Friday, January 19, 2007

Discipleship: Quality Precedes Quantity

In the institutional model of church, bigger usually means better. Leaders are always looking for programs, formats, buildings or anything else that can be used to reach more people. It's a very noble goal. The problem happens though when quantity, rather than quality, becomes the measuring stick of success. In the eyes of many, more money, bigger buildings, and most importantly, more people are the earmarks of a "successful" church. But how many of those people actually translate into true disciples of Jesus?

I don't know if we have ever really heard the words of Jesus in Matthew 28:19-20:

"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
Matthew 28:19-20 (NIV)

Notice that Jesus says nothing about converts. He says nothing about getting people to repeat the "Sinner's Prayer". Rather, He says that the job of the Church is to make disciples. Now here is the interesting part; how many disciples did Jesus make Himself? (hum the Jeopardy theme with me) That's it! Only 12! Now if anyone understood the importance of disciple-making, surely Jesus did. But, by modern church standards, Jesus would have been considered a pretty big ministry failure! So, even though Jesus ministered to crowds of people at various times throughout His ministry, we only find Jesus completely replicating Himself in 12 other people.

What does this tell me? Well, it seems like Jesus cared about quality above and beyond (but not to the exclusion of) quantity. Obviously, Jesus wanted a world filled with disciples as He stated in Matthew 28:19-20. But, He realized something that the Church at-large has yet to grasp; quantity does not necessarily lead to quality, but quality will eventually lead to quantity!

If every present-day believer knew that they only had 3.5 years to make an impact on the unbelieving world, what would they do? Well, from best I can tell, they would probably go all over the world, renting stadiums and coliseums, to proclaim the Gospel message to as many people as possible. Noble as it sounds, this is not what Jesus did. Having a total of 3.5 years of "public ministry", Jesus chose to invest most of His time in a few social outcasts who would later be known as "those who have turned the world upside-down".

What did Jesus understand that we don't? Maybe that the impact of one true disciple is greater than the influence of a thousand converts.

So how can we best promote effective discipleship? I think that one decision we can make is to completely invest our lives in a few people rather than investing sparingly in many. (Multiplication Ministry and Maturity makes for some interesting reading on this subject.)

Are our efforts driven by effectiveness, or by a paradigm that makes us feel more important about "our ministry"? What do you think?


Alan Knox said...

Wow… I’ve been thinking about discipleship as well. I just posted a blog entry on discipleship that I’ve been working on for a couple of days. That single post is turning into a series of posts on discipleship.

I think one of our problems is that we have equated discipleship with transfer of information, what we normally called teaching. This series will examine the many dimension of discipleship and how the church has lost most of those dimensions.


ded said...

Great post, Ray, and great comment, Alan. "...we have equated discipleship with the transfer of information..."

The transformation of the individual into a disciple is a four part reality: heart, mind, soul, and strength. Teaching is largely a mental exercise only.
Who takes the time to help another develop in the soul, the heart and in strength?

I have often wondered about Jesus' math regarding "spreading the word" in the parable of the sower.
Some will increase 30 fold, some 60 and some 100. If a "fold" is one disciple and we consider a man's lifetime as the time of "sowing", then might I expect my lifetime to yield an additional
30 or 60 or 100 disciples? (If so, do my five kids put me one-sixth there?) ;^)

Considering the time investment of being involved in other people's lives in a meaningful way, then a thirty-fold increase is doable for most of us and more than 100 seems hard to imagine. Getting thousands of people to pray a prayer....hmmmmm?

What say you o' men of God?

Raborn Johnson said...

I have been thinking the exact same thing. It seems like we equate maturity with how many conferences and seminars you have attended and how many sermons you have heard. One interesting part of discipleship as Jesus did it is actually letting people "do" ministry. Some time during the 3.5 years of "public" ministry, Jesus sent out the twelve (and another time seventy others) to actually do what they had seen Him do; "heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers", and proclaim the Kingdom of God. It seems to me that discipleship is more participatory than passively attending monolithic lectures. What do you think?

I heard an interesting statistic from the University of Texas about the way people learn. It says that a person remembers 10% of what they read, 20% of what they hear, 30% of what they see, 50% of what they hear and see, 70% of what they say, and 90% of what they do and say. What conclusion should this lead us to in undertaking discipleship? Instead of getting "thousands of people to pray a prayer", what if we actually invested ourselves in those 30, 60, or 100 people? I believe that we would see changes not only in the number of actual disciples, but in our entire culture as well!

Alan Knox said...


Discipleship as participating together in ministry... hmmm... I've never thought of it like that, but yes, you're correct. Of course, if we send people out, we also have to allow them to fail. But, we're sometimes too worried about how things look, so we don't want to allow someone to fail. This may be off topic, but just sorta thinking through the whole participatory idea.


Eli Dorman said...


I think the whole issue is that the institutional, denominational church is by and large effectively failing to make disciples. We are masters of programs and events, but the work of discipleship is much more intense, much slower, and much less glorious in the short term than putting on a great program that makes everyone feel all warm and fuzzy about liking each other.
This is a challenging post and will certainly add to my own thinking on the topic. Thanks for your ministry and thoughts.

Be Blessed,

Tom said...

I think you're right - too many converts and not enough disciples.

I think that most people believe that the purpose of salvation is to dodge hell on their trip through eternity. This confession of faith and comfort of knowing that you get to go to heaven when you die is all that most Christians believe that there is for the christian to experience in this life, but Jesus came to give us life and for us to have it more abundantly and in Jn 17:3 Jesus defined eternal life as knowing God and Jesus Christ whom God had sent.

Far too many Christians are missing the best part of being a Christian. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is a prevalent self-condemnation and sin conscienceness among christians. In my opinion, if we ceased to exist when we died(like atheist believe), I still think that Jesus would have died for us so that we could experince eternal life while we were here in this life (if only for a few days, years, or moments.)

Sorry about my long-winded and round about way of responding but it's my opinion that it's the lack of truly knowing Him that differentiates converts from disciples.

bryan riley said...

Fantastic. Oh the richness of the Scripture. Oh how blind we are to the fact that our culture and the earthly kingdom often controls the way we think rather than Kingdom principles. May we all draw nearer to God and allow God to open our eyes to the reality around us as He sees it.

I like this, as Alan said over on his blog, living room conversation about discipleship.

Steve Sensenig said...

(tiptoeing around quietly)...

helloooo??? (listening to the echo: helloooo???)

it's kinda dusty in here, and there's cobwebs in the windows.

miss your blogging, bro.