For those of you interested, here’s my notes for Pt. 6 of the Spiritual Greenhouse Theology series, “Relationship, Roots, and Reproduction!”
Big Idea: Only a disciple can make a disciple and this involves relationship, roots, and reproduction!
For many people, Colorado is synonymous with this famous white-barked tree called an Aspen. A famous ski village is named for it. John Denver sang about them. To put it mildly, this tree is a big deal in Colorado! My yard, I am excited to report, is host to one aspen tree. Or it seemed like one until closer examination of my yard. I discovered that I had more than one big aspen tree. I had about twenty! They seemed to be sprouting everywhere. With my deepest apologies to the National Arbor Foundation, I decided to remove some of these extra trees. It turns out that you can’t just dig up an aspen tree, yank the roots out of the dirt and be done with it. I tried. Some of the baby aspen trees were as thin as a pencil and no more than six inches tall. Yet when I tried to pull them up, they resisted as if they were much, much larger. I decided to do a little research. Aspen trees, which are either male or female, can reproduce in two different ways. One way is reproduction through seeds, which most people envision when they think of the average plant. In the dry regions of the western United States, the aspen tree uses a method of reproduction called ‘cloning’. Aspen trees share a root system – they can actually be attached to each other deep under the ground. This was my yard problem. Those baby trees that refused to be uprooted were part of a much larger life form. The root system of an aspen tree can send out nearly one million shoots per acre if there is sun and a cleared area. Basically, new young aspens sprout from root systems that are already well established! Again, one aspen tree can produce over a million aspen shoots in only one acre- all sharing a root system!
In Spiritual Greenhouse Theology we’ve talked about spiritual development, spiritual greenhouses, and right conditions. We’ve said, “life produces life after its kind”, that God expects multiplication, and that only a disciple can make a disciple! Today, in Part 6, I want to explore more in depth this responsibility that we have to reproduce, to make disciples, to multiply. We touched on this in Part 4 when we talked about the “spiritual greenhouse” of a spiritual mentor or parent. So, let’s focus some more on this and look specifically at how reproduction happens in a spiritual context.
Read Titus 2:1-8
What is Paul talking about here? What is the pattern he is proposing? This is all about “making disciples.” In church circles, we use the word: discipleship. But those words have really lost their true meaning and frankly, no one really understands what we’re talking about when we say, “Disciples or Discipleship!” But look at it this way: When Jesus wanted to make a disciple, what did he say? How did he do it? He said, “FOLLOW ME!” (MT. 4:19; 9:9; 19:21; Mark 8:34; Jn. 1:43). How did Paul “make disciples?” He said, “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ!” (1 Cor. 11:1) If spiritual development is essentially, “He must increase and I must decrease” (Jn. 3:30), then how that best happens is in the context of following someone’s example that is following the example of Christ! This may be better understood as an INTERNSHIP… So, “making disciples” or “being discipled” is really all about a spiritual parenting/coaching/mentoring dynamic that is best realized through homogenous relationships, that root people in Christ, and promote reproduction of other disciples!
IT’S ABOUT RELATIONSHIP
Jesus expects disciples to make disciples. To really appreciate this we need to understand who a disciple is! Greek mathetes means “to be a learner, a pupil.” To disciple means “to teach, train, raise up.” A Jesus disciple is a learner or mentor who is also teaching or mentoring others!” Notice in Mt. 28:20 Jesus says, “Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.” A disciple has both a responsibility to learn and to teach! Frankly, discipleship, spiritual development is not happening in your life unless you are both being discipled and discipling others. How does this happen? Because you attend church? Because you do ministry? Because you have a Bible study? In church, we’ve always told people after they accept Christ, “Now read your Bible, pray, and make sure you come to church!” Honestly, that’s not biblical discipleship. That’s not what Jesus is inferring in Mt. 28:20, nor what you see in Titus 2 or the rest of the NT for that matter.
Making a disciple is all about RELATIONSHIP! Paul tells Titus to make sure that that he is “teaching the older men” and that the “older men are teaching the younger men.” He says the same thing in respect to women. And, are you ready for this?? He’s not talking about Men’s or Women’s Ministries!! He’s not talking about being someone’s buddy! He’s specifically talking about spiritual parenting relationships! Mentoring and being mentored!
Without relationship, you’re just passing on information! You can impress people with your expertise, but you impact people through your example!
That’s why at GCC, we must create spiritual greenhouse environments that are conducive to relational connectivity and spiritual mentoring/coaching! Life Groups are absolutely our priority and means of facilitating this!!! You must be relationally connected!! Think about the relationships you already have. People that need Christ- how can they have a relationship with Christ unless you relate Christ to them? People in the church you can be a spiritual “parent” or “son/daughter” to? Without these relationships, based on men mentoring men and women mentoring women, spiritual development, discipleship doesn’t happen! Relationships that are about being teachable and about teaching others!
IT’S ABOUT ROOTS
We learn from the Aspen tree that one tree can regenerate itself and produce a million young Aspen shoots in just one cleared acre!! That’s amazing!! And it’s all about the roots!! These young shoots spring up from the roots of the main Aspen!!
In John 15 Jesus speaks of himself as the “Vine” and his disciples as the “Branches.” Basically Jesus is telling us that he is like the “main or parent Aspen” and we are all the “shoots” that spring up from this main root! “We abide in him and he abides in us.” We’ve referred to this many times in this series. Making disciples is about spiritual parenting relationships and it’s about establishing spiritual roots in Christ. Repeatedly in Paul’s letters he talks about being “in Christ.” But you say, “Wait a second, all this time you’ve been telling us that Christ is in us!” He definitely is- the question is, “Are you rooted in him?”
What does it mean to be “rooted in Christ?” It means your source of “right living” (righteousness) is the very presence and power of Christ abiding in you.” Essentially, the “Word” in you, so the “Word” can become “flesh-active” through you! Your “life” needs to be deeply “rooted” in the Word of God! David said, “I’ve hidden your word in my heart so I won’t sin against you.” In Ps. 1:1-3, Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers. But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night. They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do.
Making disciples means you are “rooted” in the Word and you are teaching/training others to be “rooted” in the Word! That’s why, whether in your daily devotions, or in a spiritual parenting or Life Group situation, we need to not merely study or talk about the “Word”, we need find application for our lives. A key element of “discipleship” is both being an example of applying God’s Word to your life and as a result, credibly coaching someone else to do the same! “Here’s is how I’m applying this to my life. How are you applying it?” This promotes being “rooted in Christ, in the truth of his Word, to it being active in and through our lives! Paul told Titus to “promote the kind of living that reflects wholesome teaching… teach others what is good…”
IT’S ABOUT REPRODUCTION
Making and multiplying disciples is most effectively realized when every disciple is reproducing other disciples! The church seems to be very good at making converts, which seems to always be our primary purpose and corporate responsibility. But making disciples requires the personal responsibility of each of us to reproduce. The question then becomes: Are YOU reproducing? IF only a disciple can make a disciple, then what are we doing to as a church and as disciples to facilitate this? Again, Jesus’ and Paul’s pattern was “Follow me…”
This makes disciple-making personal. It means each of us take personal responsibility for reproduction. It means that making or reproducing other disciples is where we have to put our effort and energy. It’s about being up close and personal. Regrettably, we often don’t do this because it’s messy, it’s about going beyond the surface of doing ministry and actually doing life together. Frankly, it’s much easier for me to do what I’m doing right now- preach and teach from the platform- I can prepare my notes, arrange the agenda, and get up here and talk to you for 30-40 minutes! Easy!! The real work is in spending the one on one time with those I’m responsible for spiritually parenting/mentoring/coaching!!
If you’ve had a baby and raised children, you know that you are ultimately responsible for what you’ve reproduced. You have to raise your child, train your child, teach your child. You have to be available. You have to be diligent. You have to be a model. You have to take the time. You have to be very involved. Well, the exact same is true for spiritual parenting, making disciples, reproducing- it requires total commitment, and it means you’re most effectively doing this with 1-3 others, because that’s when it’s most effective, and that’s when it’s exponential!
My role is not to disciple every person in this room- that’s crazy, that’s putting a lid on this church family! My role is to disciple those that I’m reproducing. The same is true for you too! If every one of us is engaged in personally being discipled and discipling a few other people, now we’re going to experience how Jesus builds his church! We don’t mass produce disciples! We reproduce disciples through intentional relational connections in the pattern of spiritual parenting! Again, Paul says, “You can have 10,000 others to teach you… but you only have one spiritual father…” That’s the way it works!
Making disciples is our ultimate responsibility as a disciple of Jesus Christ. It is most effective and done right in a spiritual parenting context. We fail miserably, and perhaps we are where we are in the church in America because we make converts, but we don’t make disciples!
Make the relational connections, be rooted and help others to be rooted in Christ, and reproduce! The thing is, we’ve lost a generation because we haven’t made disciples. More interestingly, young people sincerely want godly role models in their lives! Actually, that influence is the #1 reason they keep the faith. And we all need those godly role models and we need to be godly role models- that’s how discipleship works!
True discipleship only happens in a loving, relational context- this is true ministry. Paul says in 1 Thess. 2:8 “We loved you so much that we shared with you not only God’s Good News but our own lives, too.” I wonder what Paul would have to say about how we do ministry today? About how we package and program it in a vain attempt to claim we are making disciples! Discipleship is a simple concept—maybe too simple for some of us who have become addicted to programs, prayer lines and the bells and whistles of American religion. But if you listen carefully, amid the noise of the crowd, you will hear the Holy Spirit calling us back to New Testament basics.
Making converts is easy. Doing church is easy. Making disciples is work! And I can’t do all that work and neither can you. BUT, I can disciple some and you can disciple some and through these spiritual relationships, and helping one another to be rooted in Christ, every disciple will be reproducing disciples! Do you have a relationship with Christ? Do you have a relational connection in a mentoring/coaching dynamic? Are you connected to a Life Group?