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Blog 28 Teaching vs. Transference: A Maturity That’s Measurable

“As I think back to the early days of The Navigators, what Dawson was about was equipping people to reproduce. Now that is not the universally accepted definition of what a disciple is. So, Dawson Trotman from the very earliest believed in generations, believed in reproduction, and a keyword is maturity. So, he chose discipleship as we call it today – I call it maturity – as the best means toward multiplication and spiritual reproduction. Maturity is measurable. In zoology, when an animal is mature, it reproduces. In botany, when a fruit tree is mature when it reproduces. So the end result of all parental care is that they will reproduce.” –Jim Downing


There’s a subtle difference between teaching and equipping. To teach means to bestow on someone the knowledge or skills we ourselves have. It’s a “passing along,” and good teaching usually involves some sort of practical application. Teaching is almost always valuable, and often, teaching is enough.

However, there’s also a “more than” teaching level that is essential for being a disciple of Jesus who makes more disciples of Jesus – we like to call it “equipping.” Where teaching – as we define it – stops at simply passing along knowledge or skills, equipping has a slightly different end goal in mind: enough confidence in the new knowledge or skill that the learner is able to turn around and not only teach but equip someone else to equip yet another person in said knowledge or skill.

A bit confusing? Essentially, what it comes down to is that, to us, discipleship is NOT simply teaching others what we know; discipleship is about equipping them to pass it on to others. Or, even more simply put: discipleship IS about making spiritual generations.  

We get it: it’s so easy to say, “We’re about equipping;” but it’s so hard to shift from a teaching paradigm to an equipping one. How do we make this shift? We have a few suggestions in mind:

  1. Remember that before an organism can reproduce, first it must mature. Does that mean that the person you are meeting with (or you yourself) has to be amazingly mature spiritually before they can start discipling others? No! But, it does mean that you and they must’ve at least started to walk on the path of following Jesus through time in the Word, prayer, and fellowship with other believers.
  2. Remember, YOU set the example. Practice one-to-one, intentional, life-to-life discipleship. As Jim Downing put it in the podcast he recorded with us: “I’ve written a study on this, and I talk about one-on-ones being the best kind of “training secret” of growth. John Dewey, a great American educator – I don’t agree with everything he said – but he said once that example was not the best way of teaching. It is the only way. So, in one-on-ones, there are a lot of examples that we set the pace in. I’ve found that in a group, people will never fully share what’s in their hearts, because they don’t want other people to hear it. But in a trusted relationship that’s been established, why you’ll find out and can help the person with what’s closest on his heart.”
  3. Remember, if you haven’t equipped them to fish, they won’t know what to do with a fishing pole. Think about where the person you are discipling is at not just spiritually but relationally, culturally, etc., and then meet them there! To move from teaching to equipping them to do things like study the Bible, pray, and share their testimony, try to:
    1. Use analogies and metaphors – concepts become more meaningful and easier to understand if you put it in terms that make sense to them, explaining why it’s important in images they can easily grasp. Even better? Once they understand, ask them to create their own analogies or metaphors for how they would explain this concept to others!
    2. Help them plan ahead for how they’ll transfer what they’re learning. With you, they’re probably learning in a safe, controlled environment. Once they begin passing this along to others, they’ll inevitably encounter situations that aren’t even close to what they learned in. Help them understand how what you’re teaching can flex into any environment. (And if it can’t, reconsider training this topic in the first place.)
    3. Help them grow in confidence in their ability to pass what they’re learning along to others by helping them grow in their metacognitive strategies. Basically, teach them to ask themselves questions like:
      • As I learn this tool/strategy, etc., who is God laying on my heart to share it with? Why? Am I excited or do I have hesitations? Why? Who can I process those with in order to move forward in this well?
      • In doing/reproducing this, where am I comfortable? Uncomfortable? Still confused or unable to fully explain?
      • What do I need to learn/practice to more confidently pass this along?
      • What is my end goal in choosing to pass this along? What driving factor can I fall back on when I’m feeling tired or discouraged?
      • Where is my “pour-out” gas gauge at? If empty, how can I (differently) practice abiding in Christ through prayer, the Word, and fellowship so I maintain a consistent level?
  4. And finally, model model model this yourself, especially in talking through how you are practicing what you are equipping him/her in and through asking good questions! We have a great podcast with Abby Anderson that digs into the importance of modeling well if you’d like to know more. We’ve also got a great resource on asking follow-up questions that keeps the conversation going deeper.

Want something a bit more tangible to help you with this? Check out our “Maturity is Measurable” tool to help guide you and the person you are discipling!

Remember, as Jim Downing said and modeled, when we disciple someone, we’re to care about their spiritual growth as parents so that they mature spiritually, and the end goal of maturation is reproduction. The BEST thing you can do is to not only teach but equip the person you are discipling!

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