Producing Reproducers

By DiscipleshipJournal • Discipleship • 27 Nov 2012

When Jesus made disciples, He was training them to imitate Him and thereby carry on His work.  He knew that the key to having His work continued on the Earth was that the disciples He made would obey His command to “make disciples!”  Those disciples would go on to make disciples… who would make disciples… who would make disciples… who would—you get the idea!  With discipleship, we want to produce reproducers.

There are two halves to discipleship “success”.  The first is that those we disciple develop Christ-like character and action.  The second is that they go on to make disciples who have Christ-like character and action.  The latter is the real win—that we produce reproducers.  Like the very first disciples, we obey Christ’s command to “make disciples” and teach those we minister to, to do likewise.  But  often our methods are not best suited to the process of reproducing disciples.

If producing reproducers is the goal, I think we need to rethink our strategy for discipling.

We tend to be over-cautious when we disciple. We don’t want to put immature Christians into leadership prematurely, and we want to guard against wrong teaching being perpetuated.  It is wise and necessary to use discernment and testing before releasing people into “leadership”, but often, but I feel we’ve gone too far in the other direction so that reproducing reproducers is now missing from the DNA.

What we can do to build replication into the DNA of our disciples?

Disciple by relationship, not classes!
It is recorded that Dawson Trotman once said:

“Classes produce classes; faithful men produce faithful men”.

I agree with this sentiment.  While classes can be used to by God to impart Truth and impact our lives, this is not the most effective way to develop disciple-makers.  Why? Because discipleship is about relationship! Christ’s disciples are known by their love for one another (Jn 13:35), not their ability to teach one another, and that love is seen in the way we open our lives up to one another.

I’ve used the term “inviting people into our lives” before, but what do I mean by that?  It’s simple really.  We give people opportunities to be around us.  This can be chatting over coffee or having dinner with your family… it could mean allowing them to shadow you at work or sit in on an important meeting…  it could be talking about a Scriptural Truth you’ve learned or praying together… anything that allows them to see what you do but with permission to ask questions to find out why.  Whatever the case, it is about inviting them to observe and interact with your life.

If replication is in your DNA, by letting them be in your life, observing and interacting, they’ll see the very principles lived out before them.

Build the expectation from the start.
I was at a church service where a man went forward to receive prayer at the end of the service and committed his life to Christ.  I walked past the prayer area to get coffee and someone grabbed my arm: “Scotty, this man has something he wants to tell you.”  I looked up at a man who had tears in his eyes and the biggest grin on his face.  He simply said: “I just gave my life to Jesus!”.  I shook his hand, hugged him, and with great joy welcomed him into The Family.  As I walked away I thought about what a great thing that was.  The man began his faith journey testifying about God’s work in His life.  What a way to embed the right DNA into someone’s life right from the start.  Rather than you-gave-your-life-to-Jesus-so-come-and-attend-our-8-week-class-then-we’ll-consider-you-ready, there was a simple act of empowerment that released him to start his journey pouring out the Truth to others.  He’d been a Christian for seconds.  He didn’t have his life together.  He didn’t have his theology all worked out.  He hadn’t had training in any aspect of his faith.  He was simply released to testify about what he knew!

We need to do this with those we disciple.  Rather than waiting for them to hit a certain milestone, we need to send them out to others right from the start.  We don’t want replication to be seen an optional extra, yet the longer we wait before sending people out, the more established a non-replicating DNA becomes!

Encourage them to share what they learn
When I did my first “Bible Readthrough” I was excited about the insights I was learning so would share them with friends at work.  I was only 4 weeks in to my own readthrough when I was encouraged to start a readthrough and lead them through it.  I found that I interacted differently in my own readthrough because I was engaging it at two-levels:  The first, it was me who was learning and growing; the second, I was observing my own readthrough through the grid of leading others.  I paid more attention to the questions asked, the insights shared, and why.  My own insights deepened when I shared them with others, and I found myself absorbing information, not just for me, but so that I could pass it on!  Having those you disciple share the lessons they learn establishes a DNA that says “the things God teaches me and not just for me”.

Give them tools AND teach them to use them.
It’s easier to do something myself than it is to teach someone else how to do it, but this is a huge roadblock to producing reproducers.  When it comes to discipleship, don’t just take someone through a resource, teach them how to use it!  When I’m looking at resources for discipleship I’m always evaluating how easy it would be for someone else to use it.  Not everyone is an expert teacher… but they are all called to teach disciples.  Not everyone is a gifted pastor… but they’re all called to pastor their disciples.  We can help those we disciple to be more effective by giving them tools they can use, and helping them use them effectively.

The best way to do this is to give them opportunities to use it (particularly with your supervision and feedback).  It’s takes less time to turn up to a session and lead it than it does to meet with someone to talk through the session and then allow them to lead it, but the latter is much more effective in the long run.  One of the benefits is that it communicates a lot to them about your trust in them, but beware:  You got where you are by trial and error, and just like you, they need to be allowed to fail!  We need to create a grace-filled environment where failure is not the end of the line!

Give away your trade secrets!
This can be really hard for people.   Our society is built on having to pay to receive someone else’s expertise, so we tend to be protective of our knowledge and expertise.  (Just try asking granny for her secret ingredient!)  If you’re a plumber and you want to train a plumber, you have to give away the trade secrets.  If you’re a disciple and you want to train a disciple, you have to do the same.

The most helpful moments have been when someone teaching me stopped and demonstrated how they do something, or revealed the underlying purpose in a question or action.  Earlier this year I sat in the office of a woman who is extremely effective at disciple-making.  In preparing some people for the mission field she had them performing menial tasks in her office.  They looked a bit like servants: “Could you get him some water?” “Would you sweep the floor?”  “Could you unplug that?”  After the young people left she explained what she was doing.  “The most important lesson they can learn is to serve well.  And the simplest way to do that is to let them serve here.”  No one was complaining about the menial tasks.  Why?  Because she’d explained that same Truth to them.  They knew that the tasks they were performing were character-building, and that on the field the door to reaching people with the gospel would most often come through simple acts of service.

Rather than preserving the Truths we minister by, we should be quick to reveal them to those we disciple, to help lay the foundation for how to disciple others.  That simple explanation which gave away the secret taught them and me a foundational way to train others.

Sacrifice your opportunities so they can have theirs!
It can be hard to get the opportunities you need to grow and teach, so it’s extra hard to think of giving them up.  We want to be the one at the front teaching or preaching or leading.  We want to be the one vision casting, discipling and investing.  (And that doesn’t have to be for self-centred reasons.)  The best way to teach others is to let them experience it themselves, which means giving them opportunities.  Often this means being willing to surrender our platform to allow them to step into it.  This means humbling ourselves and acknowledging that I’m not the only one God can use!  It means letting go of control and trusting the Holy Spirit at work in the other person!

Look to the future, not the present.
If you want to produce reproducers, you can’t have our eyes on the here and now.  Instead, with everything you do and teach, you must answer the question:  How will this help them to reach the next generation?  It’s not enough to teach the basics now.  You want them to be able to teach the basics then.  God has called us to make disciples, but not any old disciples, disciples who make disciples, who reach the whole world with the gospel.


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