A thought about discipleship: push and pull

My wife studies educational theory. One interesting fact I have been able to grasp from our conversations about it is that there are two basic views on how to educate people. These two views both involve the link between learning and development. The first view is that a person’s learning pulls their development along, while the other view claims that a persons development pushes their learning along. These two theories have complicated names and explanations so I just call them ‘pull’ and ‘push’ learning. Pull education is about teaching people something to help them grow, whereas push education is about waiting for people to grow before teaching them.

push and pull

Push and pull learning are quite fascinating when you think about the practical implications. Take the school system for example. Should the curriculum be designed to stretch students beyond their capacity so that they can learn faster than if they were not challenged? Or should it be tailored to their natural mental development? There is a lot of debate about how much we can shape the internal growth of children through external influences, and how much we can’t. I can relate to this push and pull dynamic in my personal development. There have been times when new desires, drives and capacities have developed spontaneously in me which have ‘pushed’ me into new explorations and learning that I wouldn’t have had a desire for before. But there have also been other experiences and exposures due to my environment which have inspired (pulled?) me towards growing in an area that I would have never have desired if left to myself.

All this makes me wonder: how does this apply to Christian growth and discipleship? There can be times when we get frustrated or despairing because we strive to mentor people in areas of their lives that they are totally not ready for. We can get out of tune with their growth process, and offer ‘learning’ or encouragement which they cannot yet relate to. Paul called this offering meat to a baby instead of milk. Educational theory calls failing to let the student push you along. But then I think of how little I would know about God and about the Christian life if I had not been exposed to certain people and teachings. And how sometimes, I wished people had challenged me more. Paul called this body ministry, and Jesus called it making disciples. Educational theory calls it pulling the student along. This mix of push and pull can be very frustrating for us both as learners and as mentors if we aren’t sensitive to it, but if we are i think it can lead to better personal growth for ourselves and others that we relate to.

I wonder what your experiences have been. How is discipleship different to educational theory? How does the dynamic of Christian growth in a community bring together push and pull learning in the Holy Spirit?


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