Our vision to see a gospel movement on the North Shore will only become a reality if we saturate the North Shore with transformed disciples who make disciples. The charge to “go and make disciples” (Matt. 28:19-20) is our central task as Christians, and is joyful hard work. In the New Testament, disciple making is often compared to farming, and in this short blog series, we’ll look inside the “farmer’s tool shed” to consider practical tools for how to make disciples.
Weeds and Thorns
In the first blog in this series, we considered the “climate conditions” that are crucial to growing healthy disciples, and in the second blog, we considered the importance of planting real seed (God’s word itself) as we seek to disciple people into maturity.
However, even when we plant real seed into good quality soil, the seed’s growth is often hampered by the presence of weeds and thorns.
The previous owners of our home were faithful and skilled gardeners. After our first winter of living in our current home, we were delighted to see the flowers and greenery that sprang up in our backyard that first spring, not only in the actual flowerbeds, but even in the crevices of dirt among the large rocks behind our house. In spring and early summer, we enjoyed what we hadn’t planted, and watered what had grown as faithfully as we could.
The main thing we neglected to do, however, was weed. Weeds eventually grew up among the flowers, and among the greenery, competing for the nutrients and before long overpowering them. Long, thorny vines grew as well, and encircled the rocks, choking out anything that was growing.
Jesus was aware of the ever-present danger of weeds and thorns choking out our growth as disciples. In his parable of the sower (Mark 4:1-20), he taught about “seed that fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain” (4:7). He explained that this seed sown among thorns represented “those who hear the word, but the cares of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (4:18-19). What a tragic image—seed that would have otherwise been fruitful being choked out!
Jesus’ explanation is true to our experience, where “the cares of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things” really do choke out potential fruitfulness. Consider the following scenarios, for example:
- A newer Christian is legitimately eager to grow in servant-heartedness (good soil), and in his small group, he reads the book of Philippians encouraging and instructing him to just that (real seed). However, his desires to climb the corporate ladder and get rich make him self-absorbed and burnt out, possessing little time for others, and choking out the fruitfulness he could have seen (“desires for other things” and “deceitfulness of riches”).
- A younger mother feels convicted to be more hospitable during the holidays (good soil) and in a discipleship group she’s in, she is encouraged and challenged by the hospitality of the early church, in the book of Acts (real seed). However, her desire to make her house perfectly presentable keeps her from ever really feeling “ready to host anyone”, choking out the fruitfulness she could have seen (“cares of this world”).
In our effort to disciple others, it’s important that we give them (and give ourselves!) repeated opportunities to remove thorns and pull up weeds, and one of the main ways we do this is by the open confession of our sins. Sinful desires thrive in secrecy, darkness, and just flat out unawareness, and so creating space to admit sins is integral to allowing the seed of God’s word to grow up more freely in our lives.
How to Promote Confession
To help people follow the Bible’s command to “confess our sins, one to another”, you might consider any of the following practices:
- Let a question relating to confession be a standard part of the questions you ask of your Bible reading. You might ask, “Is there any attitude or action we feel like we need to confess, after reading about Paul’s call to generosity in 2 Corinthians 9?”
- Integrate confession into your prayer times. If your small group usually finishes by praying for one another, you might suggest that people confess an attitude or action from the past week, as they pray.
- Lead by example and be concrete. If you don’t confess your sins, as a leader, nobody else will. This may be one of the hardest parts of making disciples.
However you practice it, confession is an essential element in helping people see where their “weeds” and “thorns” are, and then ultimately remove them, for the greater fruitfulness of the word.