It’s difficult to do an honest reading of the gospels and not come to the conclusion that discipleship is one of Jesus’ primary concerns and focuses. However the difficulty comes when we ask the question, “Who actually makes disciples, us or God?”
One could easily point to the great commission in Matt. 28:19 and proclaim that its obviously Jesus’ intention that his followers “go into all the world and make disciples”. But in the same way, you could also point to the previous verse and note that the power and authority to accomplish this task belongs solely to Jesus Christ.
We’re prone to forget sometimes, but a defining characteristic of discipleship is that it involves reproduction and multiplication. However, we’re also prone to forget sometimes that we’re not called to reproduce ourselves, but to reproduce the life of Jesus in others.
But this doesn’t mean that we have no part in the making of the disciples, the answer is that making disciples is a mysterious process that involves things that we do, and can measure, and things that God does, which we can’t begin to understand. It’s a beautiful mystery.
Jesus gives us a picture of this in Mark 4 as he tells the parable of the seed growing:
And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”
In that passage it seems like Jesus references a natural organic growth process that is progressive: first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain, then the harvest when the grain is ripe. But in the exact same parable he says, “the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how”.
I love that. And what’s more, the man goes out and plants the seed, he’s doing actual work. It wouldn’t be outlandish to assume that if this man was a farmer then he would use techniques that he had learned that would help the seed grow, such as watering the seed, making sure it had sunlight, planting it in season, etc. But I love how Jesus notes that he works for a while and then goes to sleep and doesn’t do anything, but all the while God is working. That gives me great comfort because apparently God will cause his children to grow even if we are asleep on the job:)
We plant the seed of the gospel, and we can expect to see growth and have an eye on the process and what to expect, but ultimately it’s the power of God’s spirit working inside the seed that causes the growth in a way that is utterly mysterious. This is a tension that we’d all do well to remain in. We work, but we count on God to work in people’s lives in a way that we can’t begin to predict or understand.
At WDA, we’ve done a lot of thinking about what this process looks like. Take a look at what we’ve learned from studying Jesus’ method of making disciples, and spend some time thinking about the process of discipleship and how to be a careful farmer and tender of the souls that God has given you charge of.
But don’t lose sight of the truth that ultimately it is the rain and sunshine of God’s graciousness and power that bring growth and change in people’s lives. This thought should both reassure and humble us at the same time.
So in closing… Remember:
- Discipleship is about reproducing Jesus, not us.
- Discipleship is mysterious tension between our work and God’s work.
- But without God’s power, our work is useless and we can’t expect growth to happen.