On-The-Job Training for Kingdom Workers

Beginning training for a new job, I find, is one of those odd experiences in life that seems initially to have the opposite effect of what’s intended.  You start out on your first day thinking, “I’ve got this.”  After all, they hired you. They know you’re smart.  They know you can do it, and you know you can too.  But then the training starts, and gradually that confidence is edged out as layer after layer of tasks and responsibilities pile up in front of you. Suddenly you realize, you’re in over your head.

It’s like how old folks always say, eyes sparkling with wisdom and nostalgia, “The more you learn, the less you know.”  Only they’re talking about how experience teaches us there’s so much more to learn and understand in life than we’re able to comprehend when we’re young.  (They also like to say things like “I used to know everything too, and then I grew up.” If you roll your eyes, it only proves the point.  Remain still and nod. In 40 years or so it’ll be your turn.)

Being trained for a new job is a far more concentrated version of this life lesson.  In a short time, you’re supposed to master a job you’ve never done before, and the experience of learning what’s now required of you, teaches you how little prepared you are. This is where you hope for supportive supervisors and co-workers, people with a surplus of grace for your inevitable mistakes, and abundant patience for your daily flood of questions.  If you’ve ever worked a new job without this key support, you know how much harder that makes it to succeed.

I recently started working in a new position with a company completely different from any of my previous employers. The initial training lasted two months.  There was a group of about ten of us who all started at the same time.  By the end of the two months, in spite of feeling certain we didn’t know half of what we needed, we were all so tired of our windowless training room and hypothetical work scenarios, we were eager to get to our permanent desks and begin muddling through.  They finally set us loose.  Bright eyed and ready to go, we got to work.

Well, we got to work asking questions, making mistakes, and looking over shoulders for help.  We tried things and we did some wrong.  We tried them again and we did them less wrong.  We muddled.  I’m still muddling, though the results of my efforts are less muddy than they were.  I’m learning so much more on the job, it makes the two months of training seem like wasted time.  I don’t think it was, really.  It’s just that so much of our understanding comes out of experience.  You remember what you do better than what you read or hear.

When Jesus called his disciples to follow him, he began their training.  They watched him heal and teach.  They saw how he interacted with the poor, with children, with Pharisees, with the sick.  They listened as he prayed and watched as he performed miracles.  And then, Jesus sent them out to practice what they’d learned.  In Luke 9, and again in Luke 10, Jesus sends them out, giving them “power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.” It was time for them to put their training into practice.

We don’t read this and think, that’s when the disciples had learned enough to do the job right.  We’ve only to keep reading to see the opposite was true.  There were still so many questions they had, and so much they didn’t understand.  Shortly after this, the disciples would refuse children access to Jesus.  They would later argue over which of them was the greatest.  And Peter was soon to deny knowing Jesus at all, out of fear for his own safety.

But they’d had so much time with Jesus, so much training with a Master truly worthy of that title.  This reality of the disciples’ very evident need for further training and practice, is to me both extremely hopeful, and uncomfortably convicting.

Of course, we know there’s no point this side of heaven where we’ll get to say we’ve mastered our training.  There’s great freedom in knowing this truth, that as long as we have breath we’re not finished learning our tasks and responsibilities, or understanding the purpose God has given us while we’re here.  It means we get to keep asking for help, from the Master and from our peers.  And it means there’s grace for our mistakes.  We don’t have to be afraid of making them, because there’s nothing we do wrong that God can’t fix.

The uncomfortable side of this reality is that I can’t remain hiding in the classroom.  I have to get out there and do the work I’ve been trained for.  There will never be a time where you and I are truly ready for the tasks God has given us, not in the sense that we know how to teach, and heal, and proclaim God’s kingdom in the perfect way.  Our inability to do any of this on our own is precisely what makes it important we get out there and try, because we know that any good thing that comes out of our efforts is from God.  The good things that come through the efforts of deeply flawed people can only point to the beauty and power of our compassionate Creator.  And if we hold back, we miss the opportunity to participate in something far greater than we’re capable of on our own.  God doesn’t need our expertise.  He wants our willing and open hearts.

As I sit here writing this, I’m struck by how much easier it is to type up some thoughts about putting into action what God has called us to do, than it is to actually do something.  Just last week I chose not to participate in a service project because I was tired and cranky and maybe my stomach hurt a little, or maybe that was just some extra cranky I was trying to justify.  I don’t bring this up as some misplaced form of penance.  Nor is it meant to suggest service projects define what it means to act out God’s call on your life. But I do feel the need to recognize we spend a lot of time thinking, talking, or reading, about how to follow Jesus.  But each day we have a choice to take our faith out of our headspace and put it into practice in a tangible way, to do the work that God has called us to.  We must not wait for confidence in our own capability, or a feeling that we’re ready.  We must step out with faith in God’s ability to transform our meager efforts into something eternal.