When she had borne a son, she brought him to the holy man and returned thanks to God, who had heard the prayers of His servants. Columban consecrated the child to the Lord, raised him from the font, and, naming him Donatus, gave him back to his mother to be nursed. Later on, the child was educated in the monastery and taught wisdom. He became Bishop of Besanyon, which he still is. Out of love for St. Columban, he founded a monastery under Columban’s rule. From an ancient structure there it was named Palatium.
- Jonas, Life of St. Columban
First of all things we are taught to love God with the whole heart and the whole mind and all our strength, and our neighbor as ourselves; next, our works.
- Columbanus, Monks’ Rule
You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.
- 2 Timothy 2.1, 2
A wealthy couple, who had been unable to conceive, came to Columbanus, drawn by the grace of God they perceived to be at work in him. Jonas reports that Columbanus prayed with them and blessed them, and promised that they would conceive a child. But they must agree to entrust the child to his care and instruction for a time. The child grew up to be a bishop and to establish a monastery of his own at Palatium.
This practice was called fosterage, and it was based on the example of Samuel, who was dedicated to the Lord by his mother, Hannah, and raised in the care of the priest Eli (1 Sam. 1). Christian parents considered it a great privilege to have their child raised in a monastery and prepared for the work of ministry from early on in life. Not every child thus fostered became a monk, but many did.
Here is another example of how the work of the Gospel spread under the influence of Columbanus. As Columbanus had gone out from Bangor in Ireland, establishing three monasteries and training schools in Gaul, so Donatus went out from Columbanus’ care and instruction to establish a school and monastery of his own. Jonas does not provide a record of all the times this occurred, but we can be sure they were many. Monks trained by Columbanus either stayed on to help train more disciples, went on to establish foundations of their own, or became itinerate evangelists (peregrini), living off the land and the kindness of the people they served.
Columbanus provided such a powerful example of the grace of God, Jonas tells us, that many, “despising all the vain pomp of this life, were zealous in the service of God.”
Life in a Columban monastery was structured around the Rule Columbanus prepared for his monks. The goal of that Rule was to promote love for God and neighbors, and for serving the work of the Lord – to grow a community strong in the grace of the Lord. Those who came to live in one of Columbanus’ monasteries freely committed themselves to this Rule, which guided them in a life of spiritual discipline, physical work, diligent study, and ministry. The monasteries were disciple-making schools, and included young men and boys under fosterage, all committed to devoting themselves in service to the Lord. The grace of the Lord was strong in Columbanus and his team, and they established a disciple-making model that outlived them all and helped to spread the work of the Gospel throughout Europe.
We have lost the mindset of disciple-making in the Church today. We offer a wide variety of programs and opportunities to learn or serve, but we are not very good at helping young people despise worldliness and devote themselves in service to the Lord. Indeed, the trend is almost the reverse: Increasingly, young people leave the faith once they head off to college and careers.
The seminaries, to which many go to prepare for pastoral ministry, are not equipping men for disciple-making, either. This is evident from the condition of the churches, where disciple-making is talked about but rarely pursued.
Here is a matter for earnest prayer. We need the grace of the Lord, and to be strong in it, if we are to do the work of disciple-making such as Paul entrusted to Timothy – training faithful men who will train others also in the life of faith. Such generation-spanning work is not accomplished by programs in church, but by the grace of God, strongly at work in the lives and teaching of disciplined and visionary men.
Each of us as believers is called to the work of making disciples, right where we are in our own Personal Mission Field (Matt. 28.18-20). Do we understand what this work entails? Are we pursuing it day by day? Let us seek the grace of our Lord that, like Columbanus, we may be strong in His love, in love for the people to whom He sends us, and for the work of making disciples by which the Kingdom of God comes on earth as it is in heaven.
Psalm 78.4-7 (Foundation: How Firm a Foundation)
The glorious deeds of our God in His might,
And all of the works He has done in our sight,
Together with all of the words of His Law,
Would we on ourselves and our children bestow.
Lord, let all our children arise and declare
The truth of the Lord every day, everywhere,
And set all their hopes in God’s wonderful Word,
And never forget all the works of the Lord.
Lord, many Christians are in my Personal Mission Field, and I must encourage them in their walk with and work for You. Today, give me grace, so that I…
Resources for disciple-making
Our website offers many valuable resources to help you grow as a disciple and do the work of disciple-making. Our recent ReVision series, “Small Stuff,” can show you and the Christians in your Personal Mission Field how to glorify God in all the everyday details of your life. Download the three studies in this series by clicking here.
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T. M. Moore, Principal
All Psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.