by Larry Allen
I learned that the best kind of leading is by dependent example, as Jesus did with his disciples.
The word “parallel” comes from the Greek word parallelos—”para” meaning “beside” and “allos” meaning “another.” This combination of Greek words carries the meaning of “moving in the same direction” and “similar in essential parts.”1 Parallel training is the art of working and leading, while training an understudy or intern to do the work you are doing.
That is how Jesus trained his disciples. He brought them alongside him, trained them while ministering, and sent them forth as apostles.
Not many leaders today want to be a leader as Christ was. Not that they lack the desire—most want to disciple—but they only want to disciple to the first or second stage. Not many are willing to lead others along to the end point. So by the standard of Jesus’ example, leaders today are not 100 percent leaders.
But, parallel training is the way the Lord taught me to reproduce leaders in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh is, by any standard in the world, on the lowest rung of the ladder. As a Muslim country with a population that is less than 1 percent Christian, it is also full of challenges. When I stepped onto the hot tarmac of Dhaka in 1980, nearly 200 years of mission work had already occurred in this country. I was a mere refugee from the deputation trail (now called “pre-field ministry”)—hardly a candidate to start a new church, train leaders for churches, or even disciple, especially in another language and culture. I thought we were there to open a new outpatient clinic in the Hill Tracts and to “evangelize” the tribals. But, providentially, we were dropped from that role our second day in the country and forced to consider the needs of the Bangladesh people for churches and for leaders in those churches.
I learned that the best kind of leading is by dependent example, as Jesus did with his disciples. Robert Delnay wrote, “From the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, He began calling disciples to follow Him (Matthew 4:18-22), and He seems to have taken them along on his preaching tours right away.”2 The disciples knew it was their job to preach and teach (Matt. 28:19-20). By the time Acts was written, they knew that the church was theirs.
Likewise, I found that on the mission field, having a Bengali work with me from the beginning ensures that, by the end, he will feel the work is his. I took a Bengali with me wherever I went, and together we would do whatever the Lord gave us to do. When I gave the gospel to a Hindu, Muslim, or Buddhist, my co-worker learned how to do evangelism in a way that no course in the classroom could ever teach. My greatest thrill in starting that first church was seeing Ajoy lead his first person to Christ. When we had a group Bible study, he and I took turns teaching. What he didn’t know, he learned with me beside him. We spent time together studying the life of Christ. When I was accosted and threatened by Muslims, he was there with me—observing my reaction. He was also there five minutes later when other Muslims came forward to apologize for the shameful behavior of their countrymen and to beg us to return to their place with the good news.
Christ also made it clear that no one should be a servant-leader who is not willing to be a servant-follower (Matt. 20:27-28). Ajoy, Shapon, Promod, and Chogir were learner-leaders. Although I was the teacher, I learned a great deal from them. I learned to be a better disciple of Jesus myself. On the paths and in the streets, I saw my co-workers as obedient followers of Christ. This challenged me to be more dedicated to following Christ. I was as dependent on them as they were on me.
Delnay claims, “Our presence becomes a sort of teaching device, a means by which we show what we are conveying. What we are then, actually speaks so loudly that our students can hear what we say.”3
Certainly, God is concerned with what we are teaching leaders. There is no better way to teach love and compassion or confrontation and rebuke of sin, than by dependent example. Teaching in a classroom and challenging students to go and do what hasbeen taught cannot compare with applying one’s teaching while being with the students.
TEACHING ON THE PATH
Most of us, were we in Jesus’ sandals after being raised from the grave, would have handled our resurrection appearances to the disciples much differently. We probably would have brought all the available disciples together for three or four days of intensive seminars on post-resurrection strategy to evangelize the world. We would never have bothered with two little-known, distraught disciples heading home to Emmaus (Luke 24:13). But Jesus never changed his strategy of working closely with individuals even after his resurrection. Most of his teaching had been in the villages, on the mountainside, or in the market place.
I have taken three lessons from this section of Scripture and applied them to my teaching.
1. Jesus built a relationship with the disciples. While walking and talking with the two disciples, Jesus brought out their desire to know more. After their encounter, the disciples remarked: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:32).
I have seen this same camaraderie on the paths to villages near Chittagong and sensed the desire of people to know and grow. In our case, I think less knowledge was gained than a relationship built. But this is what I picture Christ doing on the road to Emmaus—building trust. The two disciples believed the stranger because of the relationship Jesus built with them.
2. Jesus allowed his students to interact with him. He wanted them to respond and to think. He asked the two disciples, “What things?” (Luke 24:19) not out of ignorance, but to involve them in a test. Most tests that I had in seminary were written, but Jesus gave oral exams on life-changing matters. Some of the questions Jesus asked, which we do not ask of our students, were:
1. “Why did you doubt?” (Matt. 14:31).
2. “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” and “But what about you? Who do you say I am” (Matt. 16:13, 15).
3. “What do you think, Simon?” (Matt. 17:25).
4. “What were you arguing about on the road?” (Mark 9:33).
5. “Does this offend you?” and “You do not want to leave too, do you?” (John 6:61, 67).
6. “Simon, son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” and “Do you love me?” (John 21:15, 16, 17).
Jesus was more concerned with relationships than with just knowing about holiness, righteousness, or faith. He was building trust and respect. He wanted openness. Therefore, he listened to the disciples. He often had to correct them, but he gave them opportunity to respond.
Tradition has taught the Bengali people to call foreigners, especially Westerners, “Shahib.” The average Bengali is happy to listen to the “Shahib” and answer what will please him. They don’t often question the one they call their “master.”
But I found that treating Bengalis as co-workers gave them the respect they needed to freely question what we, the foreigners, are doing. When I would teach a course on Revelation or hermeneutics, there would always be a lively discussion because the students had freedom to question. This had not always been the case. I believe the change came when we started to go with them to the villages and homes of the people. When we interacted together in real life situations, in planting a church together, they grew to trust us and not just give unquestioned obedience. Their response was a step toward taking responsibility.
3. Jesus wanted the two disciples to apply what they had learned. Luke tells us that the disciples immediately went to Jerusalem to tell the others what had happened (Luke 24:33). On previous occasions, Jesus sent his disciples out to preach and heal as he had done (Luke 9:1-4, 10:1-16). This was a true test of their learning. Jesus was not there to check on them. They were accountable to him through their verbal reports after the fact (Luke 9:10; 10:17-20).
In the same way, I learned to give responsibility to the Bengalis at the right time andstep back so the leader-in-training could do his job. I would say that the hardest part of church planing with a Bengali was just stepping back and supporting him from a distance.
TEACHING TOWARD GOALS
What were the goals of Jesus? What did he hope to accomplish with the disciples? Near the end of his ministry, Jesus revealed that his main task was to pass along his burden to the disciples. He revealed his mission in the prayer recorded in John 17.
All of these goals were accomplished “in the world” (John 17:11). The disciples experienced hatred because they had associated with Jesus (John 17:14). In Bangladesh it was not simply learning by doing, but placing goals before the Bengalis that they could and would accomplish on their own. Knowing how to be a good leader was not enough. My goal was to make the Bengalis leaders of their own churches. I had to show them the goals and help them accomplish the goals by teaching and doing it with them.
One of my greatest blessings was seeing the Bengalis apply my teaching and emerge as leaders of the new churches. Today Ajoy is pastor of one of the few churches in Chittagong. He also has been teaching another man to plant and lead a church. He became the leader God meant him to be through “parallel training.”
Other popular phrases are used to describe this type of training: holistic (or wholistic) teaching, preaching involvement of teacher and student, mentoring, internship training, servant leadership, on-the-job training, and practical training. This is not about applying a new term to training leaders as Christ did, it is a return to basics. Parallel training is a way of understanding that we need more intimate, interactive, responsible, and accountable teaching. Training reflects the character of both parties. Jesus gave us the best example.
One day as Jesus rejoiced and gave praise to the Father, he prayed, “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him” (Luke 10:21-22). Seeing the disciples share in his responsibility to reveal God to others brought joy to Jesus.
With joy in his heart, Jesus said to his disciples, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it” (Luke 10:23-24). Jesus had blessed them. They heard and saw through parallel training. This is not a new concept, just new wine in new wineskins. We can all stretch a little to improve leadership training.
1. Woolf, Henry B. ed. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary. (New York, N.Y.: Pocket Books, 1974), p. 506.
2. Delnay, Robert G. Teach As He Taught. (Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press, 1987), p. 113.
3. Delnay, p. 121.
Larry Allen is a church planter and leadership trainer in Manila with the Association of Baptists for World Evangelization. From 1980 to 1994 he and his wife Nancy started three churches in Bangladesh by the mentoring method.
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