We live in a “I want it NOW!” society, but rarely can one get a product “now.”
Amazon suggested a solution to this dilemma in 2005. They implemented a two-day shipping option for a minimal yearly fee (along with overnight shipping for an additional small fee). The two-day wait is a small price to pay to avoid leaving the comfort of your home, searching through endless store aisles, and standing in long lines to obtain that irresistible item on your “got-to-have-it list.”
However, two days has become two days too long (or 47 hours and 30 minutes to be exact). On Sunday, Amazon took their shipping strategy to the stratosphere, almost literally. No longer will buyers have to wait days for a package to arrive. With a click of a button, an unmanned aerial vehicle will deliver your package to your doorstep in thirty minutes or less. Don’t believe me? Check out the video! The company boasts that Amazon Prime Air will revolutionize online shopping.
The contraption looks like something out of a Star Trek episode, but the concept is nothing new. It does, however, express physically the impatience of industrialized societies. “Wait” is a four-letter word that wreaks havoc on our day. Everything—and I do mean “everything”—revolves around immediacy.
Whether you want a burger and fries or a frozen dinner, you can have it your way in roughly five minutes. Urgency is not limited to food either. For example, banking transactions—deposits, withdrawals, check cashing, and bill paying (yes, even your mortgage)—can happen from the comfort of your vehicle or in front of your computer. You don’t even have to change out of your pajamas. Additionally, DVRs have revolutionized how we watch TV at night by eliminating time wasted with commercials. Each year, cell phones must be replaced with every newfangled model to access faster download speeds and lightning fast processing speeds. Our Amazon accounts are linked with Prime, iTunes has our credit card info on file for immediate downloads, and Netflix has TV shows and movies ready for us anywhere in the world.
The “have-it-now” mentality has spread like a virus, making a host of everyone in the industrialized world. This not only has infected secular aspects of life, but also spiritual aspects. The McChristian, mass-production mindset is the adversary of discipleship and spiritual growth. Why? You can’t microwave disciples. “Discipleship” is a Crock Pot recipe that is often forced into a microwave.
If we implement a “have-it-now” disciple-making model, we are doomed for failure and subsequent disappointment. Discipleship takes time to be successful. You did not become an established man or woman in the Christian faith overnight; so why should you expect those whom you disciple to evolve otherwise?
Miles Stanford in his helpful little book, The Green Letters, wrote these words, “It seems that most believers have difficulty in realizing and facing up to the inexorable fact that God does not hurry in His development of our Christian life.” Later in his book, Stanford underscored the importance of patience: “A student asked the president of his school whether he could not take a shorter course than the one prescribed. ‘Oh yes,’ replied the President, ‘but then it depends on what you want to be. When God wants to make an oak, He takes a hundred years, but when he wants to make a squash, He takes six months.’”
Why does squash-like growth entice us? It’s instant gratification. The results are immediate. The wait is short; the payoff is quick. However, God is never in a rush to do anything. In fact, the only time we see him in a hurry is in Luke 15. When the prodigal son comes to his senses, the father (i.e., God) runs—something men avoided at all costs—to embrace his repentant son.
Other than that, you will be hard-pressed to identify a time when God is in a rush. It took thirteen years before Joseph was elevated to the right hand of the Pharaoh. If he had been released from prison when the cupbearer had promised, it is probable that he would have been sold to another Egyptian or traveling traders. Without knowing the back-story of Joseph’s life, one would question the wisdom of God. But God had to press him, mold him, and shape him for thirteen years before he was courageous and accepted enough to stand before the reigning Pharaoh.
God’s timing is best. There are certain lessons like patience, perseverance, and endurance that can only be learned through waiting upon the Lord. Life is much like a puzzle: we all have a handful of pieces, but someone took the box with the picture on the cover. We are left wondering how each piece fits with another. After an extended period of time—sometimes years—we pick up more pieces to the puzzle of life. Parts that once were disconnected start to fit into place. It is at this point that the image begins to take shape. As time goes on, we look back and realize that no pieces were wasted. Everything God gives us fits into the picture of our life.
God uses every pressure, circumstance, and situation to shape and mold you into the man or woman he desires you to be. His choice weapon is pain. Pain reveals an area that needs to be addressed. It is in the crucible of adversity that character is forged.
• Noah endured mocking and humiliation for one-hundred-and-twenty-years while he constructed the Ark.
• Abraham waited for thirty years before God came through on his covenantal promise.
• Moses wandered in the wilderness for four decades waiting to enter the land that was promised.
• Jesus waited 30 years before he began his earthly ministry.
Could it be that one of the reasons we are not seeing more discipleship take place today is because we do not want to go through the pain and difficulties of discipleship? Could our desire to have the rewards of discipleship now be caustic to the maturity of the modern Church?
There are three tips that can help you stay on the narrow path of discipleship.
First, set a reasonable goal. Jesus invested three years with his disciples before he commissioned them to go to the nations. A forty-day study or a twelve-week class will not produce disciples. Invest at least twelve to eighteen months minimum in your discipleship group.
A few years ago, I was invited to join other leaders in a cabin at the base of Signal Mountain, Tennessee, on a cold Saturday morning to formulate a strategy to disciple the men of Chattanooga. The enthusiasm in the room was palpable, with each man expressing a desire to disciple other men. The moderator posed a question to the group, “What are we going to do now?” Without hesitation, one man shot his hand up and spoke before he was called on, “Let’s set a goal to find five hundred disciple-makers by the end of the year.” “Amens” were muttered throughout the room. Up to this point, I had remained quiet for a number of reasons: one, because I was the youngest in the room and, two, because I was the newest pastor in town. I sheepishly raised my hand. “Robby,” muttered the man in front, “you haven’t said much. What are your thoughts?” “I know I’m the new guy here,” I said, “but I think we may be starting with the wrong metric in mind. Instead of setting a goal to locate five hundred disciple-makers in our city, let’s run the magnet through the sand in order to discover who is a disciple-maker first. We may only locate five men who are investing their lives in the lives of others.” With that comment, I was invited to a smaller group of five men with the purpose of finalizing this disciple-making strategy. *
Second, start a discipleship group. Begin investing today in a small group of men, if you are a man, or women, if you are a woman. It’s difficult to take someone on a journey you’ve never been on, but it’s not impossible.
Steve Murrell, accidental missionary, disciple-maker, and author, shared his philosophy of discipleship over sushi in Nashville a few years ago. After reading his book WikiChurch in a day—I couldn’t put it down—I sent him a tweet asking if he visited the States often. This opened the door for a lunch meeting.
Steve shared that in 1984 he and his wife, Deborah, went to the Philippines for a one-month summer mission trip, which, he jokes, has been extended for thirty years. Victory Manila, the church he planted, has grown to fifteen satellite locations, with forty-eight preaching pastors ministering to almost sixty thousand people. Eight thousand discipleship groups meet in coffee shops, offices, dormitories, parks, homes, and on the steps outside the church on Sunday mornings and throughout the week.
When I inquired about his system for developing leaders to facilitate that many groups, Steve chuckled, “We have a training system for those interested in discipling others. However, it’s impossible to manage. The organic nature of group formation forces us to release control. We are sometimes forced to enlist newer Christians to disciple new believers. ‘How much of the New Testament have you read?’ is a question we ask. Some have responded, ‘I just finished the book of Matthew.’ ‘Good,’ one of their leaders says, ‘You can lead this man. He hasn’t read any of the Bible. You are a whole book ahead of him.’”
Many would balk at that response, but Steve highlights an important point. Maybe the reason we are not seeing discipleship take place in churches is because the leadership may be executing the ministry instead of empowering others to do the work of ministry (see Ephesians 4:11–13). Personally, I have a tendency to wait for believers to mature before allowing them to serve in ministry, but as Ephesians clearly states, ministry is the pathway to maturity, not vice versa. Empowering others to do the work of ministry requires trust, but it’s an essential exercise in equalizing the pendulum from the extremes of waiting too long and not waiting long enough.
Finally, remember to slow down. You are in a marathon not a sprint. Take deep breaths, conserve your energy, and plan for the future. Richard Foster said, “Our tendency is to overestimate what we can accomplish in one year, but underestimate what we can accomplish in ten years.” Discipleship takes time, so plan on dedicating as much as it might take.
What do you desire to be, an oak or a squash? How does your outcome influence your outlook?
*I opted out of the group three weeks into the process because one of the men leading the charge was unwilling to budge on his belief that discipleship took place in a one-on-one setting only, a structure he learned through Operation Timothy. It was easier to leave the group than to change his mind.