One of the first attributes God bestowed upon creation was the ability to reproduce. From the beginning we see that, “Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so.” (Gen. 1:11) In verse 24, He did the same with all the animals and living creatures. Then in verses 26-28, He told the crown of His creation, Adam and Eve, to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. Our God is a God of reproduction. He designed all of creation to reproduce itself and cover the earth.
We see this same theme carried over into the New Testament with Jesus and His disciples. Jesus wasn’t the only person or even the first person to ever have disciples, but because He is God, He understands what it means to reproduce in the form of making disciples. But making disciples is not an end in itself; it is a means by which we make disciples who make disciples.
Reproduction is a never ending cycle. Agriculturally speaking, there are cycles of seedtime and harvest, seedtime and harvest. Humanly speaking, it is couples having children, who have children, who have children, and generations are formed in the process. The natural is always a picture of the spiritual, so spiritually speaking, it is disciples who make more disciples, and on and on it goes, until the knowledge of the glory of the Lord covers the earth.
Jesus modeled many valuable principles on how to make disciples who will reproduce themselves. The Gospels tell us that He began with 12 disciples whom He chose. Many, if not all, were told to leave behind their livelihood to follow Him, at least for an extended season of time. From what we are told, it seems He spent time with them daily for approximately three and a half years. During this time, they watched everything He did and heard everything He said. They did life together. At some point during those years, He singled out three men, Peter, James, and John, who were given greater access to Him. They were with Him on the Mount of Transfiguration and in the Garden of Gethsemane – perhaps the greatest height and depth of His life and ministry prior to the cross and resurrection.
Though the disciples often didn’t get Him, or understand what He was saying, all but Judas remained committed until His arrest and crucifixion. Of the original twelve, only John remained and was given the glorious revelations recorded in his epistle and the book of Revelation. In spite of their failings, Jesus never gave up on them nor told them to leave. Instead, He washed their feet and demonstrated the heart of a servant rather than a master. As a result of His labors, these men were described as those who turned the world upside down just a short time after His departure from the earth. All but John were said to have been martyred, having followed His instructions even to the point of death.
In order to follow Jesus’ methods, we should, first and foremost, set an example for those we lead. You cannot give to others what you do not have. Discipleship involves spending quality time with those in your charge. Your time is your life, and discipling others means pouring your life into them. Mentoring is intentional. Though it can happen unintentionally, Jesus decisively chose twelve with a specific purpose in mind.
Realize that some will be more committed than others. Those who truly desire to learn deserve extra time, attention, and access to your heart. The ones who show extraordinary commitment should be given even greater favor, as Jesus showed John. Even those with the best intentions will fail miserably at times, as Peter did when he denied Jesus. Learn to discern the difference between immaturity and rebellion. Jesus knew Peter would deny Him, but then repent and return. He also understood Judas would betray Him and fall away. Confusing the two can be devastating to those you mentor.
In time, successful discipleship will prove itself through the multiplication of followers who will continue the cycle. Though Jesus was the perfect Teacher, He ultimately went away so the Holy Spirit could come and multiply the work He had begun. Holy Spirit is our Helper when it comes to multiplying what often feels like feeble efforts to increase His kingdom; without Him, we can accomplish nothing of eternal significance. We must not take it personally when those we mentor move on to other pastures, for none of us possess all the gifts needed to grow someone to maturity.
Reproduction is God’s design for all His creation to increase and cover the earth until it is filled with the knowledge of His glory. What an awesome privilege and responsibility He has given us!