Every once in a while you come across a book on a subject that is the product of a life long search, that is born out of many years of experience and research, and bears the marks of one who has the experience to speak with clarity. When you encounter such a book that is also saying stuff that no one else seems to be saying, you’ve got to stop and listen. Why do some Christians make disciples and others do not? Why is it that some people who are trained effectively to multiply and succeed in doing so for a time, go on to fail to reproduce over the long term? This is the subject of a wonderful book by Bob McNabb, Spiritual Multiplication in the Real World: Why Some Disciple-makers Reproduce When Others Fail. The title caught my eye because I am a wanna-be disciple maker. I have the education and the desire to do it, but I am in the camp of those who fail. Could there be some answers here for me? Bob McNabb tells his own story of involvement with an effective campus ministry as a freshman in college. This ministry effectively communicated to him a vision for multiplication, how his life could impact the nations by making disciples that make disciples. They taught him how to connect with unbelievers, how to effectively share his faith, and how to disciple new believers into reproduction. They didn’t just teach him how, but they showed him how and discipled him into an effective life of disciple making. After graduation, he joined that ministry as full time staff with a vision for not only reaching college students with the Gospel, but also developing disciple-makers who would eventually leave the campus and take their disciple-making paradigm with them into the work place and the world. In other words, simply reaching college students with the gospel and discipling them to maturity and reproduction was not enough. The goal was to produce lifetime disciple-makers who would go on to reproduce throughout their lives. Bravo!
There was only one problem. He began to notice that it wasn’t working. Oh, they were very effective at making disciples that make disciples on the college campus, but he noticed that with very rare exceptions, once they left the college ministry and entered the work force, they did not continue to make disciples that make disciples. This nagging question of why it wasn’t working over the long term was the “life question” that wouldn’t let him go. After spending many years studying this issue, this book is the result.The book is divided into three parts:
- The Vision and Challenges of Spiritual Multiplication
- Effective Disciple-Making Contexts
- Effective Disciple Making Practices
Part 1 of this review will focus only on just that first part of the book. His own observations and experience are supplemented by surveys done and statistical analysis of the results. I don’t think I can write a more accurate review than to just quote him at length:
“College disciple-making movements provide the nutrients of leadership, vision, encouragement, fellowship, teamwork, accountability, and coaching needed to bear fruit in personal ministry. Unfortunately, most graduates are transplanted into churches that don’t function as disciple-making movements. They fail to provide their members with what they need to continue bearing fruit…. a believer placed in the environment of a healthy local church that functions as a disciple-making movement has a far greater chance of multiplying his or her life than one who isn’t…. when it comes to disciple-making, somehow we tend to think that individuals can go out and do it on their own. This is the root cause of why so many fail….. Laborers don’t do well outside of disciple-making movements because they weren’t designed to live and function that way.”
“Becoming part of a team that evangelizes together is the most important thing you can do if you want to multiply disciples, no matter where you are.”
“As someone who believes in our utter dependence on God for fruit in evangelism, I would like to tell you that praying for the lost is the single most important thing you can do. Based on our research, however, that would not be accurate. Yes, praying for the lost is incredibly important, but remember, the disciples couldn’t even watch and pray for one hour because their spirit was willing, but their flesh was weak. There is a greater liklihood that you will actually pray for the lost and act on those prayers if you are a part of a disciple-making team…. Don’t just join a small group. The church is full of inwardly focused small groups that do very little to help their members make disciples.”
“This debunks the myth in disciple-making that Conviction (believing deeply that I should do something) + Competency (knowing how to do something) = Consistency. The old equation needs to be rewritten: Conviction + Competence + Community = Consistency.
“Jesus did not build individual disciples. He didn’t meet Peter before work at the Capernaum Starbucks for a one-on-one meeting and then meet John for a fish sandwich at the local seafood restaurant. Instead, he worked hard to build his followers into a disciple-making team. Jesus’ goal was never to build individual disciples. He built a team and expected them to go build other disciple making teams called churches.”
“I believe that the single greatest determining factor as to whether people multiply themselves is not the level of their maturity, the amount of training they have received, the receptivity of the lost in their context or how long they have been discipled. But it is whether or not they are immersed in a disciple-making team. Whenever you find people multiplying themselves, you will find that they are part of a ministry that provides them with certain things like:
- Top leaders who both cast the vision of multiplying and model it
- Ongoing coaching or mentoring
- Macro (large) ministry events that are designed to help the disciple-maker’s micro ministry
- A ministry culture that expects, prays for, and works together to multiply
If multiplication is taking place, you will find these elements. You will find them in church planting movements, wildly growing cell churches, multiplying campus ministries, and disciple-making churches. Jesus did not just help his disciples grow in maturity and learn ministry skills. Often, that is what we think is involved in disciple-making. Therefore we think we can do it one-on-one over coffee. What we miss is the fact that Jesus built a disciple-making community. A relatively immature Christ follower who is a part of a disciple-making team has a far better chance of multiplying disciples than a mature believer who is separated from a team. Jesus never intended for any of his disciples to try to make disciples solo. Come be part of the team!”
That is Part 1 of the Book. In Part 2 the author gives an overview of the essential elements of a successful disciple making team. We’ll dive into that in our next post next week.