I have a front row seat to observe how church leaders process and respond to the principles of disciple making. Since I’m investing in churches from seven different denominations, my view is both broad and deep. I’ve come to see that there are a few common lies that American Christians believe about making disciples. One of the lies goes something like this: I can’t make a disciple, only God can. That’s His job. Not long ago, a boomer generation couple shared the following with me:
“It was the strangest thing. They kicked-off this big series. What was it called again, honey?”
“BOMO, wasn’t it?”
“Yeah, BOMO,” Greg laughed as he remembered the name. “Be one, make one. They had shirts printed, signs up in the sanctuary, and they kept telling everyone they needed to be a disciple and make disciples; as if anyone is able to make a disciple. That’s God’s job, not ours. Sharon and I knew we wouldn’t be staying at that church.”
All of us believe in lies. Normally, we obtain them honestly. They attach themselves to us quietly, like condensation to a glass. Lies are like that. They show up unannounced and unnoticed; the result of living within a culture that flows away from the Truth. Normally, we aren’t even aware of the lies, and that makes their impact even more potent.
So, can a Christ-follower really make a disciple or is that God’s job?
Like most lies, there’s an element of truth buried in this one. Scripture makes it clear that God is the author of spiritual growth (1 Corinthians 3:7) and that we can’t produce growth without God’s approval (Matthew. 15:13). Saying that God’s the author of growth doesn’t mean that we can’t make a disciple. It means we can’t do it without God.
Our belief that we can’t make a disciple reveals a few truths about us though, doesn’t it?
1. We lack desire. It's true that desire alone won’t make a disciple, but in an age of almost unlimited possibility, why are we so quick to say we can’t make a disciple? We have figured out how to knit with glass, make a baby holster, and develop a self-playing foosball machine. Sure, most of us aren’t able to make any of those, but many of us intentionally make gardens, repair household issues, and teach our children. Could it be that we don’t want to bother with making a disciple?
2. We don’t know the heart of Christ. Imagine a parent tells his child to float (levitate). The imperative is framed by the parent saying, “This is very important, no matter what anyone says, you need to float. And don’t worry darling, I’ll be with you the entire time.” The child fails again and again, but simply can’t figure out how to float. She considers giving up, remembers how important the task is, and keeps trying, over and over again. We’d label behavior like that twisted and demented. This type of behavior is obviously inconsistent with the heart of Christ.
Yet, isn't that what Jesus would be doing if he gave us a command we can’t possibly fulfill? He wants to help us to live into our true purpose. Jesus’ makes the importance of His commission clear. Interestingly, we do believe that we can grow the church, something that He said He'd do. In focusing on this, we've found a way to usurp Jesus' responsibility while shirking our own. We can’t make a disciple without abiding in Him, but we can make a disciple and he expects us to do so. His last command, should be our first priority.
3. We don’t understand spiritual maturity and reproduction. We understand that we are called to be a disciple of Christ. We understand that we should grow to maturity, but too many don’t understand what that means. Maturity in a living thing means reproduction (among other things). Whether it’s a tree or a dog, a fish or an insect, maturity brings with it the expectation of reproduction. It’s natural. It’s the way God designed life.
So, if a mark of maturity is reproduction, what’s the nature of reproduction? We reproduce what we are. Reproduction happens in kind. Obviously, an apple tree can’t bear oranges, a dog can’t bear a mouse, a cat can’t bear a bird. No, an apple tree bears apples which grow into other apple trees. In the same way, a disciple bears other disciples who go on to bear other disciples. At some level, we know this, but we ignore it when it comes to our spiritual lives.
A BOMO campaign may feel corny, but the Biblical truth of “Be One, Make One” is undeniable. Jesus did not give us a task we can’t accomplish don't abide. The fulfillment of the task is a natural result of our spiritual maturity and aligns with the first words God spoke to humans, “Be fruitful and multiply.” If you are a disciple not only can you make a disciple, but it’s the natural result of your consistent spiritual growth.