The Undeserved Dividends of Discipleship

We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

-1 Thessalonians 1:2-3

In the past week, I’ve gotten to talk with three former youth group students heading to three different places around the world to testify to Jesus Christ. I’m thrilled, and I’m humbled.

I remember encouraging and praying for these students, trying to help them choose the work of faith, the labor of love, the steadfastness of hope. Now, when I see these things manifest in their lives, I have to step back and say, “Woah. Did I really mean for them to sacrifice their time, spend their money, give their lives for faith, hope, and love?”

Then I realize that it’s not ultimately about what I meant for them. I was only (and am only) testifying to something bigger than me, someone greater than me. They’re not working in faith, laboring in love, standing steadfast in hope because of me but rather because of Jesus Christ and what He has done in their lives, even since, perhaps especially since, I left. I still get to know them. I still get to watch. I get to see more fruit than I planted grow in their lives, and I get to rejoice, far beyond what I deserve, as God does far beyond what we expect.

Checking back each year not only humbles me, it also reminds me of the value of discipleship. In Discipleship Essentials, Greg Ogden compares the ministry of an “evangelist” (who converts 1 person per day, none of whom go on to disciple anyone else) and a “discipler” (who disciples 2 people per year, training them to disciple two more people each year) (Ogden, Discipleship Essentials, see table 1.1 on p.13). The “evangelist” gets to list a lot more converts in his or her support letters early on, but after about a decade, the “discipler” starts to catch up. After 13 years, the “evangelist” will have reached 4,745 people–an impressive number! Yet, in the same amount of time, the “discipler” will have created a waterfall of discipleship touching 8,192 people. By year 16, that 8,192 could become 65,536.

Now, the numbers don’t work exactly this way. Sometimes God moves more slowly than we expect, sometimes more quickly. However, I can testify to this: Discipleship pays dividends over time. My contribution was a lot like a $1.75 seed packet, but the fruit in their lives is like the eventual zucchini bush that you can barely keep up with. It feels like magic, but it’s actually a miracle. I can’t keep up with these kids, but for that I praise God.

Consider discipleship, and the role you could play in someone’s life this year. Disciple your kids, disciple someone from church, disciple that person who’s wanted more of your time, and while you’re at it, see if you can get discipled yourself. Perhaps we will get to send letters like Paul sends here in 1 Thessalonians, saying, “We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your word of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

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