summer, while on vacation in Colorado, I experienced a vivid illustration of training by observation.  On this particular day, I had been attempting to do some trout fishing.  Although I had tried hard, the fish had simply not cooperated!  Having had no success, I realized I needed some expert help. 

Soon after that, I started looking for an instructor – who could show me how to fish.  I was introduced to an experienced fly fisherman and he agreed to train me in the art.  He spent a brief time introducing me to the “ins and outs” of the sport.  I first learned the difference between a “dry” fly and a “wet” fly.  This was my initial teaching period which focused on the theory of fly fishing. 

Then he said,  “Let’s take one of these flies, attach it to a line, and go out in the front yard where we can actually practice casting.”  I was now moving from teaching to training by applying the knowledge I had gained.

I spent several minutes casting the little fly toward a nearby yellow flower until I could land it near the daisy nearly every time.  He then went into his garage and brought out a pair of hip-high wading boots.  I put them on, and he had me walk around the yard repeatedly casting the fly. 

Having given me this basic “on-shore” instruction, my trainer said, “Now you are ready for the real thing.”

I thought he would take me to a quiet little stream like the one where I had been fishing.  To my surprise however, we arrived at a wide, rushing mountain stream where he knew the fish were plentiful.  I immediately learned something important through that experience!  In our evangelism, many of us don’t reach people simply because we are fishing in the wrong places.  We are more concerned about the beauty and convenience of our fishing spot than the ultimate success of our mission. 

My instructor said, “Just follow me.”

He stepped out into the water which quickly became rather deep, so he turned around and gave me a few practical pointers.  “Billie,” he said, “Don’t ever step on a rock until you test it. Put your foot on it first, then try to move it to see if it will roll under the force of the water and your weight.  Next, slide your foot over the surface of the rock to check for moss which might cause you to slip.  When you cast, watch out for those low hanging tree limbs on the right.  Notice the way I cast under them.” 

I followed his example to the letter and quickly caught several nice rainbow trout.  This was a tremendous improvement over my previous experience.  What made the difference?  First, I was under the guidance of an experienced fisherman.  Second, I was taught the basic concepts of fly fishing before entering the water.  Third, he personally trained me by example showing me where and how to fish.  I was actually apprenticed by following him into the rushing stream.  Through this training, I was now using the right fly in the right stream at the best possible time of day for successful results!

Authentic disciple-making requires being balanced and combining methods of instruction.  Some knowledge is best conveyed through teaching, while other knowledge is best conveyed through training because on method deals with concepts, the other method deals with learned skills.  

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