2 Timothy 2:2 is one of the most quoted verses in regard to discipleship. And yes, Paul does talk about discipleship here. But sometimes in zeroing in on this verse, we miss the broader context of this pastoral epistle. Paul, an apostle, is writing to Timothy, a pastor, about how to develop and defend a disciple-making culture in his local church.
In 2 Timothy 2:3–7, Paul gives Timothy some principles that can serve as guardrails for developing and defending a disciple-making culture in the local church.
Paul’s first encouragement to Timothy is to be single-minded like a soldier (2:3–4). He tells him to stay focused. Think about it. If a soldier is in battle and bullets are flying everywhere, what happens if he starts daydreaming? He dies. In the heat of battle, soldiers must stay focused if they want to survive. And Paul is telling Timothy the same thing. Stay focused. Keep your eyes on Christ. Be single-minded like a soldier.
The second encouragement is to be disciplined like an athlete (2:5). I once watched an interview with an Olympic track athlete who trained six hours a day, six days a week, for four years to run in a twelve-second race! How much more should we discipline ourselves for an eternal prize? How much more should we discipline ourselves to make disciples?
Discipline is critical because the world offers us all types of distractions to pull us away from what is best. We have to be willing to be unsuccessful in this world in order to be successful in the world to come. Our problem is that oftentimes we have two competing visions. We have one vision of making disciples and another vision of becoming the next “mega” something. And in pursuit of “mega,” we can easily leave disciple-making behind, trading it for a focus on numbers and size. We need discipline to help us stay focused on making disciples.
We have to be willing to be unsuccessful in this world in order to be successful in the world to come.
Paul’s final encouragement is to persevere like a farmer (2:6). I grew up in the city, so I don’t have much experience with farming. But recently, I got into one of those moments where I felt like it was my duty as an urban practitioner to have an urban garden. So I went out to the store and rented a tiller. Now remember, I don’t know anything about farming. I’m thinking that tilling up the ground is going to be real easy—just go up and down a few times and be done with it. Well, after spending six hours using this machine, you know what I had? A bunch of turned up dirt. And come to find out, it wasn’t even deep enough. For two days, all I did was till the soil and chop up the dirt. Finally, after it was deep enough, we put in the seeds and watered it. And then the next day we watered it again. And again. And again. (You get the picture.)
This is how farming works. You water it day after day, and guess what you see? Nothing! You start questioning, “Am I doing this right? Because the only thing growing is weeds.” But you keep going until one day you see a little sprout pop up. And then you keep watering it and trying to protect it from the bugs, but all you can do is pray that it stays healthy and keeps growing.
How often do we persevere like that in our faith? Our flesh fights against us. We fear “wasting” our time. Why spend two years discipling someone who ends up joining another church because they didn’t like your band? Why invest in someone who is just going to leave?
Paul points to a different way. He says that we have to persevere like a farmer and pray for God to work. In our day and age, we have sprinkler systems that keep our gardens watered. But in that time, farmers did all the work of tilling the soil and planting the seeds, only to wait and see if God would send the rain. Discipleship is the same. It makes us wholly dependent on him. We can labor and invest and pour ourselves out, but only God brings growth.
The bottom line is that you can plant a church and not make disciples. But if you make disciples, you will plant churches that will plant churches. This isn’t about drawing a big crowd. This is about being faithful to disciple the people God entrusted to you.
In November of this year, Blueprint Church will host the MyBLVD Experience. During this weekend we share how we, as the members, staff, leaders, and elders of Blueprint Church fight to align every component of our church with disciple-making. We want to be honest, share our strengths, weaknesses, successes and failures and how God works through it all.
If you desire to craft a contextualized disciple-making strategy for your context, we would love to have you join us for this year’s event. We hope to use the time to equip, empower and encourage church planters and pastors to make disciples wherever their life exists. You can follow this link to apply today.
Dhati Lewis is lead pastor of Blueprint Church in Atlanta, Georgia, and executive director of community restoration with the North American Mission Board. This article originally appeared on NewChurches.com.