Jesus instructed his disciples to go and make more disciples in what is often referred to as The Great Commission of Matthew 28:16-20. These new disciples were to be taught to obey “everything I have commanded you,” especially the command to go and make disciples. So the goal is to make disciples, who make disciples, who make disciples, who make disciples… and so on. This is not just adding more and more people to the group so they can sit at the feet of the original disciples and learn from them. This is multiplication, as each new generation is able to do the same discipling work that the generation before did.
“Making disciples” is something you do. Jesus didn’t say “teach them my new theology” but rather “teach them to obey” which is to say, train them. The goal is not simply that the students are able to understand what the teacher understands, but that the students are able to do what the teacher does. That’s called training. In making disciples, we train others to see the world with Kingdom eyes; to abide in God’s love; to love others in practical ways; to listen for Jesus’ direction and follow where he leads, and so on. This is not a specialized job given to only a few highly trained professionals. It is true, as the Diversity tool reminds us, that some of us will be more skilled at this than others, and that we may play different roles in the work. But we must not lose sight of the fact that making disciples is the common work we all participate in.
A helpful way to approach training is through a set of four stages, represented by a square. Training reaches completion as the student “moves around the square.”
When the student completes stage four, they return to stage one but now as a teacher rather than a student. The disciple has been discipled and is ready to make disciples. This is multiplication, not just addition, and is represented in the icon by one square becoming two.
The difference between multiplication and addition is important when looking at faith communities as well as individuals. Congregations tend to grow by addition, rather than by multiplication. This is a problem. It’s as if a family kept on having more and more children but never produced adults who could start and lead their own families. Eventually there are simply too many children for the parents to adequately care for them all and the family begins to break down. Rather, it’s both natural and healthy for families to multiply by launching new families. The same should be true for faith communities.
Mark 1:16-20 (Jesus calls his first disciples); Mark 6:6b-13 (Jesus sends the disciples out in pairs to preach and heal); Mark 6:30-44 (Jesus challenges the disciples to feed a crowd); Matthew 6:9 (Jesus teaches his disciples to pray.)