If multiplication is our goal, we need to avoid making these mistakes that undermine our efforts in making new disciples.
1. LOSING YOUR FOCUS ON MULTIPLICATION AS THE GOAL
All of my life I have been haunted by my multiplication tables. When I was a kid my mom spent hours testing me with those stupid flash cards.
Now I am haunted by a different kind of multiplication.
The overwhelming potential for spiritual multiplication through healthy discipleship haunts me. It also drives me. That is one of the reasons I do college ministry.
Even a small college ministry that multiplies disciples can impact thousands of people in just a few years.
“Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, multiplying thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times.” —Mark 4:8
Multiplication doesn’t happen by accident. It must be intentionally pursued.
Let me plead with you not to be guilty of practicing what I call “dead-end discipleship.”
Dead-end discipleship is when Christians meet with Christians to make them more Christian but don’t ever break out of Christian subculture to engage lost people.
My friend Brian Zunigha says, “Discipleship without evangelism is not discipleship. It’s actually recycle-ship.”
Too often what passes as spiritual multiplication is nothing more than reorganizing Christians.
There are no shortcuts to experiencing true spiritual multiplication. We need disciples who have the faith, courage and spiritual maturity to “labor” among lost people until God saves someone.
Here are some practical things we do in order to ensure that our discipleship is focused on reproducing:
1. At the beginning of every discipling relationship, we start praying together for the conversion of their lost friends and family. Keep expanding this prayer list. Use Three Habits for Everyday Evangelism as an accountability tool.
2. We encourage disciples to choose a “pocket of people” with whom to build relationships and begin broadly sharing the gospel as opportunities arise. Use the Personal Ministry Target Worksheet. Ideally you would be doing this together.
3. Take them with you when you have gospel appointments with new people who visit your ministry. If someone comes to Christ you could have your disciple do the follow-up with the person. It’s important that they gain experience in practical ministry.
4. Make sure that all you do is simple to reproduce. You want them to say, “That’s it? Even I could do that!” That’s why we use our series of reproducible discipleship lessons.
5. As you are training people in a particular spiritual discipline or essential concept, make sure to infuse the vision for reproduction into the process. I love the phrase “When you are discipling someone this is how you could explain this concept.”
6. Pray daily and specifically that God would grow your disciples into laborers and that he would provide them with someone to disciple soon. Pray together for this during your meetings.
7. Provide coaching and training once they start discipling others. Spend time each meeting discussing how it is going with those they are discipling and what it will take for that person to begin discipling others.
Multiplication takes time.
Don’t stress if you are not seeing multiplication happen overnight. Focus on quality, and God may provide the quantity at the proper time. Dawson Trotman, founder of The Navigators, reminded his ministry leaders, “It’s not how many men, but what kind of men.”
2. GIVING UP ON PEOPLE TOO SOON
It’s so easy to lose patience with people when they are flaky or seem unmotivated.
The older I get, the more jaded I am tempted to become. But then I realize how many of our core leaders were once flaky freshman, and I am encouraged. I also remember how much of a punk I was when I was a freshman.
A specific example who comes to mind is a guy named Jon.
When I started meeting with Jon, I honestly didn’t think he was going to make it.
He had all kinds of wack theology and wasn’t super teachable, but he was a new believer and was excited about meeting and getting connected to the ministry.
He would say something that was completely heretical, and I would say I disagree but then get back to teaching him one of the basics. I focused on helping him follow Christ and getting him connected relationally with the group.
Over the course of that year, God did work, and Jon changed his heretical views just through his own study of the Bible and growing in faith naturally. He also developed more teachability.
He grew to be a leader in our ministry, leading people to Christ, and now as an alumni plays key roles serving Christ in a partner church of ours.
I am so glad I didn’t give up on Jon.
There is actually a difference between follow-up and discipleship training. When following-up with a new believer, you don’t practice the principle of selection. Pursue a new believer until they tell you to stop. They are babies who need milk.
“Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation” —1 Peter 2:2
We have to remember that new believers are babies spiritually. We can’t be selective with them too soon.
“Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well” —1 Thessalonians 2:7–8
People are not naturally “F.A.T.” Faithful. Available. Teachable. However, they can be trained in these things. Just because someone is sending you mixed signals about how interested they are doesn’t mean God is not working in their life. Keep praying for them, loving them and seeking to get them connected.
“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” —Colossians 3:13
You will also have people you pour your life into who will walk away. Remember the parable of the sower. Most don’t make it to become multipliers. Even Jesus had one of his twelve not make it. Yes it is heartbreaking when someone walks away, but let’s not let it be because we started pulling back in our investment of them. Let’s ask God to give us faith that he can radically change people’s lives.
I am so glad I didn’t give up on Jon. There were times when I wanted to, but God did his thing.
Disciple making really isn’t about us. Our part is being persistent and showing up. God does the all heavy lifting.
Many people don’t make it, but it is all worth it for the ones that do make it and become disciple makers themselves.
“I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” —3 John 1:4
Don’t give up on people. Believe that God can do amazing things in and through their lives and you will be surprised by how some of them step up.
3. FEELING LIKE YOU MUST GIVE EVERYONE THE SAME AMOUNT OF YOUR TIME
“And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach.” —Mark 3:14
Jesus wasn’t very fair in his investment in people. He chose. All people are equally valuable, but not all people are equally strategic. We need to move with the movers.
Some people don’t really want more than a weekly meeting with you for discipleship, so don’t waste your time chasing those people around.
There may even come a point when you stop meeting with them and get them plugged into a community group or find someone else to invest in them.
Find those you can really pour yourself into and help them as much as possible.
“Many a man claims to have unfailing love, but a faithful man who can find?” —Proverbs 20:6
If you find a faithful person you have found a rare specimen! Multiply your life into that person.
Forget about being fair. Jesus wasn’t.
Jesus had the masses who followed him, then he had 70, then he had 12, then three he brought to special occasions and one to whom he passed off leadership.
We would be wise to model our ministry strategies off of Jesus. Never apologize for investing more in faithful people than in others. Why? Because our goal is multiplication.
In part two of this series we discuss common relational mistakes in disciple making.
Paul Worcester is founder and director of Christian Challenge at Chico State University in Chico, California. Paul helps lead Collegiate Collective and Campus Ministry Today, and is the author of the free eBook Tips for Starting A College Ministry. This article appeared on Thinke.org.
Read Part 2: Common Mistakes in Building Discipleship Relationships »
Read Part 3: Common Mistakes in Establishing Disciples »