How do we help believers grow? How do we make disciples who make disciples?
How well do we do this? Not terribly well, in part because of our approach. In most churches, there are two primary ways we seek to grow believers as disciples of Jesus.
(1) Through PREACHING or the PULPIT. This is a good thing. It’s a biblical thing. Preaching expositionally, faithfully teaching the Word matters.
(2) Through PROGRAMS. We help believers grow through small group ministry and through a variety of classes aimed at helping them to pray, read the Bible, witness, etc. This also matters and has helped many.
These have been the primary ways we grow disciples. They should be foundational to our churches. But these have limitations. First, they of necessity focus on the lowest common denominator. When you preach to the whole congregation you must give focus to teaching the whole group, making specific, practical application difficult. In the same way, small groups and classes aim at presenting truth to all participants. Second, they focus on the few not the many. Only a few people preach, for instance. And not everyone leads a small group. If you have a church of 100 people, you may have one preacher and 10 small group leaders, which leaves 89 still learning passively.
There is a third, vital way we must grow disciples:
(3) Through PARENTS. We don’t emphasize this enough, but the most important discipler in the home is a Christian parent. Even if we do this well, that still leaves a lot of people who aren’t parents, or preachers, or leaders of programs. Let me add a couple more vital ways we must make disciples who make disciples.
(4) MENTORING. To go deeper than the one-size-fits-all, lowest common denominator approach, we need to get more personal. Not everyone is a preacher, group leader or parent, but every growing believer can be a mentor to someone. This is vital and must have a growing place in our churches. We give too much credit to pastors (I say this as a pastor) and not enough to all believers who can mentor another. This is the genius of Paul’s advice to Timothy in II Timothy 2:1-2.
If you have known Christ for a while, you can be a mentor. My colleague George Robinson and I wrote a book about this to help you called WITH. You can get it here.
(5) Developing SELF-FEEDERS. Ultimately, we want to help people grow so they can feed themselves on the Word. We all need the community of the local church (Paul tells Timothy to pass on things “in the presence of many witnesses” in II Timothy 2:2), but each of us is a saint. We have the Holy Spirit to guide us, the Word to instruct us and Jesus to lead us. This final aspect of growth must be tied to those above, but cannot be ignored, either.
ALL believers can be self-feeders. Most believers (all who actively seek to grow) can mentor another. While the first three are foundational, they are not what we need in total.
Here’s why this matters. Paul offers four generations of disciples who make disciples in II Timothy 2:2: Paul invests in (1st Generation) Timothy who would invest in (2nd Generation) Faithful men who would invest in (3rd Generation) Others (4th Generation). This is multiplication vs addition.
Here’s the difference:
If a father gives one son $1 a week for a year, and another son $.01 a week for a year, but it doubles each week, who gets more?
- The first son in a year by addition will make $52.
- The second son by multiplication will make $22,517,998,136,852.48.
Here’s another example: A man is a fantastic evangelist who wins 1,000 to Christ daily (he must be on TV!). At the end of the year: 365,000 saved! That is wonderful. But a second man wins only one to Christ in a year, but spends much time helping him to grow in the gospel. At the end of the year: one is saved. BUT:
- In 25 years, the first man will have won to Christ 9,125,000
- In 25 years, the second man who disciples one, and each disciples one each year, will have won to Christ 33,554,432!
We must not do less than preach faithfully, program well and help parents equip their children in the church. But we must do MORE: We must elevate mentoring’s role, and we must help believers feed themselves on the Word if we will make disciples who make disciples.
*Note: This is adapted from a message I preached at Richland Creek Community Church. You can listen to it here.