Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me… (Matthew 11:29, N.K.J.V.)
There was a preacher who had been in the ministry for twenty years. In a conversation he had with one of his church members, he said with pride, “I have averaged preaching three times a week for the past twenty years. That means that I have preached over 3,000 sermons over the course of my ministry.” The church member, who had endured too many of the preacher’s dull sermons, replied, “No, you have preached one sermon over 3,000 times!”
I like this illustration because it reminds me, as a preacher, of my need to grow. While I must never attempt to change the unalterable word of God, I do have a responsibility to preach what the apostle Paul called “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27) and not just a handful of my cherry-picked topics. It’s also not a bad idea for me to use different styles (expository, topical, verse-by-verse, an outline, no outline) in my preaching. This keeps not only the preaching but also the preacher fresh.
Now let me relate all this to being a Christian. The word “disciple” translates the Greek word for “learner,” and learning walks hand in hand with growing. Just as a child grows by learning to talk, walk, put on clothes, brush his teeth, etc., the Christian must grow by learning more of the Bible, learning to pray more effectively, learning to live a holy life, learning to give, learning to witness, and learning to spiritually discern.
Sadly, however, many Christians aren’t learners. Instead, they are like children who reached a certain stage of growth and stopped growing. Why do surveys consistently tell us that the bulk of our churches are either plateaued (at best) or in outright decline (at worst)? It’s because most of the Christians who make up these churches are either plateaued or declining. When you stop learning, you stop growing.
I suppose that many of these Christians were once disciples of Christ, but they aren’t now. They’ve dropped out of class. They’ve turned in their textbooks. They’ve left school. By this, I don’t mean that they have lost their salvation. No, the eternal security of the believer really is a Bible doctrine. But there is a vast difference between sleepwalking through the routine of a casually Christian lifestyle and getting up each day, taking your seat in Christ’s classroom, and letting the master teacher walk you through your lessons for the day.
Wouldn’t it have been absurd for Jesus to look at the chosen twelve one morning and find only a chosen eight? I can just imagine that conversation. “Where are James and John today?” “Lord, they went home to help their dad, Zebedee, with his fishing business.” “And where is Matthew?” “He decided to return to his job as a tax collector so that he could start saving for retirement.” “And what about Peter?” “He went back to his house last night because his mother-in-law wasn’t feeling well.”
You say, “Oh, come on, Russell, that’s crazy talk. The chosen twelve would never have done such things.” Well, is it any crazier than when Christians today refuse to move up from the level of “Christian” to the level of “disciple”? Is it any crazier than Christians who peaked at the spiritual state of toddler? Is it any crazier than Christians who have been saved for years, even decades, who still act downright infantile when it comes to spiritual matters? Think about it.