One way to get know your disciple is by getting to know his parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents through family stories. Here you are looking for relational tendencies, values, character traits, and dysfunctions that have been passed down through the generations. Most people I disciple have given little consideration to their parent’s relationship to their grandparents, or their grandparent’s relationship to their great-grandparents, even though we are all products of preceding generations. Family stories are a mirror for your disciple to see himself.
Several years ago I wanted to get to know my dad and mom better so I set out to discover some of their childhood stories. My dad is from upstate New York so one summer I loaded him in the car and film in my camera and we toured the places of his youth. Later I did the same with my mom visiting her old stomping grounds in the Indiana Harbor. In both cases they were almost compelled to tell the stories of the past as memories were stirred by revisiting the houses, schools, neighborhoods, cemeteries, and churches of their childhood. I learned about people and events that I would have never known about apart from these trips down memory lane with my parents. Dad told me how as a boy on cold Sunday mornings he would build a fire in the woodstove at the Emory Chapel, which was built in 1833, so that the church would be warm when the congregation arrived since his family lived nearest to the country chapel. Mom told of her Yugoslavian neighbor, Mrs. Horvat, who taught my grandmother how to make stuff cabbage, which to this day is my favorite meal.
The best way to gather information about a person is through stories rather than asking direct questions. Story telling unlocks the memories of the heart. Often I have had a disciple say, “I just don’t remember much from my childhood”, but as you get him telling stories he will start remembering things and then say, “I haven’t thought of that in years!” or “I had totally forgotten about that.”
A couple points in closing:
- Memories can be locked up by fear and shame. Story telling is a backdoor entrance to your disciple’s heart.
- Telling his childhood stories can be emotional for your disciple. Just yesterday a guy got choked up as he was telling me about his childhood.
- Together my disciple and I build a timeline of his life, which helps him remember the stories of his youth and helps me keep his story straight.
- When possible visit the hometown of your disciple. I find it intriguing that most of Jesus’ disciples were from around the town of Capernaum, which was the base of operation for Jesus’ ministry. Jesus would have known some of his disciples’ families.