If you ask a group of people how they respond to the two words ‘disciple’ and ‘learner’, you’ll note a marked difference in their responses. My generalised summary is ‘we like disciple, we don’t like learner’. I don’t know whether this will be good news or bad news for you … it may be both, but the word ‘disciple’ means ‘learner’!

‘No one learns anything from experience. We only learn from experience on which we reflect and are then able to articulate to others.’ I shall always be grateful to Pat Keifert, from whom I’ve heard this on several occasions, for helping me grasp why knowledge is seldom enough in and of itself. It was TS Eliot who asked ‘where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?’ in Choruses from The Rock and it’s something we understand only too well when it’s pointed out to us.

If living is taking the seed to where we see the need for it to be planted, and then planting it, then learning is about the fruit. Learning is the review phase in what many will recognise as an action-reflection cycle. It’s the phase when we shift from reflecting on what has or hasn’t worked to deciding whether to embrace, repeat again, or adapt, as we move ahead.

Back in Old Testament times people would have understood this instinctively. Back then it was generally accepted that ‘knowing God’ had less to do with knowing about him than doing his will. John takes the same line in the New Testament when he says ‘ If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth’. (1 John 1:6). This is why these questions are helpful to ask ourselves at this point: ‘What am I learning?’ ‘What do I need to embrace to become part of my life?’

This is the nature of apprenticeship; it’s learning by doing. As Alan Hirsch suggests, it’s acting our way into a new way of thinking, rather than how many of us have traditionally thought we can effect change, by thinking our way into a new way of acting. That’s how Jesus learnt carpentry, alongside Joseph, and it’s how we grow towards maturity as followers of Jesus – alongside him. It’s during the learning part of the discipleship cycle we take a step towards becoming more like Jesus, by doing the things he did.

Obviously, a one-off act however kind, generous, or compassionate it is, may be just that, a one-off, But when we see the positive outcomes of acting on what God has spoken to us, we want to repeat it. Repeated practice of anything turns into a habit and when we habitually act and respond to situations in Christ-like ways, people notice. What is it they’re noticing? An aspect of Jesus’s DNA. Wow; in you and me!

  1. Start your review time by asking ‘what am I learning?’ and looking at what you’ve written under ‘Living’ previously. Be honest, as we learn as much from perceived failure, as we do from our successes. Remember ‘fail’ = First Attempt In Learning
  2. Write down in no more than one sentence what you are learning
  3. Before you return to other aspects of the Discipleship Cycle spend some time praying about what you’ve written
  4. Start a new cycle by writing into ‘Listening’ anything fresh which arises

If you’d like a discipleship coaster to help you round the discipleship cycle, get in touch with Alex Drew.

For a simple format to help you write down what you’re hearing, living and learning click here.


Nigel Coles

Nigel is Regional Team Leader of the West of England Baptist Network. He facilitates the life of the webnet team and oversees the missional strategy for the region. He also works to develop missional strategy over a wider geographical area with our partner Associations and Baptists Together. Nigel believes that when Jesus sent out seventy-two others, he meant everyone who was there, and this passion to help everyone find their way in the mission of God is what inspired the development of Seventy-two.