In the Great Commission, Jesus said that we were to make disciples, not converts. He didn't tell us to go out and just save people, but He said to make disciples, to reproduce ourselves.
As a pastor, I was constantly aware of two commitments: one, to have a congregation that understood discipleship; two, to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry. These are the two things that I, as a leader, feel that I am accountable for. And churches that are growing have been able to successfully do both.
Spiritual Reproduction Is What Discipleship Is All About!
Discipleship is not:
1. Just a Christian education
It's not about implanting information for knowledge's sake.
In other words, it's not just going to Sunday school class. It's not just imparting information. It's not us just learning things mentally. That is part of discipleship, but that isn't the ultimate goal.
2. Cookies and punch
Fellowship is to take place in the church; discipleship takes place in the world.
We're good at coming together for food and fellowship, and we enjoy that, but discipleship is more than that. Fellowship takes place in the church, but discipleship is to take place in our church world to reach out to the people around us.
3. Scripture memorization
Intellectual exercise is not enough unless there is life change.
It's not just memorizing scripture so we can go around quoting what God's word says. Discipleship is more than knowing God's word. Discipleship is living God's word. It's applying the scriptural truths to our hearts.
Discipleship is not just imparting knowledge. What are we doing with what we teach on Sunday? What are we doing with the word of God? Do we take God's word and just read it and say, "Well, you know, I think that's good, people should follow it," or do we look at it and apply it to our own hearts and lives?
There's a passage of Scripture that just grabs me: John 7:17. Listen to these words. "If any man will do my will, then he will know whether my teaching is of God or not." Did you catch the sequence here? Did you notice that doing God's will comes before understanding God's will? The most popular messages I ever preached were on knowing God's will. People were always saying, "How do I know the will of God for my life?" Do you know how you know the will of God?
You know the will of God not just by thinking, not by just studying, not just by taking out your pen and writing notes, but God's will begins to unfold within us as we utilize it in our lives, as we walk in the light. We become disciples of Christ as we begin to take God's word and do something about it.
At the end of every message that I give, I usually scribble two words with a question mark: So what? I'm asking myself every time I speak to people, "So what?" "So what, John, you just gave a message. Was there something that needed to be applied? Was there something that needed to be shared? Was there something that needed to be exercised?"
I contend that we are educated as Christians way beyond our level of obedience. What would happen if, after I finished a Sunday morning sermon and gave an application, we didn't have church again until people did something about it? (Some people I wouldn't see until the next Easter!) Do we take God's word and really apply it?
My desire is to make disciples. That's the command that Jesus has given me, and in my view, discipleship is:
1. The Great Commission (Matthew 28:20)
It's a command, not a suggestion, to imitate what Jesus did with the twelve. He said, "Make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you."
2. Multiplication through reproduction (II Timothy 2:2)
We must "multiply" as Christians, because addition won't keep up with the population growth. Discipleship is us multiplying ourselves in the lives of others. "And the things that you have received from me in the presence of many witnesses, those entrust to the faithful men who will be able to teach others also."
3. Apprenticeship (I Thessalonians 2:7-8)
Jesus lived with His men and invested His life in them. Here's what Paul told the Christians. "We choose to be like children or like a mother nursing her baby. We cared so much for you that you became so dear to us that we were willing to give our lives to you when we gave you God's message."
I can’t help but be inspired by Jesus in these passages! In His time, there were two models of discipleship: the Greek model and the Hebrew model. The Greek model was teaching—we think of Socrates, Aristotle, Plato, Alexander the Great. It was an enlightenment, information that pleased the mind. But Jesus discipled according to the Hebrew model: on-the-job training. Jesus took his twelve disciples with him and they experienced things together.
Disciple-making involves a developmental relationship where a mature Christian invests and mentors a willing apprentice so that he or she not only matures as well, but also becomes a multiplying Christian.
Question: What do you possess, spiritually, that you can pass on?
Question: Do you know of any people who could benefit from your spiritual maturity?
Question: Although you are not perfect, would you commit to multiplying at least one spiritual discipline or quality in someone else?
Early in my preaching career, in my second church in Ohio, I decided that I wanted to be a disciple, and began to call the pastors of some of the great churches all over America. I wanted to learn something from men who had been very successful. I'd call them and say, "You don't know who I am, but my name is John Maxwell and I'm a pastor and you're a great man of God and you have a great church. I want to learn from the best."
For about the first five years of our married life, Margaret and I never could afford a vacation, but I’d speak at a revival somewhere near a city with one of those great churches. And when I called the pastors of these churches, because they didn't know who I was, I would say, "I'll give you a hundred dollars if you'll give me 30 minutes of your time." I was making $12,800 bucks a year, but I wanted so badly to be a disciple and to learn. I wanted so badly to sit at the feet of somebody who knew more than I knew.
I would go to these pastors for my appointment and walk in with my tape recorder so that I could record the answers. I had a legal pad with pages of questions, and I would ask my questions as fast as I could with that tape recorder on. When the 30 minutes were over, I would turn off the tape recorder, put my stuff back in my briefcase, stand up, reach in my pocket for the hundred dollar check already made out to that pastor and hand it to him.
Interestingly enough, in every single case, those pastors would look at that check and smile. They saw a kid who wanted desperately to build a great church for God. And they'd hand my hundred dollars back, and sometimes they'd ask me to go to lunch with them. I would accept, but usually I couldn’t eat. I would just ask more questions.
Often, I’d leave those lunches, get in my car, and bawl like a baby. For the last hour, I had spent some time with what I would call a great man of God; and a little bit of that spirit, a little bit of that man, a little bit of that sense of God that was in his life had begun to ooze into my life. Peter tells us that the elderly women should pour their lives into the younger women, that there ought to be a desire to enhance the body of Christ, where we become our brother's and our sister's keeper. And those who are more experienced in the word begin to help those who are younger in the word.
Younger Christians are so much fun! They don't have a clue, but they're fun! I had one come up to me and show me John 3:16. He said, "Look what I found." It's just so much fun to be around a new Christian because they're so happy; they're so joyful. Our problem, as older Christians, is that we get to a certain level where we've been there, done that, and we've kind of got our system worked out. All of a sudden we forget that our obligation doesn't stop with our own spiritual development, but our obligation is to begin to pour ourselves into someone else.
The Original Blueprint...
I desire for us as Christians to begin to pour our lives into one another. Jesus did such a good job of this. Jesus modeled for us a lifestyle of spiritual reproduction. It was "on the job training" in real-life contexts. Note Jesus' IDEA of spiritual reproduction:
I Instruction in a real-life context.
D Demonstration in a real-life context. He not only taught them in parables, but He was also always showing them. He was visualizing. He was incarnating, fleshing out truth before them. Remember the time the disciples came up to Jesus and they said, "Lord, teach us to pray." Do you know why they asked that question? Because they had watched Him pray. They had seen Him go up to the mountain. And when He came back after prayer, incredible things happened in His ministry, and it began to make the disciples hungry and thirsty to know what that man knew. So as they watched him, they begin to want to know more about God.
E Exposure in a real-life context. It's where Jesus would take the disciples into these situations and they would try it.
A Accountability or assessment in a real-life context. After they tried it, and after they experimented, they came back and they talked about it.
If you understand church history, you know discipleship did really well for the first 300 years. The church grew by Christians reproducing Christians. But in A.D. 313, the Emperor Constantine made Christianity a state religion. Worst thing that ever happened was that the head honcho officially ordered everybody to do be Christians. When he said that, he forced people that weren't even believers to be in the Christian church. And all of a sudden, it went from a vibrant body of Jesus Christ, a community thriving with reproduction, to a sterile institution. And we dropped the ball in 313. Since then, the church has tried to come back to this issue of reproducing itself.
This strategy worked right to the 4th century. Then we dropped the ball. Why?
1. Human nature
We tend to drift into comfort zones - the path of least resistance.
There's a tendency for all of us to kind of coast, relax, rest, to lay back. That's the truth for every one of us.
2. Clergy vs. laity distinction
A wide gap grew between clergy and laity
This distinction basically says that there are professionals that should do all that, and we pay them – they’re the pastoral staff or leadership team. There's a tendency to say, "I sit in the pew and I let the leadership team do that. All we are is laity anyway." The word "laity," by the way, comes from the Latin root word "idiot." Clergy comes from the root word "church."
My desire for churches is to cut that clergy/laity stuff completely out. We don't need clergy and laity. Instead, aren't we all a part of the body of Christ? Don't we all have spiritual gifts? Shouldn't we all be using them for the glory of God? Don't you realize you're going to be accountable to God for your spiritual gifts? Just because I happen to be a "pastor" doesn't mean that I'm going to be anymore accountable for my spiritual gifts than you are for yours. You've got to go find out what it is and utilize it for Christ.
We must return to the original blueprint...
As we invest in people, we must be committed to three things:
1. A Person
2. A Process
3. A Purpose
Have you ever sat down with a more mature believer and been discipled one-on-one so that you can just grow in your Christian walk with God? If you've been discipled, have you received enough strength and to turn around and say, “I want to pour my life into someone else?”
Think for a moment, what would happen if every one of us reproduced ourselves even once? Staggering, isn't it? Let's decide to get involved in the kingdom.