Should we disciple towards proficiency or creativity?
Or to put it another way, did Jesus intend for His disciples to make disciples like a factory makes cars? Or more like a sculptor makes art from blocks of rock?
It’s an important question. Your answer will determine how you see yourself as a disciple maker and those you disciple. For pastors, your answer will also determine the final step in your discipleship pathway.
Jesus didn’t mass produce disciples. He engaged the twelve as individuals and intentionally turned away others who wanted to follow Him (Mark 5:18-19, John 6:61-66). Instead He interacted with each as an individual. As he related to each one the Scriptures show us their personalities. Peter was confident and aggressive. James and John were ambitious and strong-willed. Andrew kept to himself and stayed behind the scenes. Thomas was skeptical. While Judas Iscariot was a loner and a fighter. Jesus discipled creatively.
The disciples discipled like their Master (Luke 6:40, 1 Cor. 11:1), by using the same principles even though they faced very different disciple making challenges. At each turn, they had the tools needed to handle the incredible disciple making challenge that would come their way.
Just consider, in the face of thousands of simultaneous infant disciples, they developed an effective way to relationally disciple en masse (Acts 2:41-47, 4:32-35, 17:11). They did this by asking for huge commitment that guaranteed deep connection. They also led these new disciples in how to disciple in the midst of a hostile government (Acts 4:18-20, Acts 5:17-42). At the same time they effectively developed disciples who would multiply and lead the church (Acts 11:25-30). Of course, they were led by the Holy Spirit, but they had been trained by Jesus—the master of creative disciple making.
Creative discipling aims for individual maturity rather than corporate uniformity. Its main tool is incarnation rather than information. The intent is to help each disciple unfold her calling with the specific spiritual gifts that God has given. Far too often creative disciple making has been replaced by standardization; a person’s unique design traded in for a pre-set mold. These widget-makers reproduce, but they reproduce disciples who are able to act like disciples (in some settings) without being disciples at their core. They end up as something less than what God intended a mature Spirit-led believer to be.
The irony of proficient disciple making systems is that they are normally developed by well-intentioned creative disciplers. Each has a unique system that ends short of releasing disciples to develop disciples out of who they’ve been created to be.
Healthy disciple making makes disciples who are equipped to reproduce out of their uniqueness—their spiritual gifts, their experiences, and their passions.
Justin Gravitt, author of this blog, is with Navigator’s Church Ministries. They have made available to you, “The Start Small Grow Slow Strategy,” which you can download for free here.
Three distinctives of Creative Discipling:
First, creative discipling uncovers and develops a disciple’s natural design and gifting.
If your disciple ends up just like you then there’s a problem. God has designed each person uniquely. When we intentionally build creativity into our discipling practices the fullness of who we are comes out. For example, a person gifted as a teacher disciples as a teacher, the same is true of a prophet, a servant, a leader, etc. The goal is to help the disciple emerge as a mature and healthy disciple.
In many ways, it’s similar to sculpting. Here’s how Michelangelo put it, “In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it. “
Second, discipling towards creativity invites each discipler to fully own the process.
As disciple making struggles emerge creative disciplers can’t simply blame the curriculum or the disciple, rather they must look closely at his discipling choices. For instance, is he playing both offense and defense? Is he being too intentional or too relational? Is he prayerfully dependent on God to provide the growth? In short, a creative discipler is fully invested in the process and is hungry to more effectively represent Christ to the person being discipled.
Lastly, discipling towards creativity reproduces the picture of God’s call on our life as an individual.
Regardless of design, gifting, or personality every believer can help one person grow as a disciple. Not everyone is called to lead many, but as Jesus proved with the disciples, as few as twelve individuals can change the world. When you disciple another it is another living example of what’s important and who’s called and qualified to build God’s Kingdom on earth.
It’s way more difficult to produce creative disciples. It takes more time, energy, and equipping to disciple this way. But there are huge advantages as well. In addition to the three listed above, creative disciple makers are equipped for many situations and cultures. Since their training is not confined to a particular curriculum they are not stopped by a shift in culture, emphasis, or location. They are committed to finding a way to multiply disciples and they can do that with a discipleship resource or without one.
So, we end where we began—the choice is yours, are you aiming to make disciples who are creative or simply proficient?
Written by Justin Gravitt
Justin Gravitt is the Dayton (Ohio) Area Director for Navigator Church Ministries. Read more from Justin at his blog, “One Disciple to Another,” where this article first appeared.