Raising Disciples

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Over the past couple weeks I have written about changing the way we think about discipleship, shifting from a mindset of production to reproduction. In my first post I said that “make disciples” is a poor translation of Matthew 28:19 that puts us in the production mindset. Last week I identified three aspects of a production mindset—process, efficiency, and fertility—that don’t fit with the Biblical concept of discipleship. Today I want to talk about what a reproduction mindset might look like.

Discipleship as reproduction fits with Biblical language: the Bible consistently refers to followers of God as His children, His sons and daughters. The apostle Paul—often considered the model for New Testament discipleship—calls both Timothy and Titus his “true sons in the faith,” and compares his relationship with the Thessalonian believers to “a nursing mother taking care of her own children” (1 Thess. 2:7).

If we are to be effective disciplers, our both our mindsets and our language need to make this shift. Rather than thinking of ourselves as manufacturers and process managers seeking maximum efficiency in the production of widget-disciples, we need to adopt (pun intended) the mindset of parents excited about reproducing little people like ourselves, striving to be like Jesus. But how?

Most of the churches I’ve been part of have asked a question—What is a disciple?—and answered it with a list of five or ten qualities that will guide that church’s disciple-making efforts (and its programs). There are a couple drawbacks to this. First, it keeps us in the production mindset; it becomes a checklist for “Quality Control,” and we think that once we check off each of the items on the list, we have a disciple. It also gives the impression that the production cycle has an end; until everything is checked off, we’re not quite a disciple; but when the list is complete, so are we—we’ve arrived.

A reproduction mindset gets us thinking differently. Parents have dreams for their kids, not checklists. We don’t have a final Quality Control check we look at before sending them off into the world. We don’t even start out by thinking, “I want to make adults.” No, we think, “I’d like to have kids.” In a reproduction mindset, we are not making adults, but reproducing people. The hope and expectation is that they will grow into adults, but even adulthood is just one phase in what ought to be a lifetime of growth and change.

In a reproduction mindset, we recognize that disciples are never a finished product, but people always in process.

When we make this shift in thinking, we begin to look at disciples (people) and discipleship (process) differently. We begin to realize that we are both always a disciple and, at the same time, never quite a disciple; we are always growing, learning, maturing. In the same way, discipleship never really ends, but it will look different at different stages in the life of the disciple.

In coming posts, I will dive deeper into the reproduction process (discipleship) and the phases of being a disciple, such as infancy, childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. But I want to leave you today with one challenge related to this: In your church, are the children’s and youth ministries aimed at taking care of children, or at growing disciples? Or let me flip that around: is your discipling aimed at all ages, or only adults?

If the children and youth are not seen as disciples-in-process, then you probably have a production mindset. What is one thing you can do this year to change that?

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