Over the next few days I will share with you some of my thoughts regarding how we prepare young people to serve God. I believe that the most effective leaders are not the ones who are taught, but the ones who are discipled. Jesus knew what he was doing when he took twelve disciples to follow and serve with him for three years rather than opening a school offering classes on theology.
Most approaches to Christian ministry take a “reach all you can” approach. Churches try to become as big as they can, as fast as they can. Some even boast about how fast they’ve grown. “We’re one of the fastest growing churches in America!” Mission agencies try to recruit anyone they can who will agree to go overseas and plunge into the work. Bible colleges try to recruit as many students to come to their campuses and fight vigorously to keep high school youth group members from choosing to go to the university.
The “reach all you can” approach is not unique to Christian ministries. Actually, Christian ministries are just copying what they see all around them in the world. Politicians try to get as many people as they can to vote for them. Activists try to get as many people as they can to join their cause. Television shows try to get as many people as they can to watch their programs. Sporting events try to get as many people as they can to fill their stadiums. And businesses try to get as many people as they can to buy their products.
Why do they do this? It is simple, really. More money. More power. More of their fame in our lives. There are financial advantages of reaching many. Politicians want the power they receive when elected. Television shows want the ratings, which translates to a higher price they can charge to their commercial advertisers. More tickets sold means more money. Coca-Cola wants to put a can of their soda in the hands of everyone on earth—not because they feel they are contributing to the betterment of humanity, but because if they can get everyone in the world to give them just 50 cents, they are making billions of dollars.
So how about Christian ministries? Big numbers means big success if we look at it the way the world does. A larger congregation means churches have reached more people (and can collect bigger offerings). A larger enrollment means Bible colleges can educate more future preachers (and receive more tuition and dormitory fees). A large and growing church means the preacher gets offers to speak in many different high-profile venues and offers to write books. These things increase our wealth, our power and our fame.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I like big churches. I like big ministries. I think many of them are doing great things for kingdom. I hope they continue to do so! Jesus said to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature, so that is a big job to do and we better get to doing it.
The issue is motivation (Why are we doing this way?) and method (Whose example are we following?). If our motivation is money, power and popularity, then we have a basic problem. If we claim it is not, but in our hearts it is, we have a bigger problem. If our method comes from politicians and businesses, we may tend to water down our message to reach more people or require less to sell more. I would dare say that selling a can of Coke is much easier to do than training someone to be a faithful follower of Christ. Christ requires much more. Coke only requires about 50 cents.
It is interesting to see the method Jesus took to redeem the world. Could he have done the large crowds, tent meetings and crusades? Of course he could have. On a number of occasions he spoke to very large crowds. He also fed a meal to a pretty numerous crowd one day. But his method for reaching the world in addition to preaching his message to the masses, was to take twelve young men with him everywhere he went for about three years, train them, and then later send them out to the world.
Sometimes we get the wrong image of Jesus and his disciples. We think that twelve was all he could get to devote three years to him. If we imagine a hippie-looking guy with long hair, a big beard and a white robe walking around speaking in King James English in our modern American cities, we would be surprised to think that he could get FIVE others to don robes, grow their beards and follow him around speaking like that, much less twelve!
But actually Jesus had hundreds of people following him. When he chose his disciples he wasn’t just trying to snatch up whoever he could get. No, his choosing of the disciples was more of a limiting decision than a rallying call. If Jesus would have chosen, he could have had many more disciples. In fact, even in Luke 10 he sends out 72 of his followers in a similar way he had sent out his twelve. But only twelve were designated apostles. Only to them did he teach and train in a special way different from the masses. Only twelve “made the cut” so to speak.
In the books of Matthew, Mark and Luke it shows us that Jesus spent time alone and in prayer and fasting before he chose his first disciples. (It was during this time that Jesus was tempted, and one of the temptations Satan presented to Jesus was to rule “all the kingdoms of the world.” Satan said, “It will all be yours” if Jesus only worshiped him.) He didn’t choose them haphazardly, and he didn’t put up a sign asking for all who are interested to come and apply. No, he went to them and called them. He chose them specifically. And out of hundreds that he could have chosen, he chose twelve, “that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach.” (Mark 3:14)
Instead of getting as many as he could, Jesus chose a smaller number of those with whom he could work. He wanted to keep the teacher-student ratio low, so that they could benefit the most from their time with him. Instead of teaching many a little bit, he chose a few to train a lot.
And who did Jesus choose? Did he go to their high schools and ask the teachers for a list of their top students? Did he go to the Pharisees and ask for a few of their most promising pupils? Did he go to the synagogues and ask for those with the best attendance? No; none of the above. He didn’t choose those who were the best looking, who had the most money, were the most talented, the smartest or the best educated. Those people probably wouldn’t have agreed to follow Jesus like the disciples did anyway. No, he chose fishermen who were noted as being uneducated. We don’t know much more about them. But I believe Jesus chose those not with all the ability, looks, money and intelligence, but those who had an honest heart. They weren’t all that talented, but they were faithful, available and teachable. And Jesus poured himself into them.
It has been demonstrated that those who win two or three people to Christ, disciple them, and then send them out each to do the same—reach two or three people for Christ and disciple them—will end up seeing more people come to Christ over time than the super-preacher who reaches 10,000 people to Christ by himself every year. The cell church model is built on this precept. In 20 years, the super-preacher who reaches 10,000 per year will have reached 200,000 people. However, the movement where three people are discipled per person each year, in 20 years will have reached well over 4.5 million people.
So, in our ministries it is better to reach a few and disciple them a lot rather than reach all we can and disciple them a little. Instead of focusing on “reaching all we can” we should focus on discipling as much as we can. Even if the world around us is in a “reach all you can” mode, we should not follow suit. We know better. Most families do not choose to have as many babies as they can. Why? Because then you have to feed them and raise them all. And we know how much energy that takes. Raising people to be Christ-like shouldn’t take any less energy.
We should, instead, meet many people and then choose a few to disciple especially. When we choose, we should choose those who have the heart that is needed to be a faithful disciple of Jesus and servant of God—not those who are just talented. When the time comes to send them out, we don’t want them to crash and burn, and neither do we want them to get off track with the wrong motives.
This is our approach here at our location. I am very careful about choosing the right people. If I tempted people here with the idea of making a lot of money, learning English or being sent to study in America, I could get a lot of people. However, these people would rarely, if ever, come back to reach and serve their own people. Instead they would just continue going out and away to develop themselves and seek their personal fortune. But we choose people who have demonstrated a heart for God, even if they have not finished high school, do not know any English and have only known living in the countryside. These upland farmers here are like the fishermen of Galilee. Not all of them are ready, but a few of them will be trained and one day sent out to reach their brothers, sisters, friends and families. Please pray for us and for them!
Two Post Summary:
1. Jesus’ life was already an ongoing example of effective ministry, of which he later included them, before he called them and before he sent them out to do ministry on their own.
2. After spending time in prayer Jesus chose specific people to be his disciples, to live with him and follow him for about three years. He chose a limited number of people and poured himself into them rather than trying to get as many as he could.