How I View My Disciple #2

The kingdom of God multiplies by disciples of Jesus making disciples. Jesus used a seed as a picture of how his kingdom expands. Different types of seeds multiply in different ways.  A strawberry has 200 seeds but a cherry only one. The strawberry has a fast germination each season whereas a cherry pit takes 6 years before it will produce fruit. Although the strawberry plant quickly produces many berries and thousands of seeds it has a short lifespan whereas the cherry tree will produce fruit for many years. The point is not that one seed is better than the other but that they multiply differently.

I have made disciples long enough now to observe their multiplication patterns. Scott makes disciples like strawberries. The Holy Spirit has gifted him to be able to make many disciples quickly but effectively. Dave on the other hand is more like a cherry. He has only a few men but years later his men have proven to be fruitful.

Love should empower me to allow my disciple to be who the Lord intended him to be and deter me from trying to conform him into a type of multiplier that I think is best. It is God who has made my disciple so I had better align myself with the Lord’s purpose for him rather than my ideas.

Why Disciples Don’t Grow

The environment I create in which to make disciples has a greater “formative power” over my disciple than what I say or teach. Although addressing academics, I believe Parker Palmer exposes why our homes, churches, and ministries fail at making disciples of Jesus:

What do students consistently learn that you never intended to teach? . . .the whole culture of the academic community with its systems of rewards and punishments . . . [and its] rules and relationships. . .comprise of a ‘hidden curriculum’ which [has a] greater formative power over the lives of learners than the advertised curriculum.

I am presently evaluating our ministry in Chicago searching for “hidden criteria” or “hidden agendas” that send a double message, which confuses my disciple and invalidates my discipling efforts. The temptation for me is to deflect the responsibility for my disciple’s lack of spiritual growth on him when in fact I may be the problem due to the means by which I am discipling him. I will naturally create an environment that is comfortable for me, catering to my strengths and avoiding my weaknesses, which is great for me but a detriment for my disciple.

One example of this is the time that I had gathered a group together to study the bible as a means to make disciples. Most of the people were growing and enjoying the study but some were not. I assigned the blame for those not maturing on them. My reasoning was, “Others in the group are appreciative and growing, so you must be the problem.” It was not until after I had discovered that two in the group had learning disabilities that I realized that I had made spiritual growth inaccessible to them. (In their mind God was inaccessible to them.) I had told the group that this was a safe place to become a follower of Jesus but then chose a means that excluded those who were dyslexic. I had sent the wrong message not through my words but through my means that if they read well, remembered the information, stimulated by the content, and could contribute to the discussion that they were a follower of Jesus.

In closing,

  • If your disciple is not growing, evaluate your approach with him or her. One approach does not fit all.
  • Look at your discipling environments from the perspective of each disciple. How would an introvert feel with what I am doing? What about an international student? Large group settings stimulate some while others are uncomfortable with more than six people.
  • Gather input from your disciples on what they are experiencing from the environment that you have created. Listen especially to those who seem uncomfortable or not growing.
  • Evaluate your successes. Often ministries give credit to the wrong thing for their success.  For example, usually disciples will list their relationship with their discipler as the reason for their growth, not bible studies, teaching, or group time.

On Loving Well

The guiding question for my sister Margie’s life and ministry is: “Am I (or are we) loving each individual well?”

We measure what is important to us.  An insight into American Christianity is what it does not measure.   Some noticeable questions missing from evaluation are:  How many of our children are following Jesus into adulthood? Do our people love one another?  How healthy are our marriages?  How many of our converts continue to follow Jesus after 5 years? What is our reputation in the world?”

Love requires us to consider at what rate we can effectively add people to our ministry.  If we randomly keep adding people then we put ourselves into a position where not only can we not love the new people but we also are unable to love those who are already in our ministry, which is to say we can love no one.

To love requires time.  If when I say “I will spend time with you” to a new comer, requires me to say “I do not have time to spend time with you” to someone who is already in my ministry, then there is the possibility that we have become too large.

I can hear some say, “But I thought disciple making and the gospel is about multiplication and expansion?!” Exactly! In order to multiply and expand we must love well.  To not love well is to hinder the replicating process.

Love Limits to Multiply

To love requires time.  To disciple is to love, therefore disciple making necessitates time.  To make a disciple is to say, “I will spend time with you.” When Jesus said, “follow me” to each of his disciples, he was saying to him, “I want to spend extended time with you.” He who is too busy cannot love and therefore cannot make disciples.

Jesus chose to spend three years with his small band because he was not only going to instruct them about love but he was also going to cultivate the group so that they could experience what it is like to be part of a group that loves one another.  (Notice that others came to Jesus asking to be his disciple but he kept the number at twelve.)

Here in Chicago we pace our growth based on how many people we can disciple and on how many people we can love.  We are surrounded by millions of people and tremendous need so we must be extra careful not to “swamp” our canoe.  At the moment that a group has more people to disciple than there are disciplers they become “swamped.”    The same is true with love, when there are more people to love than our group can love effectively; once again we have allowed the boat to be “swamped”.  Once the group is “swamped” with too many people I am convinced that there is no effective way to “unswamp” the canoe.

Love Limits

Love limits.  When a man says “I do” to his wife, he says “I don’t” to all other women and when a couple decides to have children they choose a lifestyle that is limiting in comparison to their childless friends.  Recently I attended my nephew’s wedding. Both sets of his grandparents are still living whose combined years of marriage is 114.  I was moved at the sight of a room full of their direct descendants who all love and enjoy one another. We willingly set margins around our family so that love will multiply to future generations. To neglect a marriage leads to divorce and to neglect a child results in a wounded person, which both break the love continuum.

Christianity accepts the setting of boundaries to effectively love our families but for some reason we do not apply that same principle to our ministries.  I can only love a limited number of people, so to choose a disciple making approach to ministry (which in a word is love) means to limit the number of people to whom I can minister.  To not limit the number of people in my ministry is to actually hinder the gospel multiplication process, but if I can remain disciplined and love my few disciples well, in the long run there will be a continual multiplication of love for generations to come.

Disciple Making and Children #1

Around 80% of the children who are raised in an evangelical church will leave Christianity at college [1].  If the number were 50% we should be concerned, but at 80% alarmed. Yet churches seem to be more concern about their numerical growth than they do about losing their own kids.  Churches spend thousands of dollars on church growth conferences, consultants, and materials searching for the key to their expansion, while spending comparatively few resources to help parents with their marriages or on how to disciple their children.

In many cases if a married couple volunteers for ministry in their church, they will be required to have some type of training and be under the apprenticeship of an experienced leader for a period of time.  But when a couple announces to that same church that they are expecting their first child they will given little or no training on how to raise that child.

There is something inconsistent about strategizing on how to reach our community and the world when we are unable to reach our own children.


[1] Glen Schultz, Kingdom Education; 2002 Southern Baptist Council on the Family.

 

Generational Love

Lois Synder died this year, she was 96.  Mrs. Synder taught my 2nd grade Sunday school class and directed our Christmas pageant each year at the Christian Fellowship Church. I attended her memorial service with my mom and dad in the same auditorium where in 1952 Lois had decided to follow Jesus.  When the Synder family walked into the service that afternoon I was moved.  Before us stood 3 generations who follow Jesus nearly 60 years after Lois’ conversion.

In the service family and friends shared their memories of Lois.  It was in these stories that we discovered the reason why her family still follows Jesus today: Lois loved well.  She so loved her children and grandchildren in their formative years that this love overflowed to her great grandchildren.  Not only did Lois love her family, but each week she would load her car with teaching materials and go share the gospel with children living in the inner-city.

Lois’ seemingly endless ability to love others flowed from her understanding of God’s love for her grounded in the cross of Jesus.  God’s love for me will not be found in my circumstances, my heritage, my abilities, or my position, rather it is anchored in the truth that Jesus died for me.   “. . . God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

God shows me how to love others in Jesus’ death for me.  John writes: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 1 John 3:16-17” Once I begin to grasp the depth of God’s love for me, I am then able to love others in sacrificing my life for them.  It will cost me to love my mate, my children, my friends, and my disciples.

How silly a question it would seem if we could ask Lois today, “Was it worth it?”  I can only imagine the joy in her heart in seeing 3 generations loving God and loving one another. 

Measuring Results by Generations

“Begin with the end in mind”[1], so says Stephen Covey.  The end objective determines not only how I do something but also how long I will do it.   To make a disciple of Jesus requires a loving relationship over an extended period of time.  Disciple making thinks in terms of the impact that my life will have on the generations to come rather than just on immediate results.

A generational perspective comes from God. He instructed the Israelites to not only train their own children but also their grandchildren (Deuteronomy 4:9).  In other words, an Israelite was expected to train children throughout his entire life.  The Lord also warns the Israelites that their sin would cast a long family shadow darkening generations to come.  Their behavior today would affect their children, their grandchildren, their great grandchildren, and even their great great grandchildren (Exodus 34:7).

In contrast, much of Christianity today values rapid multiplication and instantaneous movements.    We view a rapid growing church as being blest by God.  The faster the growth, the larger the numbers, the more blest by God, or so the reasoning goes.  The 3000 converts after Peter’s message in Acts chapter 2 is a favorite proof text.  This is why most church staff positions focus on the worship service as they seek to replicate a Pentecost type movement through what has been called “high impact services”.  I visited a church this week that had four staff members whose jobs revolved around the Sunday morning service and yet their small group coordinator was a part-time volunteer.  We revere the pastor or evangelist who is able to produce a Pentecost type stirring, notwithstanding the fact that not even Paul achieved comparable results.

Though spectacular, movements can lack the depth of relationship and character necessary to be sustained from one generation to the next.    Generational sustainability necessitates a deep love and a sacrificial longevity that a rapid multiplication does not require.    Only a sacrificial love is strong enough to bridge the generations.


[1] Covey, Stephen R. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989), p. 97.

Pursuing Your Disciple

Love pursues.  Your first step with a disciple is to pursue him. Just as Jesus chose his 12 disciples and as Paul chose Timothy, it is important for you to take the initiative in pursuing your disciple. This first step is key because it establishes the tone of the relationship and sets a trajectory for discipling relationships for generations to come.  When others came to Jesus and reversed the initiative by asking to become his disciple he turned them away, which indicates the significance of the discipler pursuing the disciple.  (Matt 8:19-22; Luke 9:57-62)

The good news of the kingdom is that the Father pursued man and adopted him into the family of God.  As I pursue a disciple I am demonstrating to him and the world the pursuing love of God in the cross of Jesus.

Recently I was at a gathering where several disciples shared their stories.  A recurring theme was the life change as a result of being loved by their discipler.  Not only will your disciple never forget being pursued by you, but it will serve as a point of reference for the rest of his life.  Because he has experienced the love of being pursued, he will pursue others.

Some closing lessons from the pursuit:

  • Pursuing is hard work.
  • Pursuing is deliberate.
  • Begin the pursuit by having your disciple tell you his story.
  • The pursuit of your disciple will take months.  Depending on the individual it may take many initiatives before you see a response.  (The pursuit often causes a disciple to face his deepest fears which he has avoided for years.)
  • The experience of being pursued teaches your disciple how to pursue others.
  • Parents, pursue each of your children. Children, pursue your parents. Brothers and sisters, pursue one another.  Friends, pursue your friends.

What is God Like?

While looking for ministry methods, Christianity has the tendency to skip over the Gospels and dive into the book of Acts and Paul’s letters.  Yet it is in the Gospels that we have four accounts of God coming to earth to show us what God is like.  “When Church Was a Family” by Joseph Hellerman is one of the more thought provoking books I have read in a while.  He writes:

“The earthly ministry of Jesus of Nazareth constitutes the one time in the history of humanity when heaven fully and finally came to earth.  In Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, we have the opportunity to see the question What is God like? answered in the flesh-and-blood world in which we live.  During His incarnation Jesus not only procured our way to heaven.  He also shows us how to live on earth.  Now we can pattern our lives after Jesus.”[1]

The answer to What is God is like? as seen in the Gospels is love.  At the baptism of Jesus the heavenly Father breaks silence and declares his love for his Son.  “And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matt 3:17) Here we discover the family love bond between the heavenly Father and Jesus.  This familiar love becomes the basis for Jesus love for his disciples and the disciples love for one another.   “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.” (John 15:9)As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

While reading the Gospels our Western eyes are drawn to ministry methods and we can easily miss the relational component of Jesus’ approach.   Imitating the methods of Jesus without the family love element will result in a sterile religion rather than a dynamic spiritual family.  It is essential for your disciples to understand that God relates to them as a Father and they are to relate to him as a son.  This understanding is the basis on which your disciples are to lovingly relate to one another as brothers.  The brotherly love your disciples have for one another is a window for the world to see into the heavenly Father’s love for Jesus and their perfect unity. “I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:22-23)


[1] Joseph H. Hellerman, When the Church Was a Family (Nashville: B & H Academic, 2009), p. 62.