Where Discipleship Meets Reality

I’m rereading Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit in little snatches, standing in the kitchen or ducking into the bathroom. I rarely call myself an artist but I do love to make art. I piddle around with sketching and painting and writing stories that are hopefully more than just words on a page. I file away ideas in a folder that I’m not sure I’ll ever have time to open, but I keep cramming them in anyway.

In chapter four, she talks about using memory in creative work. She’s a dancer, a choreographer, so she discusses muscle memory. As an athlete, I understand muscle memory (also, I never call myself an athlete either so that felt weird). Your muscles learn to do certain motions and they perform just fine until you start thinking about it. Then you suddenly can’t remember what to do next.

She discusses how she used to stand behind great dancers and mimic their movements. She would learn how they danced and it improved her own dancing. She told how authors had become great writers after they spent hours copying the work of the masters. She spent hours pouring over photographs of famous dancers in the New York Public Library. When she was dancing or planning a performance and felt stuck, she could consider something they did and it would flow over into her own work.

She didn’t copy those other dancers. She didn’t turn into a poor imitation of one of those dancers. But the way each of them danced changed her own dancing.

On page 73 she says, “In a sense, I was apprenticing myself to these great women, much as Proust had to Ruskin and Chandler to Hemingway. A young friend of mine recently described an internship he was about to begin. He called the process ‘shadowing,’ following around a mentor and learning from him.”

The word ‘discipleship’ jumped up and danced around the room when I read that paragraph. Is this not what we are supposed to do? We are supposed to learn from others who have mastered a craft. We imitate until we can transform what they do into something that works with our own lives, and callings, and gifts. The basic principles don’t change-in our case, doctrine is the same- but every person’s masterpiece looks different.

When we are discipled by others, they invite us into their lives. We see how they work, how they love, how they handle their own sin. We watch and we mimic. We imitate and some things we set aside intentionally because we don’t think it’s the best way or it’s a way that doesn’t work with where we are in life. That’s ok. We really don’t want to turn in handfuls of poor copies of a Rembrandt. God wants an original. That’s why there is only one you.

But we should always be learning. One of the ways we do this is by watching others. That will shape what we do and how we spend our time and how we act when the pressure is turned on. So why not do it on purpose?

Are you putting yourself in the presence of people you actually want to be like? If you look at their lives, do you want something with the same character and stability as they have? I don’t mean, will you have three kids and a corporate job like that person. I don’t mean, will you never marry and serve overseas like that person. The outside parts will all be different. I mean, do you want to love like that person does? Do you want to know the Word and be transformed by it like that person is? Do you want to live like that person, even if your circumstances are nothing alike?

That’s what we’re after. I’m afraid we’ve made discipleship about pushing out cookie cutter believers. We’ve pushed and shoved people into boxes they were never supposed to fit in and declared it good because it was easier. We aren’t called to easier.

We don’t just need people to disciple us though. I  understand many of us want to be discipled. We are chasing people down asking for them to show us the way. Or we want to but we’re scared. But the call is also on us to be that for someone else. We need spiritual mothers and fathers. But we also need spiritual sons and daughters.

Maybe some of them live in your house. Maybe they are your own siblings. Maybe they are your children. Maybe they are in your classroom, your office, your restaurant. But there are people all around you who, even if they aren’t younger than you, are learning from you. Do you have a life they can imitate while they are learning? Will your path lead them on the only real path?

Are you becoming the person you need now?

The good news about 2019 is that, if we’re picky, we can learn from people who aren’t in our everyday lives as well. This year I’m intentionally digesting words and works by Jen Wilkin, Eugene Peterson, Carolyn Custis James, and Tim Mackie. Of course I’m reading many other authors but I’m coming back to the things these people have to say. Their books are finding their way into every Amazon cart I purchase. Their podcasts repeatedly play in my ears.

We have to be aware that others will shape us. We will mimic them; we will absorb their wisdom and make it our own. But we am also shaping others. Even if we don’t want that responsibility, we have it because people are watching. What will someone find when they follow behind us? The Apostle Paul said, “ Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” This is real discipleship and it’s a challenge for our lives.



  1. Kellye Grimes

    I enjoyed this message.

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