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 multiply by investing in other disciples. In this short blog series, we’ll explore the necessity, the mindset, and story of multiplying discipleship at NSCBC.
A Fifty-Year Hole
“It won’t take you three months to dig yourself out of a hole you’ve spent fifty years digging,” a local seminary professor shared with me, candidly, in a conversation about the state of discipleship in North America. This statement obviously needs more nuance, but at a basic level he meant that most local churches he worked with, including in New England, were under-envisioned and ill-equipped to carry out their most central charge—to intentionally cultivate their people, and empower them to go and intentionally cultivate others (i.e. discipleship).
He described this as a hole we’ve spent fifty years digging, because the decline of intentional, multiplying discipleship in the local church had many interrelated causes, all of which had been working themselves out in the culture and practice of our churches for decades, leaving us in, well—a hole—when it comes to the average person’s ability to impart their spiritual life into another.
The realization that we’re “in a hole” might come to us in different ways, with different “warning lights” flickering first. Maybe we read statistics on how many young adults are leaving the church in college, or we wonder why so many Christians seem co-opted by political narratives (on both sides)! Or maybe we just wonder why it’s so hard to find someone read the Bible one-on-one with our friend.
However, and whenever the realization dawns on us that perhaps we’ve “taken our eye off the ball” in terms of intentionally cultivating our people, our tendency is to jump to a “quick fix” mentality. And yet, real discipleship simply cannot be fast-forwarded, and real disciples can’t be mass-produced. Class attendees can be mass produced. Church attenders can be mass produced. Even people who have been through Connect I, Connect II, and membership can, in theory, be mass produced. But not disciples.
A disciple is more like a master painting or a fine piece of carpentry made by a skilled artisan, than a piece of IKEA furniture—more like what you’d find on Etsy, and less like what you’d find on overstock.com. Investing in someone to help them “learn Christ” takes patience, nuance, grit, and a lot of prayer. It’s not that speedy discipleship is difficult, so much as it’s a contradiction in terms.
I’ve found it helpful, instead, to frame intentional, multiplying discipleship as an investment, because the word investment carries (at least) three connotations that help us embrace the right mindset in our discipleship journey:
Investments are long-term
When we hear the word “investment” we usually think “this will take a while.” We don’t invest money in a mutual fund, for example, if we expect to take it out three months (okay, I get day-trading, but work with me here)! Likewise, when we set out to invest in our marriage, or look to “be more invested in our grandchildren’s lives,” we’re typically expecting it to be a long process.
Thinking of intentional discipleship as an investment helps us form reasonable expectations, and “settle in” for a multi-year journey.
Investments are costly
Investment also implies a cost, especially up front, without seeing immediate return or blessing. If you set out to invest in your physical health after a long period of neglecting it, you’ll feel the cost of lost sleep, tired muscles, and sore joints before you experience the blessings of lost weight and increased energy—and long before you’re winning any weekend 5k’s!
Similarly, discipleship is a costly investment. It will cost you time, comfort, emotional energy, privacy—and more—and this, usually long before you see the blessing of those, you’re investing in thriving in their relationship with Jesus, and embracing new outlooks, desires, and habits. And yet the wait is worth it. The New Testament counsels us to be like the “hard working farmer” (2 Tim. 2:6), the kind who “waits for the precious fruit of the earth, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains” (James 5:7).
Investments are worth it
Finally, we only invest—or at least we should only invest—in those endeavors we know are precious and worthwhile. But, if the goal is worthwhile, then we rarely look back and regret the investment. Nobody who invests in a healthy relationship with their children, for example, looks back when their child turns 18 and says, “I wish I could have had that time back in twenty-minute installments…I would have spent it on my phone!” Nor does anyone who has saved for retirement say, “I’d rather be broke now, but have had a little extra discretionary spending each month for these last forty years.”
Cultivating disciples who love Jesus with all their heart, align their whole lives around him, and teach others to do the same, is a worthy investment if there ever was one. Let’s embrace an “investment mindset” together, and cultivate disciples for the long-haul.