He who does the work is not so profitably employed as he who multiplies the doers. – John R. Mott (1865-1955)
From the time Jesus selected the twelve, His continuing public ministry was filled with lessons for his disciples as He prepared them to produce future generations of disciplers.
In our urgency to complete the assignment He gave us, have we neglected the wisdom of following His method under the empowering of the Holy Spirit?
Generations of Disciplers
In 1902 Andrew Murray widely publicized the observation that one discipler, winning one person to Christ each year and building them up to do the same in successive generations, would win the whole world in just 32 years.
In the 1950s, Navigator founder Dawson Trotman noted that, if this spiritual reproduction happened every six months, such generations of disciplers would win the whole world in just 16 years.
How do Generations of Disciplers Develop?
Jesus’ strategy for revealing Himself to the whole world was through successive generations of disciplers. Rather than being consumed with meeting every need He could in His own generation, He foresaw that the greatest fruit for all generations would come from the faithful spiritual reproduction of the small community He was discipling.
Jesus did not simply use the twelve as assistants to service ever-increasing crowds. Mk 3:14-15 tells us that He chose them “that they might be with Him,” “that He might send them out to preach,” and “have authority to drive out demons.”
Neither did Jesus focus solely on:
– bringing the twelve to maturity,
– giving them deeper understanding, or
– teaching them to love Him and one another.
From the outset they understood that they were also in training to carry on a mission: “I will make you fishers of men.” (Mt 4:19).
What I find fascinating is that Jesus didn’t just pick individuals and disciple them in isolation from one another. He started with four friends – two sets of brothers – and built a community to practice and prove His teaching.
I Was Never Discipled?
My friend Dave Browning leads a global network of churches which aim to stay small and simple so they can multiply.3 A year ago, in discussing the need to be intentional in making disciples, I complained, “I was never discipled.” Reflecting on the insights I had already shared with him from Dr. Winter, Dave replied immediately, “It looks to me like you were discipled by Ralph Winter.”
Dave’s reaction stirred me to realize that Dr. Winter’s pattern of discipleship with peers around a task, was much richer than my superficial stereotype of discipleship as a weekly meeting focused on my own spiritual growth.
I had joined the U.S. Center for World Mission (USCWM) shortly before graduating from Caltech in 1980. During my 24 years at the USCWM, many people invested in me and I learned and grew through a wide variety of assignments and meetings. In working alongside Dr. Winter and others, I grew to love Jesus more deeply, pursue His Kingdom ahead of my own interests, and enlist others in discipling all peoples. Eventually I wrote a booklet detailing 34 important lessons I learned under Dr. Winter’s discipleship and modeling.
Hit and Run Ministry
At the USCWM, even after marrying and having children, I naively lived a self-induced, sleep-deprived scramble to take advantage of every opportunity to learn and serve. I remember misquoting Luke 10:2: “The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few, so we have to work extra hard to make up for what others aren’t doing that they should be doing.”
My first interest in alternate ministry models came when Dr. Winter described the USCWM as a “hit and run” ministry, typified by my own long-standing practice:
1. Meet someone.
2. Fill their available time with every insight and resource I thought could benefit them.
3. Then part without expecting further contact.
This ministry model isn’t bad, but it is very different from Jesus’ use of passing ministry opportunities in His focus on developing the twelve into “fishers of men.”
Dr. Winter’s comment provoked me to wonder: Is there a more fruitful way to minister than simply giving all I can to as many as possible?