December 27, 2016

Disciples Making Disciples

This is the first of six articles in the series “Disciples Making Disciples,” about growing and nurturing disciples for God’s kingdom.

“Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is ripe but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest’” (Matt. 9:35-37, NRSV[*]).

If you want to live, you have to eat. If you want to eat, you have to produce food. If you want to keep producing food you have to follow the age-long process of gardening (or have someone else do it for you, and pay them for the food!).

When Jesus talked about reaching people He often used the gardening cycle to explain it. He spoke of different types of soil, planting seed, reaping a harvest, and sending reapers into the harvest (Mark 4:3-32). If we want to see a big harvest of people coming to faith in Jesus and His last day truth, we have to prepare the soil well; we have to plant a lot of seed; and care for the growth of the plants.

The summary of Jesus ministry recorded in Matthew 9:35-37 illustrates how to harvest disciples. The stages of the gardening cycle, the process of discipleship, has particular activities that followers of Jesus can be involved in.

Prepare the Soil

To prepare the soil Jesus did two major things: pray and serve.

In entering a new area, Jesus’ disciples prepared people’s hearts by praying for them and serving them. Like Jesus, we should pray for people to help us reach others, pray for the community, pray to find the key influencers in the community, pray for God to heal people. And, like Jesus, we will serve people by helping them in their work, caring for and educating their children, teaching health principles, visiting those who are sick.

Sow the Seed

The seed is the good news of Jesus, the gospel. This seed is eternal (1 Peter 1:23). Jesus Christ came to earth to show God’s love and how to live (John 1:14-18). Jesus did this perfectly (Hebrews 4:15, 16). Besides ministering to people, Jesus gave His life (Rom. 5:8). His death on the cross was a sacrifice for the sin of the world (1 John 2:1, 2). His death took the shame and guilt of our sin (1 Peter 2:24). He did not stay dead, because dead men cannot save anyone (1 Cor. 15:1-17). Jesus conquered death for all people and now is in heaven ministering for us, and will return soon to give those who believe complete eternal life (Heb. 7:24, 25; John 14:1-3).

Followers of Jesus have their lives changed. Jesus asks us to tell others what He has done for us (Mark 5:19, 20; Rev. 12: 10). We sow seed by telling others what Jesus has done for us, and what Jesus did for people in the Bible.

The discipleship process is not complete until all five aspects are done.

Cultivate the Plants

Weeds need to be pulled, plants need to be watered, and fertilizer needs to be put on the ground so the gospel will grow. People are spiritually nurtured in relationship by visiting and eating with them. Teaching people how to pray and study the Bible for themselves are the main ways to grow people. Jesus says the seed will grow all by itself if planted in good soil (Mark 4:28).

As people are discipled in the faith we must not make them dependent on pastor or others for their growth. Other disciplines, such as reflection on nature, Sabbath rest, can be modeled and shown to growing disciples.

Reap the Harvest

When the crop is mature, it must be harvested. People are harvested when they believe Jesus and His teaching, and commit to follow His way of life. Personal baptism is the biblical way in which people show they want to follow Jesus and be part of the church.

People need to continue to be discipled in Jesus with the teachings and practices of the Bible, and be involved in the mission of the church. People should know their spiritual gifts and be asked to actively participate in some aspect of ministry in the church and community.

Multiply the Crop

When people harvest a seed crop, they divide the harvest. Some is kept to eat, some is sold, and some is kept to be planted again so another crop can be planted. One small seed can produce another big crop for harvest. Gospel work is to continue the process of growth.

Disciples become leaders. Leaders are developed best when other leaders take a person under their care in a relationship to intentionally make another leader. This is done naturally by showing people what needs to be done, allowing new leaders opportunities to do a new task, then releasing them to work on their own. There is always relationship support from other leaders in the church.

The discipleship process is not complete until all five aspects are done. Sometimes we only do one or two of the areas in this process. We do not plan well and have poor long term results (Luke 14:28-33). But if we are to see a growing movement we need to make sure that all activities of the church focus on every aspect of the disciple-making process. Then we are sure to produce an ongoing harvest.

The process can happen all at once, or as a time line, as long as the church plans its work understanding the five phases of growing disciples that Jesus outlined in the Gospels.

Glenn Townend is president of the South Pacific Division of Seventh-day Adventists.

[*] Bible texts credited to NRSV are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright ã 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission.