In Matthew 9:37-38, Jesus in a highly memorable moment for all future Christians, said: “Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few; pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth laborers into his harvest.” From these verses we can see that from the very beginning of Jesus' ministry the problem has not so much been with people ready to receive the gospel, but has been with finding laborers for the long-term work. To any missionary on the field the goal should be to help raise up mature Christians who are able to depend on God rather than us. How then can we find laborers? The answer to this question I am still learning here in the Japanese setting as I have been closely vested in a few men, however there are broad principles that can be applied anywhere. Namely, as given in the classic book MasterPlan of Evangelism, three important attributes are needed for a good disciple: faithfulness, availability, and teach-ability.
Clearly, after someone has become a born-again Christian through whatever way we reach them we want to try to help them along in their walk by investing in them as opposed to just letting them go free to fend for themselves. ( Unfortunately, not everyone wants to be invested into, nor will they want to learn more. ) Even Jesus was very careful about who he spent most of his time. So with a discerning eye, He carefully spent His time on a select few to really disciple in the short period of time that he would be on earth. As a missionary we do not know how long we will be allowed into a country or how long we will be alive, so it is equally important to invest carefully into lives. What was a dividing attribute that these men had? One was certainly Faithfulness. Later in 1 Corinthians 4:2 Paul clearly states, “Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.” In any ministry setting we do not want to just choose any random person to invest our time in, but we must be careful to seek God's leading on the matter. If a person demonstrates faithfulness in their daily life, chances are they will be faithful with the things of God that they learn. However, faithfulness is not the only needed element for a good disciple.
One of the challenges in the modern world is that of availability. In this fast-paced world with everything vying for our time from the technology world, to the entertainment world, to the work world -- modern man has to carefully prioritize his life. Unfortunately, few even prioritize their spiritual growth as anything of significance in their lives. Here in Japan life is prioritized with everything revolving around work. With the expectation of late hours being the norm it is not uncommon for people to come home after ten at night each night! This really makes availability to do the things of God increasingly difficult for the average person. Yet, if a man is faithful He will find a way to trust God and make the time to invest in spiritual growth. Throughout the scriptures men of God from Abraham to Moses to Isaiah (here I am Lord) and beyond have made themselves available to God's leading. Therefore, availability is crucial. Availability and faithfulness are key components in a disciple, however without teach-ability they become meaningless.
Think about the type of men that Christ chose to disciple: every day men without high pedigree. These men may have been difficult at times to teach, but they were teachable nonetheless. They were willing to learn from their mistakes and take correction from the master. Peter was even called Satan, yet he continued on! Teach-ability is therefore important, for without it the first two components are useless. Jesus with his inner three disciples, twelve total close disciples, and 70 other disciples essentially transformed the world by entrusting his time with a few trustworthy men. This was certainly the opposite of the church growth models today for it was built on time and faith rather than statistics and popular understanding. Fortunately, here in Japan by nature of the culture the people place teachers in high regard and in general tend to be highly dedicated though they be few in number as Christians. A slow steady work with few, while planting many seeds to many seems to be the order of the day!
I will never forget reading a missionary story about a missionary to Vietnam during the Vietnam war period. He learned an important lesson in his ministry about where to invest his time in. Vietnam was a difficult field, so he was only able to lead a few people to the Lord and closely disciple one man. He thought that he needed to have a large building to attract people in the city to hear about the gospel, so he set about his energies establishing a building. He finally established the building, only to have to later flee the country as the Communists took over in 1975. He later found out that the Communists took over the building and used it as a propaganda center for the community! He had spent all of that energy, only to have it be used by an enemy of God. However, what he did not account for was his one disciple. The man that he had discipled became a pastor, moved to a rural area of Vietnam, and ended up establishing many village churches which led many to the Lord! This is a good lesson for all of us to learn: where are we placing our priorities? On the things of the earth or on the things of God? Are we sharing what God has given us or hiding it?