As the school year ends, my daughter Kayla is finishing up her first year of playing clarinet in her school band. Playing clarinet quickly became one of her favorite things this year. She learned and improved so fast over the year, which we were very thankful for given some of those first practices at home were quite squeaky.
Kayla’s experience in learning to play the clarinet actually provides a good illustration of how we should approach learning as disciples of Jesus. The different layers that enhanced her learning the clarinet are also instructive for us as we learn to follow Jesus.
Serve the Full Band
First, she plays in the full band at school. She contributes and serves the whole band by playing her part. She’s not a drummer. She’s not playing the trumpet’s part. She also doesn’t just sit and be entertained by everyone else playing. No, she plays her clarinet part to the best of her ability.
The full band is equivalent to a local church. We need to be an engaged member of a local church. Serving and contributing to a local church by doing our part, sharing our gifts, worshiping with and encouraging the full body of believers is central to growing as a disciple.
Second, Kayla also takes lessons with a much smaller group, sometimes a few other students and sometimes just herself, from her more experienced and more knowledgeable teacher. This is more individualized help so she can contribute and serve the full band more effectively.
In the same way, we need to be part of small groups or even one-to-one mentoring relationships that serve as more individualized lessons in discipleship. In a larger group, an individualized focus isn’t possible like it is in a small group.
Practice At Home
Third, Kayla practices her clarinet at home by herself almost every night. Likewise, each of us need to develop into our lives habits of personal devotion time and personal discipleship time where we can get alone with God, engage him through his Word and through prayer, and develop a personal one-to-one relationship with Jesus.
Each Layer is Needed
Take away any one of these levels, and our growing into maturity in Christ will be hindered. If we only come to church but don’t grow through a small group or through personal devotion time, then we really aren’t able to serve and contribute to the church as effectively as we could and we won’t learn as deeply and personally as we could.
But if we only engage with God alone at home, we miss out on the iron-sharpening-iron that happens within the faith community of small groups and full congregations. So each layer helps us a grow in a unique way.
We also see these layers in Jesus’ ministry. He served the larger body of followers. He invested in a smaller group to more specifically equip them for ministry (both the twelve apostles, and even more intentionally with Peter, James, and John). And Jesus also frequently withdrew by himself to engage with God alone.
God, Not Methods, Causes the Growth
We must remember though that it’s God who causes any spiritual growth in our lives. Our hope is always in God himself and never in methods.
But if God is the one who causes growth within us, we should seek to orient our lives to most effectively know him and hear from him so we can serve and love others in response. Each of these layers are an important part of doing exactly that.