Possibly the most obvious aspect of learning to ride a bike is the steps that you undertook.
The how question. How a person learns to ride a bike is wrapped around getting a bike – either on loan or as a gift. Without using a bike, it’s impossible to learn how to ride one. You can listen to the instruction of others about where to sit, how to peddle and the concepts of steering and braking, but without actually getting on a bike these are merely ideas. Discipleship requires a similar level of engagement. We can listen to others speak of following Jesus and living as He did, but In order for discipleship to take hold in a person’s life, it surely has to involve practical experiences.
A second aspect of learning to ride a bike usually involves support or – the notion of training wheels. This allows a person to try without falling off. We need similar structures when it comes to discipleship. The support of others that allows us to begin to follow Jesus without hurting ourselves or others. These can be in the form of spiritual disciplines and church programs, but the purpose is one of seeing another flourish in life.
Third, learning to ride a bike usually, begins in a quiet street or carpark – places where minimal negotiation of obstacles is required and where far fewer distractions exist. Surely discipleship needs to occur in these places too – away from the things that demand our attention and response. Church camps and retreats facilitate this arena and ought to be prioritised.
But if our discussion around learning to ride a bike was limited simply to steps, support and safe places we have missed out on some of the bigger pieces of the puzzle – the who and the why. Who was involved and why we started this adventure in the first place.
The same is true for our discipleship. We can read the Bible, pray, give, serve, share faith, attend church events, camps and retreats and not see discipleship take root in our lives.
When a person learns to ride a bike there is usually a number of people involved – commonly a parent or parent figure who knows the child, has some idea about riding a bike and is excited about the possibilities. They can see further down the road than the beginner. Their role is to instruct, encourage and celebrate. They council and coach, remind and reenergize.
So too with discipleship. Jesus doesn’t call us to follow him in isolation. We need others who are more mature in faith and aware of the struggles, tensions and fears associated with following after Jesus. We belong to the body and as such need to be informed by it.
But the who is learning to ride a bike is not limited to parents (or adults). Learning to ride a bike often also includes friends, peers and siblings – people to a similar age and life stage. This may have been the very reason why a child wanted to learn to ride a bike in the first place!!! To join in with others.
The same is true for discipleship. Children and teenagers need to see that following Jesus isn’t just for adults. They need to see others their age doing the same thing. As important as inter-generational gatherings are, there is still a place for age-specific activities and programs. I know in some churches this can be difficult as there may not be people of the same age but peer learning needs to be part of the picture for those starting out in faith. Perhaps the church down the road provides a space for this to occur that your church can’t
Finally, and most importantly the question of why. Why did you want to learn to ride a bike? This surely is the most significant questions of all. Perhaps it was about belonging and being able to participate with others. Perhaps it was to get to work or school or sport. Perhaps it was about exploring the world. Perhaps it was not initially your decision. Whatever the case, there is always a reason for that a person learnt to ride a bike. This reason is the source of motivation and inspiration. This is the reason we get back on after we fall off (or nearly fall off). This reason helps us to keep going.
Discipleship is the same. There was a reason that we started following Jesus. A reason why we first said yes to his invitation of new life. Perhaps it was because of what we saw in others – an adult, a friend. Perhaps it was because we’d explored alternatives that only left us disappointed. Perhaps it was because of the choices our parents made. Whatever the reason, this is the question God often uses to motivate and inspire our following after Jesus.
At the end of the day, as helpful the idea of learning to ride a bike can be for our understanding of discipleship, there are at least two main points of difference. Number one: I chose to learn to ride a bike, but Jesus first chose me to be his disciple. Number two: I may have chosen to learn the skills associated with riding a bike, thus making be a bike-rider, but the skills of following Jesus do not make me a disciple.
That being said, I wonder how you learnt to ride a bike, who was involved and why you got started?
I wonder how you started following Jesus?