This is the fourth post in our series called “What Is Disciple-Making All About?” Click the links for our first three posts regarding sharing life with others, multiplication (scroll down to page 4), and the role of the Bible.
Now that we have discussed sharing life, multiplication, and the Bible as key components of disciple-making, today we want to discuss disciple-making as a process. While it is true that there are critical events in a disciple’s life—most notably the moment at which he or she crosses from death to life (John 5:24)—we as disciple-makers must adopt a long and broad view of disciple-making if we are to carry out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19,20), which teaches us not only to baptize disciples but also to “teach them to observe all that [Jesus] commanded.”
The Bible’s agricultural metaphors help us understand the process outlook on disciple-making. In describing God’s work in the believers at Corinth, Paul reminds us that he “planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6). Using the metaphor of a growing field (see also verse 9), Paul underscores that the current spiritual state of the Corinthians was the result of a process in which more than one person played a role. Most directly, Paul brings out the importance of God’s work of growth and the relative insignificance of the identity of any human “farmer.” There are other agricultural references to spiritual growth; consider Matthew 13 alone, in which we find the parable of the sower (verses 1–23), the parable of the wheat and the weeds (Matthew 13:24–30; 36–43), the parable of the mustard seed (verses 31,32), and the parable of the leaven (33).
Note that the Bible’s use of agricultural metaphors for spiritual growth implies a certain sustainability and measured pace that disciple-makers must follow. In the last years we have seen cultural movements arise which argue that we are trying to do too much, too fast, too mechanically. Proponents of these movements advocate for ecological soundness and sustainability, and a return to simplicity and connection to the natural world. I confess that these emphases resonate with me deeply, and that I have a list of personal examples that show how the disciple-making process can go awry if you refuse to have the patience that a natural process requires. This is why our friends at Contagious Disciple Making like to say “Go slow in order to go fast.”
Having said this, when we speak of disciple-making, we are referring to a fundamentally supernatural process. That’s why our friends at Contagious Disciple Making also say “Prepare to spend a long time making strong disciples but anticipate miraculous accelerations.” Disciple-making is relational in nature (more on this later), so the disciple-making process is not usually linear or predictable, just as people are not linear or predictable. But, then again, weather is not very predicable either. Thankfully, sometimes God brings about a spiritual bumper crop.
Have you thought about disciple-making as a process? Leave us a comment and let us know what God has been teaching you.
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