Benefit 1: Motivation
Competence reinforces motivation. Recall the story of me as a teenager feeling paralyzed because I was supposed to paint the exterior of a house, but had no idea how to do so. Think of the difference it would have made if an older guy had come along to show me the very simple techniques involved with scraping, caulking, and painting. Such ‘coaching’ would not have made the job fun or the task easy. However, the instruction would have alleviated the mental distress and frustration that had bottlenecked my motivation.
There are a lot of men who are hindered from Bible study, or dealing with sin, or evangelism, or prayer, for reasons that are similar to why I struggled to paint a house. They feel a nausea that is caused not by unwillingness, but uncertainty. They avoid the prayer closet because no one has taught them to pray. They keep the Bible closed because no one has taught them how to open it. Competence does not remove the hard work that is involved in discipleship. However, it can alleviate the paralysis that results from feeling inadequate. To keep a ball rolling, two things are needed: impetus from behind and an open path before. Competence may not create the motivation, or impetus, that is required to keep a disciple moving. However, competence goes a long way to clearing the road ahead so that a man feels able and unrestricted.
Benefit 2: Effectiveness
Another benefit of competence is effective action. Now I must be careful in using the word effective. Every millimeter of Christian growth is due to the grace of God. Therefore, no action can be effective in the sense that it guarantees progress. And yet, as always, there are two extremes to avoid. Along with recognizing our dependence on grace we must also admit that there are wise practices and foolish practices, paths that have been tried and proven and paths that have been sealed off as dead ends.
When attempting any new activity, be it a sport, learning a musical instrument, or engaging in the Christian life, it is always wise to learn the wisdom that has been accumulated and passed down through generations of experience. A man can pick up a guitar and try to teach himself. If he is motivated and works hard, he might be able to make a lot of progress. However, the most effective method of mastering an instrument is not to chart a new path, but to follow an old one. Venturing forth independently means having to repeat mistakes that could have been avoided, feeling frustration that might have been escaped. If there are standard ways of holding a guitar, or putting tension on the strings, the reason for this is not law, but effectiveness. These methods have been shown time and again to be useful for becoming a guitarist.
There is a spiritual lesson to learn from this. Is there only one way to pray, or to study the Bible, or to share the gospel? Of course not. However, there is a lot of wisdom that has accrued over millennia of experience regarding the basics of Christian discipleship. To try to figure out by oneself how to pray, or read the Bible, or practice the presence of God, or live in fellowship with other Christians, is not a mark of piety, but foolishness.
Returning to the illustration of painting a house one last time, in the end, I did finish the job. However, the workmanship was poor. (I know this because years later I repainted the house.) My ability to do the job well was restricted because I lacked the skills required. I fear the same is true for some Christian men. They are attempting to love their wives, to nurture the faith of their children, and to read the Bibles, but the effort is minimally productive. They have motivation; what they lack is competence. If their skills were developed, their efforts might bear more fruit. Further equipping might relieve frustration and multiply the harvest.
Questions for Small Groups/Self-Reflection
How can a lack of training kill motivation? Think about prayer or Bible study. What happens if you are told to do something without being given sufficient instruction regarding how to do it?
Where can a man go in order to receive the training that he needs to become competent in basic spiritual disciplines? What should a man do if his local church does not offer adequate discipleship? What other (realistic) options are available to him?
Make a list of the most vital skills that every Christian needs in order to make progress in the Christian life (e.g. how to read the Bible, prayer, etc.). In your mind, what are the top five?
Look at your list from question 3. Do you feel competent in each of the five skills you listed? Try to identify specific areas where you need further training.