Author: Mark Steiner
Nurturing one plant at a time
Imagine the delight of a gardener carrying hard-earned baskets of carrots, tomatoes, beans, or potatoes into the house. The diligent labor—preparing the soil, planting the seeds, and cultivating the plants—is finally rewarded when family and friends sink their teeth into the fresh produce. Nothing is more satisfying.
Discipleship is very similar to gardening. Children are like seeds that eventually grow into mature plants that produce both good and bad fruit. In a healthy environment, kids have unlimited growth potential. The gratifying feeling of nurturing a young disciple who blossoms and flourishes is priceless. The apostle John confirms: “I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth” (3 John 4).
When you plant a garden, each type of seed is different. Every pip will grow into a plant appropriate to its kind. Gardeners who work hard cultivating and weeding will likely harvest a bountiful crop. It’s the same with raising children. The satisfaction of raising a “spiritually successful” child cannot be surpassed. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the pain caused by a spiritually wayward child is impossible to calculate.
2000 years ago, Jesus introduced a very successful (and innovative) training program for His twelve closest followers. Few pastors or parents today have studied God’s teaching/learning process and actually apply His principles. As a result, effective, intentional, one-on-one discipleship training is rare. Nonetheless, God’s plan still works! Take a close look at Christ’s gardening methods to see how you can reap a bumper harvest.
Early in His ministry, Jesus told a large crowd about spiritual sowing and reaping (Mark 4:1-9). Unfortunately, His disciples didn’t understand what He was talking about. The Lord privately explained to the twelve that people respond to God like seeds respond to soil. Just as seeds develop differently in various soil types, children respond differently to God’s Word. Some initially embrace the message but soon lose interest; others eventually give up on God; some become captivated by the world; and still others produce a bountiful crop (Mark 4:10-20).
Jesus’ parable warns children’s ministry leaders that unless they are proactive, it is likely that three out of four kids will fall prey to the enemy’s devious designs. Current statistical research from Barna, Gallop, Rainer, etc. clearly substantiates that danger!
In contrast to our present 25 percent success (and 75 percent failure) rate, how effective was Jesus’ training program? The inspired record indicates that out of twelve disciples whom Jesus personally mentored, eleven remained committed through the end of their lives. They carried out Christ’s command to make more and more disciples. Those eleven men trained others to follow the same principles of personal discipleship that Jesus had showed them. Only one, Judas, choked on worldly weeds.
Now examine your own disciple-making strategy and practices. Jesus trained the twelve to transform the world. If your ministry is truly based on Christ’s model, you will be personally invested as a “life-coach” who directly disciples others. Congratulations—your fruit will remain! If you are using any other strategy, be advised that your failure rate will outstrip your modest victories.
God’s way works! The following six sections summarize a tried-and-true method to apply Jesus’ disciple-making strategy with kids.
Jesus—After a night in prayer, the Lord chose twelve men to be His special ministry companions.
You—Prayerfully select one, two, or three young plants to meet with. Invite him/her/them to join you for six special sessions.
Jesus—The Lord’s eyes never wavered from His objective—to transform the world by equipping the twelve to train other believers to do the same.
You—Focus on producing healthy, balanced disciples who will grow to know God intimately, love Him passionately, and serve Him selflessly.
- Time Period
Jesus—The Lord was nearly always available to His disciples. For three years, they fished, fasted, and feasted together at all hours of the day and night.
You—Find a time when you can enjoy 60 uninterrupted minutes together for six successive weeks.
Jesus—The disciples heard the Lord preach in the synagogues, teach on a mountainside, instruct small groups on the road, and give individual guidance in a variety of settings.
You—Select a living room, lounge area, restaurant, or other location where you are comfortable and can talk freely. If you’d like, vary the setting each week.
Jesus—He prayed and wept with them; He praised and rebuked them. He equipped His followers with practical ministry experiences, Jesus sent them out two-by-two, gave them authority over sickness and Satan, and made sure they learned to trust God for their daily needs.
You—Divide your weekly time into a short time of snack and play, with the weight of the time being spent in talking and praying.
Jesus—Christ’s training strategy unfolded over the course of three years. Jesus taught His followers about salvation, servanthood, relationships, prayer, God’s Word, God’s kingdom, worship, judgment, priorities, the cost of discipleship, and about future events.
You—Here’s an outline of starter topics to tackle with your disciple or small band of followers.
Foundational Truths: God’s greatest message, mission, and motive are three vital cornerstones for victorious living.
- Message: Begin with the Gospel—the Greatest News ever proclaimed. Jesus died to forgive our sins and rose again to give us new life. The Gospel is the Good News that everyone needs to hear.
- Mission: Explain God’s command to make disciples—the Greatest Commission ever given. Go make disciples of all people everywhere. Jesus poured His life into twelve disciples. Training the twelve was Christ’s sole weapon to win the world. (Study Mt. 28:18-20 and Acts 1:6-11.)
- Motive: Emphasize God’s love—the Greatest Commandment ever received. Love God with all your being. Love your neighbor as yourself. Selfless love motivated the Lord to abandon heaven’s glory. Love kept Him on the cross, paying for the sins of His beloved. Jesus really loved His disciples—and they knew it! (Study Mark 12:28-34 and 1 Corinthians 13:1-13.)
Growth Dimensions Luke 2:52 offers a rare glimpse into Jesus’ childhood: “And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” Joseph and Mary made sure that Jesus’ activities were kept in balance. He grew intellectually, physically, spiritually, and socially. Balanced discipleship links three dimensions—growth in knowledge, in character, and in conduct.
- Knowledge: Encourage your disciple to know God intimately. Seek to really know the loving Father, the obedient Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Lord’s amazing names, qualities, and abilities reveal incredible insights. God delights to unveil His greatness to all who truly seek Him. (Study Proverbs 2:1-6 and Philippians 3:8-14 together.)
- Character: Learn to love God passionately. God’s unconditional love is more than a feeling or emotion. It is active; it remains constant regardless of circumstances. Character describes who you really are, the person you choose to be. Jesus modeled character traits that all Christians can develop. (Study Galatians 5:6-26 and Philippians 4:4-9.)
- Conduct: Demonstrate how to serve God selflessly. Freely give because Jesus has promised to meet your every need. In addition, the Holy Spirit empowers you and distributes spiritual gifts for each believer to serve others. Selfless love has arms and legs that serve. Your disciple can demonstrate faithful conduct that honors God and helps people. (Study Mark 4:1-20 and Mark 9:33-41.)
Just before He ascended into the clouds, the Lord commissioned His faithful followers to make disciples wherever the Spirit directed them to go—until all the nations have heard. What’s next for you?
After the initial six sessions, congratulate your disciple(s) with a small reward, certificate, or prize. Now it’s time to decide whether or not to continue meeting. Discuss taking discipleship to the next level—to prune your plants so they can produce even more fruit. Let them know that Christ’s ministry model included doing ministry together in real life experiences. Jesus’ discipleship methods are radically different from what often takes place in small group settings.
If your group stays together: make adjustments, fine-tune your plan, and keep making disciples!
Schools, churches, media, and culture all have varying degrees of influence over your children. Like a good gardener, you can frighten away birds that swoop down. You can shelter seeds from the scorching sun. You can uproot thorns that threaten to choke God’s Word. With God’s help, you can grow kids who flourish.
Your disciples will someday blossom into adulthood—the harvest will come! Until then, nurture the soil in which each seed is planted. Resist the temptation to give up or to become complacent. You will reap what you sow (Galatians 6:7-10)!