Having called his men, Jesus made a practice of being with them. This was the essence of his training program—just letting his disciples follow him.
When one stops to think of it, this was an incredibly simple way of doing it. Jesus had no formal school, no seminaries, no outlined course of study, no periodic membership classes in which he enrolled his followers. None of these highly organized procedures considered so necessary today entered into his ministry. Amazing as it may seem, all Jesus did to teach these men his way was to draw them close to himself. He was his own school and curriculum.
The natural informality of this teaching method of Jesus stood in striking contrast to the formal, almost scholastic procedures of the scribes. These religious teachers insisted on their disciples adhering strictly to certain rituals and formulas of knowledge which distinguished them from others; whereas Jesus asked only that his disciples follow him. Knowledge was not communicated by the Master in terms of laws and dogmas, but in the living personality of One who walked among them. His disciples were distinguished, not by outward conformity to certain rituals, but by being with him, and thereby participating in his doctrine (John 18:19).
It was by virtue of this fellowship that the disciples were permitted “to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God” (Luke 8:10). Knowledge was gained by association before it was understood by explanation. This was best expressed when one of the band asked, “How know we the way?” reflecting his frustration at the thought of the Holy Trinity. Jesus replied: “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:5–6), which was to say that the point in question already was answered, if the disciples would but open their eyes to the spiritual reality incarnated in their midst.
This simple methodology was revealed from the beginning by the invitation that Jesus gave to the men he wanted to lead. John and Andrew were invited to “come and see” the place where Jesus stayed (John 1:39). Nothing more was said. Yet what more needed to be said? At home with Jesus they could talk things over and there in private see intimately into his nature and work. Philip was addressed in the same essential manner: “Follow me” (John 1:43). Evidently impressed by this simple approach, Philip invited Nathanael also to “come and see” the Master (John 1:46). One living sermon is worth a hundred explanations. Later when James, John, Peter, and Andrew were found mending their nets, Jesus used the same familiar words, “Come ye after me,” only this time adding the reason for it, “and I will make you fishers of men” (Mark 1:17; see Matt. 4:19; Luke 5:10). Likewise, Matthew was called from the tax collector’s booth with the same invitation: “Follow me” (Mark 2:14; Matt. 9:9; Luke 5:27).
See the tremendous strategy of it? By responding to this initial call, believers in effect enrolled themselves in the Master’s school where their understanding could be enlarged and their faith established. There were certainly many things which these men did not understand—things which they themselves freely acknowledged as they walked with him; but all these problems could be dealt with as they followed Jesus. In his presence they could learn all that they needed to know.
This principle, which was implied from the start, was given specific articulation later when Jesus chose from the larger group about him the Twelve “that they might be with him” (Mark 3:14; see Luke 6:13). He added, of course, that he was going to send them forth “to preach, and to have authority to cast out devils,” but often we fail to realize what came first. Jesus made it clear that before these men were “to preach” or “to cast out devils” they were to be “with him.” In fact, this personal appointment to be in constant association with him was as much a part of their ordination commission as the authority to evangelize. Indeed, it was for the moment even more important, for it was the necessary preparation for the other.
Robert E. Coleman, The Master Plan of Evangelism (Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2006), 33–35.