Imagine a basketball team that travels up and down the court. They really get along well with each other, but they never throw the ball into the hoop. They seem to think that all that really matters is that they get along well and enjoy each other. In fact, they say, “People will know us by our love. As long as we love, that’s all that matters.” Would you say that they are a successful basketball team? In fact, I think most of us would not.
Most would say that this basketball team “missed the mark.” How interesting that one of the Greek New Testament words for “sin” hamartia means “missing the mark.” Modern English contains the word hamartia (pronounced ham-ar-tee-uh) and defines it as “a fatal flaw leading to the downfall of a tragic hero or heroine.” (https://www.google.com/search?q=hamartia+definition&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8) I feel that this lack of Ability Focused Training is part of the fatal flaw in many trainings that leads to the downfall of the training itself.
It’s true that this Jesus life is not a basketball game. It’s so much more. And, it’s so much more important. It’s not a game. Still, I think many of us are under the same delusion. We think that if we love that we’ve been successful. As long as we get along, that’s all that matters. Don’t get me wrong, love is important. Getting along is important. It’s just that those are not the end goal. The end goal is that God would get all the Glory he deserves from every people group on earth. Malachi 1:11 is a great summary of this mission that God is on: “My name will be great among the nations, from where the sun rises to where it sets. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to me, because my name will be great among the nations,” says the LORD Almighty.” Love is essential in achieving that goal, but just having love is not enough either.
God teaches us how to work alongside him on this mission. We call it a Co-Mission, a working together with God. It’s such an important thing that it has a special name: The Great Commission, most easily summarized in the book of Matthew (28:18-20), but contained in all the Gospels and the Book of Acts: “Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
One of the things I insist on at our trainings is that all lessons start with an ability. The ability should be clearly stated for the students to hear, ideally has a poster created and posted in the classroom space, and it should be the utmost thing in the mind of the teacher. If we don’t know what ability we want the students to have, then how do we even know what needs to be taught? Part of learning is love. However, love is a means unto an end. It’s a foundation that we build the building upon. It’s not the building itself. I ask our teachers to be ruthless with themselves in weeding out anything that does not relate directly to the ability that is the focus of that lesson. The ability is our plumbline; it’s the basket that we shoot for. If something is just an interesting diversion rather than helping us to achieve the ability, then we have to leave it aside.
Sometimes people try to come to our training (even as teachers!) and blow off our abilities because they perceive them to be silly. However, I will fight for them because they are essential to making sure that we stay on track in our lessons. They are essential for making sure that students really are empowered and trained to go out and ignite church planting movements among the neglected peoples of the earth. If we hang out with people and have a good time with them and even build bonds of love with them, we have done half the job. It’s an important half of the job, but it’s not the whole job. In fact, if we love people and then send them out like sheep among wolves with no idea what to do, we are not loving well because we are setting them up for failure. It’s like putting a kid into the basketball game but not explaining the rules of the game. That child will eventually leave that game bewildered, dumbfounded, and wondering whether to trust you in the future.