Imagine with me a disciple-making culture that looked something like this.
Disciple-makers have decided to commit a minimum of 9-10 hours a week providing hands-on practical training. This commitment did not coming with compelling arguments. The disciple-makers love it. They want to invest their time in the work. There is a team of disciple-makers–seven in all–committed to making a total of 12 disciples together over the course of several months. The kind of teaching and training they provide is not a classroom lecture, though there certainly is an intellectual component to it. But it is more than that. It is hands-on with a high level of participation and practice where those being discipled have an immediate opportunity to work it out. Along with the practical instruction and increasing depth of knowledge, there is constant encouragement from the team of disciple-makers. Any opportunity to affirm change and progress is acknowledged, not only by the team of disciple-makers but also those being discipled. Corresponding to the high level of challenge is a high level of celebration as it becomes evident that there is a high level of change taking place in those being discipled. The heads (instruction), hearts (encouragement), and hands (practical application) of those being discipled are trained by those modeling the life and work before them in their own context.
Sounds like a pretty amazing disciple-making experience, right?
What I just shared with you is my 6-year-old’s city league baseball team.
One year ago, my son was playing tee ball with 4-year-olds, where toddlers would race to wherever the ball was hit (and then the gang pile). Now, he is learning game scenarios and fielding techniques from his coaches, and kids twice the age of those he played with last year modeling for him how to do everything from running bases to cheering on his fellow teammates. For the past 2-3 weeks, it has been an amazing sight to watch my son go from making “confetti” with grass in the outfield to learning how to react differently to fly balls and ground balls.
My son’s team practices three days a week, and each practice is approximately two hours long. Most of the seven coaches arrive 30 minutes early for kids who want to shag balls or get some extra one-on-one instruction. Each kid invests a minimum $200 for the season, which includes registration, batting helmet, glove, and bat. None of this is coerced or has to be explained. Both players and coaches just know these are the expectations, and the desire to play the game is greater than any of these expectations placed on them.
As I began to process what was taking place here, I could not help but notice the dynamic disciple-making culture of the team and wonder why the church does not take a similar approach to making disciples. If we took baseball out of the equation and placed it with gospel-centered living, would we find 7 disciple-makers committed to 12 disciples for 10 hours together each week over the course of 4 months? Would each disciple be willing to not only invest the time but hundreds of dollars to get the necessary resources and tools to be well-trained as a follower of Jesus Christ? Such a commitment seems ridiculous for Christians these days, but it is normative and expected for little league baseball run by the public recreation department! What gives?! And we wonder why disciples are not being made and lives are not seriously being impacted with the transforming power of the gospel?
The fact is: my son’s coaches make disciples better than us. They are more committed than we are. They are more excited and desirous to make disciples than we are. They don’t complain about it. They celebrate it. It’s a privilege and joy. They are not going through some pre-packaged “discipleship curriculum” for one hour a week with a few questions. They are on the field, not the classroom, and they are asking dozens and dozens of questions and helping kids answer them with application, not just information. They are doing it one-on-one, and they are doing it as a team of 7 dads serving as coaches to get the most out of these boys. And the boys are loving every minute of it because they are being challenged and changed in the process.
It’s a sad commentary and indictment when little league baseball coaches are more successful and committed to training and developing boys into baseball players than disciple-makers are to making and maturing disciples of Jesus. They have a sport; we have a Savior. They are given trophies; we are trophies of grace. They a game to win; we have a life to gain. At the very least, I have enjoyed going to school in learning how to make disciples of Jesus by being one of the seven coaches on the field training kids to play baseball. I’m going to be a better discple-maker for the sake of the gospel because of this. I just wish I had this kind of disciple-making training earlier.