You might remember that we are looking at how Jesus made disciples. We are trying to identify the principles He modelled and that we should emulate.
Today’s principle is pretty obvious: disciples are made via relationships.
Jesus wanted to establish a movement that would spread through all the world. The Great Commission says, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” What was His plan for doing that? He wasn’t going to be able to do it Himself so what did He do? What did He leave behind?
He didn’t leave a study course complete with DVDs. He didn’t leave a Bible college. He didn’t write a book. What did He leave behind to begin this movement? He left 11 men – and that tells us something.
There are many things that cannot be learnt from reading a book or searching the internet. If you wanted to teach a child to ride a bike would you simply present him with a bike and a book and walk away? Wouldn’t he rather have you alongside, first demonstrating how to ride then pointing out the essentials, holding the bike while he gets a feel for balance, running along beside him holding onto the seat, picking him up when he falls off and encouraging him to have another go. A book cannot do any of those things.
The need for relationships is even more important with things that are less to do with the hands and more to do with the heart.
How does someone learn compassion? You could read a book about compassion but you will learn a lot more by observing compassionate people, seeing how they respond to others; by experiencing compassion; by not knowing how to respond to someone but seeing someone do it; by being able to reflect with someone after an incident you were in that called for compassion.
A great many things are learnt only by relating to other people. I spent a few months at Laidlaw College a few years ago while doing some study leave. I remember thinking that in a context like that of great learning opportunities, some of the most important lessons were learnt simply because the students lived in community. That is where they had to learn about doing duties, serving one another, knowing how to cope with different views, dealing with relationships that threaten to turn sour, putting other before yourself. Books and courses might help to understand some of those things but the real learning is done as life rubs up against life.
Jesus knew that. The best learning comes when one life rubs up against another life. He modelled that Himself. He called those 12 men into a relationship in which they would simply do life together.
Listen to this quote. You have to concentrate a little but it is profound…
“Through the disciples’ continual exposure to who he was, what he did and said, Jesus intended them to discern and absorb his vision, mindset and mode of operation. He desired them to become so saturated with the influences arising from his example and teaching, his attitudes, actions and anointing, that every single area of their lives would be impacted towards greater likeness to himself. The approach he decided on was simple and informal, practical and wholistic. The totality of shared life experiences made up the disciples’ classroom, and their teacher’s words merely needed to further elucidate the lessons already gained from his life.” (Krallman, Mentoring For Mission, p.53)
Jesus influenced the disciples by doing life with them. In that way, they picked up His beliefs, His values, His priorities, His methods, His thinking, His heart, His skills, everything.
Luke 11:1 One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he had finished one of His disciples said to Him, Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.
The disciples were even allowed to watch Jesus pray! Something about the way He prayed made them want what He had. Maybe they saw His joy at being in His Father’s presence. Maybe they saw how He came away from prayer at peace. Whatever it was, it was as a result of watching Him pray, listening to Him pray, that one of them asked Him to teach them to pray. It seems too that they had been influenced by John the Baptist and his teaching of his disciples. They wanted Jesus to teach them just as John had taught his followers. All of these relationships prompted learning.
There is an easier way! We can use programmes rather than relationships. We have a huge number of resources these days. We can simply go to the Christian bookshop and buy a programme for just about anything. It is much easier because it is all mapped out for us and we can put large numbers of people through the programme all at once. It is cleaner and tidier and we can easily keep track of who has completed which programmes. Relationships are messy and time-consuming and threatening. We are bound to suffer disappoint and being let down. Relationships require vulnerability and honesty.
Programmes are far easier – but are they as effective? Have we really improved on Jesus’ method of making disciples? Jesus’ method was to do life together. I think we have to ask whether Jesus’ example actually challenges us to get back to relationships. It is not about programmes; it is about people. Yes, relationships are far more demanding and far messier but is God asking us to take that risk – to actually relate to people? Is that what love is about?
Please don’t think that I am saying that programmes are bad. Many of them are fantastic. Programmes can be wonderful tools but I think they should be seen as simply tools to be used in the context of a relationship, not as a substitute for relationships. People need people.
Probably one of the most intimate times that Jesus had with His disciples was the Last Supper. Jesus was about to be arrested and killed yet He spent an evening with the Twelve preparing them, reassuring them, sharing a meal, praying for them. We could possibly pick any event from that evening to consider but one of the major events was Jesus washing their feet after they had arrived hot and dirty.
Read John 13:1-17
We know the story. Jesus got up from the table and performed the duties of a slave going around the circle washing their feet. What do you think was the impact of that? I’ll guarantee none of them ever forgot it. It must have been a powerful, humbling experience being served by Jesus when perhaps one of them should have served; being served by the Lord of all creation, being served by the one who would die only hours later. We get a bit of an idea from the reaction of impetuous Peter, the only one to speak up as far as we know. Peter objected. He knew that this wasn’t right. Jesus should not be washing His feet.
Why should Jesus not be doing this? Because of what Peter had already seen in Jesus. Peter had already come to the conclusion that Jesus was the Messiah. God had revealed that as Peter watched Jesus’ character and His power. As he got to know Jesus, God revealed that Jesus was the Messiah. Peter intuitively felt that the Messiah should not wash his feet. But Peter was wrong again. It actually was the nature of Jesus to wash people’s feet. Jesus is the suffering servant. Jesus said that He had come not to be served but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many.
Maybe the disciples had all resisted the thought that they should wash the others’ feet. Jesus revealed His nature by doing it. This was another lesson in Christ-likeness and they learned it by being served.
You can read about serving. You can go probably to conferences about serving but nothing teaches serving like being alongside a servant.
Jesus reinforced that by saying, “If I have washed your feet, you should wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done for you.”
Doing life together allows the disciple-maker to teach by example. Clearly, Jesus did that and there are many scriptures that exhort us to be examples. If we are to make disciples, we need to do life together so that they can see our example – how we pray, how we study scripture, how we apologise, how we handle our money, how we use our time. Maybe we can’t be together 24/7 but people in small groups have the opportunity to do life together and to minister to one another. Others might choose to have coffee together once a week with the intention of using that time to nurture their discipleship. Having people in our homes can be a wonderful opportunity to model Christ-likeness.
I heard a story last year that I have used frequently since. It involved a family that invited a person for a meal once a week. The first time that person came, she was blown away because she had never had a meal without everyone present fighting. Inviting someone for a meal is not very profound but actually it was very profound. We can forget that our lives have been transformed by Jesus and that they can be a powerful witness. What seems normal to us can be eye-opening for someone else.
But we can only have that sort of influence if we get to know people and we spend time with them like Jesus did.
The fact that disciples are made via relationships has two consequences that I want to mention briefly. The first is another principle that Jesus modelled. He selected a few.
Because the whole thing is relationship-based, you can do that with only a few people. Even Jesus couldn’t do have intimate relationships with many people. He could do that with only a few. In fact, some experiences He shared with a smaller group still – Peter, James and John.
We know that the bigger the class the less attention each child can receive. Jesus chose a class size of twelve because disciple-making happens via close relationship. He wanted to do a deep work in their lives – a work that would change them forever – but if you are working with many it is only possible to be superficial. Jesus didn’t want to do a superficial work. He needed a few people who had been utterly transformed if they were going to carry on this movement.
In other words, Jesus chose quality over quantity. We often want to make disciples in large numbers, through large events. Jesus chose the opposite. He chose to invest Himself deeply in a few people. That is another of the principles He modelled for us: select a few and invest in them.
But quality leads to quantity. Genuine disciples will make disciples. If Jesus had impacted thousands of people just a little bit, what impact would they have had? None. It required people who had been close to Jesus and had been transformed, to face the opposition and carry on Jesus’ ministry. Jesus was relying on another principle: multiplication. He was relying on disciples making disciples. He had to focus on deep transformation so that they could do that for others.
One of the first commands God gave to mankind was to go forth and multiply. That is still a command – not so much physical multiplication but spiritual multiplication. Go and make disciples.
Jesus didn’t make a mistake by starting small. He started small trusting God to multiply it. Let me show you the power of multiplication.
If you were a powerful evangelist and you converted 1000 people every day, after a year you would have 365,000 Christians. After two years you would have 730,000 Christians. Imagine that!
Now consider you take a whole year to nurture the faith of one other person but with the view that the next year both of you would do the same thing. At the end of the first year there would be two of you. After two years there would be four. Doesn’t that sound slow and tedious? Look at the numbers.
The disciple-making method starts very slowly. The numbers are singularly unimpressive. But, after a while, multiplication speeds up while addition plods along at the same old rate. After 23 years the numbers are about equal. From then on the multiplication numbers far exceed the addition numbers.
Here’s the result. Using addition – adding 365,000 converts each year – how long would it take to convert the whole world? 19,500 years. How long would it take making one disciple a year? Less than 33 years. That is the difference between making disciples who make disciples, on the one hand, and merely making converts who do not become part of God’s mission, on the other.
So, three principles modelled by Jesus. Let’s add them to last week’s and let’s think about how we can apply these principles here. What do you think these things should mean for us?
- Be intentional, purposeful, focused
Today, three principles:
- Disciples are made via relationships
- Real relationships require that you select a few people
- But you raise those people to repeat the process so that the whole thing multiplies.
- What do you find most threatening about making disciples by “doing life together”?
- What do you find most inspiring about making disciples by doing life together?
- Do you agree that relationships are essential and programmes are at best a tool?
- Is it true that, to be effective, we need to select a few people to invest in?
- Do you know who the few people are that God wants you to invest in? Who?
- Are you content to start with the seemingly unspectacular task of just investing in a few?
The multiplication numbers