Making disciples, not clones
As Christians we are commissioned to "go make disciples." Certainly replicating oneself is part of that process. Or is it?
The word replicate reminds me of the food replicators in the world of Star Trek. Replicators, using some mystery science, take microscopic particles and turn them into facsimiles of real food. They have the same smell, taste and look of the real thing, but they lack substance. The resulting product is ready-to-eat at a touch of a button. No fuss, no muss, no effort needed on the part of the user. If only replicating oneself was that easy!
Sometimes discipleship models look more like cloning; taking a piece of the original and growing it in isolation, under very controlled conditions. The end result is a carbon-copy of the original, down to the micro level. These programs can churn-out reliable copies of the original standard, but the participants' uniqueness and personality are lost in the process.
Discipleship is good, and is needed to grow God's kingdom, but there's the matter of how. The way we disciple will affect the kind of disciples we release back into the world. When you've poured yourself into a young person, listening to their fears and anxieties, giving counsel and cheering them on, they should be empowered to face the future. They should have a firm foundation and be people of integrity and substance. They should know who they are and not feel pressured to conform to someone else's ideal. God created them on purpose and to deny their individuality is to deprive the world of a gift.
Having a solid discipleship curriculum is a good thing, but programs in and of themselves don't disciples make. Like making a meal, there are hours and hours of work and intention invested into the food before it reaches the table. Using a workbook or video series to disciple someone is like using a replicator to make a meal. The substance isn't there because the personal effort hasn't gone into it. Discipleship books are tools to help someone walk alongside a mentee, nothing more.
I wish I could lead a 6 week class and release disciples into the world like little clones. True discipleship takes time and isn't a quick fix. People need to walk-out their faith alongside someone else. We need a listening ear and shoulder to cry on. We need to be seen and affirmed for the flawed person we are. And as much as we need it for ourselves, we as Christians need to be that person for someone else. The call to disciple isn't restricted to those who are in full-time ministry, or even for those who have "made it." The call is for everyone who calls Jesus Lord. And if we answer that call, we will make beautifully flawed disciples, not clones.