As I was preparing to speak, I had thought of the people that Paul had been greeting in Rome. They were people that he clearly knew, and had been some of the same names that I had read about working in other places while reading in the book of Acts. In short, they were now Paul’s spiritual children who were going on to continue to make spiritual grandchildren by sharing the good news of the Gospel and discipling others as well.
I thought it would be important to go back one generational step and think about Jesus. Did he have a particular method for making disciples? Did he have a vision of what that meant? Was he also thinking about generations of disciples making disciples?
I think that Jesus had been preparing his disciples to make disciples for quite some time. I won’t go into detail on this just yet, but just to make one example, I think that if we look in the book of Mark, starting in chapter 3, we can see that he appoints his disciples and then in chapter 4, he begins teaching them his disciple-making plan. Once he finishes teaching them his plan using the parables of the soils, a lamp on a stand, the sower, and the mustard seed, he tells them it is time to go over to the Gentile side of the lake where I believe he intends to start putting them into practical training.
Jesus teaches them the importance of faith as he calms the storm. He teaches them the importance of walking within the authority and power of Christ with the demon-possessed man, the bleeding woman, and the girl who had died. He even shows them the importance of sharing with others as he sends out the healed Demoniac to the Decapolis cities. And now finally, he sends them out two-by-two to do all of this themselves, to replicate what they had seen Jesus doing. I think this is all training for his disciples to make disciples, just as Jesus had shown them how to do it.
In my talk, I paused on this time that Jesus sent out the seventy-two disciples and focused on Luke 10:2:
He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.
I wanted to stop here because I always thought that it seemed a bit odd that Jesus would tell his disciples, within the context of sending them out, to pray for more workers. It seemed odd because our application today just never fit within the context of what Jesus was teaching his disciples at this time.
Typically, I think we would respond to this scripture by saying, “OK, let’s pray for more leaders, more pastors, more missionaries who will go to reach others.” But in this time, Jesus and these disciples that he was sending out were all there were – there were no other believers. There were no other believers to pray for that God would send. So why would Jesus be telling the disciples to pray that God would send out workers into his harvest field? Why not instead tell them to pray for new people who will believe in Jesus, or who will enter the kingdom of God, since that is the message that he is sending them out with? They are supposed to tell the people that the kingdom is near. Isn’t that what they should instead be praying for?
I think the answer here is that Jesus isn’t just thinking about new believers. Yes, he wants people to enter the kingdom, but he is telling his disciples to go beyond this in their prayers. He is telling them to not just pray for believers, but for fruitful disciples who will become workers.
The key point here is that they are to pray for these workers from the harvest field. These new workers would come from the non-believers that Jesus is sending them to meet within each of the towns he will soon visit.
Jesus doesn’t tell them to go make more converts. He wants them to go make fruitful disciples. He tells them to pray for workers. Jesus is thinking about generations of disciples, and I believe that he wants his disciples to stay in the house of those new disciples because his intent is that this new home will be the “home base” for kingdom of God in that town, the place that has learned about Jesus the Messiah and will be the new generation of workers within their own town. The disciples won’t be just eating and drinking, doing nothing, laying around throughout the day. They will be talking about what Jesus has taught them and the miracles they have seen, and the people in the house will be learning about the reality and the ways of the kingdom of God.
To me, it already seems clear that Jesus isn’t just thinking about gathering the disciples around him, but instead is thinking about how his kingdom can travel and spread out everywhere, to all people, through the disciples who will be fruitful workers.
To go one step further, though, how do we see Jesus praying? Does Jesus have a desire related to spiritual generations of believers for which he asks God to intervene?
In John 17:20, we can see that Jesus prays for spiritual grandchildren as well. He says:
My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message…
I once asked a group who Jesus was saying that he was praying for. The group responded that he was praying for us! That wasn’t the answer I was thinking of, but it is still correct. Jesus is praying for those who will become his followers, generation after generation. Again, Jesus is thinking about, and praying for, spiritual grandchildren.
So what does this mean for us? Is there a lesson that we should learn as followers of Christ? Shouldn’t we also be praying for workers and not just believers? Would anything need to change in our approach if we were to think about, pray for, and practically prepare the people that we are discipling to become workers? To, themselves, make spiritual children and have spiritual grandchildren?