Make Disciples, not Clones

We are waist deep in a new focus on discipleship, but I want to touch an issue that I am seeing in our new “culture of discipleship”. We are working hard to make a packaged product that we can use, calling it multiplication and reproduction, but it’s more like cloning. Reproducing disciples is good, cloning however is not working.

We can see the difference with a simple look at biology. In reproduction, a new individual is created that has similarities to the parents, but is unique. This new individual has opportunity to grow and mature in it’s own way. It’s a unique person. Cloning however is different. It takes an individual and makes an exact copy in an attempt to recreate the first individual. There is no room for individuality, just duplication. In our discipleship, I am seeing more and more and more corporate modeling, we use works like alignment and unity, but often we are attempting to make clones, people who do what we would do, when and how, with the same ideas, the same passions and the same expected outcomes. We want our disciples to do what we want, how we want it done and when we think it should be done.

This leads us back to a very old issue. We want to be with people like us, we assume people think like us and act like us. We want people to have our priorities, visions and expectations. We spend a great deal of time pushing others to be more like us. Discipleship should be helping others to be more like Christ. During the process of discipling others, we should be continuing to be transformed into the image of Christ. We should look more like Christ, but also be functioning as our part of the body. We have to disciple others to become their part of the body. A hand should teach a foot to relate to the head, a hand shouldn’t teach a foot to be a hand. If we do, we become frustrated because the foot can’t be a hand, and the foot is not equipped to be a foot.

So, what discipleship should be is training in proper use of the Word. We should teach others how to read, study and apply scripture. We should teach them how to pray, how to love and care. We encourage these things, we model these things. We take disciples with us and show them how we serve, understanding they may never serve in the area that we do. We should not spend time teaching them to do what we do, guilting them into serving where we think they should serve or making specific life decisions that fit our agenda. We want to create followers of Christ who are also followers of us and are made in our image. This mode of discipleship, cloning may be a great resource in the corporate world, but in the church, I believe it is causing a great amount of destruction. I one heard something attributed to Spurgeon that Christ used two vessels on the night of the Passover. A cup of wine to drink and a basin of water to wash feet. Spurgeon says we need to let the cup be the cup and the basin be the basin. If you are a cup, disciple basins and not just cups.


  1. says

    Dan – You have brought to the front the one true issue that is at the heart of all other issues, disagreements, conflicts, and divides in the SBC today:

    — How do we get new members to maintain the status -quo of the existing members modus operandi?

    I am convinced everything can be traced to this LACK of true discipleship (as you described) and this false discipleship that passes for acceptable throughout most of the SBC.

    It is no wonder that the majority of the current Baby-Boomer pastors (BBP) don’t know how to do this because their forebears didn’t either. The BBPs spent much time during and after seminary being chided as hot-headed seminary upstarts and as “not ready” so often that that is now how many of them behave towards the generation that will succeed them.

    They learned very well how to poo-poo on new ways of doing things because toeing-the-line was demanded of them. I’m sorry they were so disabused and that they have become self-limiting in their thinking. As a result, modem discipleship is not-quite a cult of personality of the pastor, but it is close.

    Today, discipleship is “let me help you be more like Jesus as I see Him” because, after their struggle to find acceptance in ministry, and finally “arriving,” they have to some extent lost sight of the fact that they still haven’t “arrived.” They still are not like Jesus as much as they need to be and are still in need of discipleship, rebuke, accountability, and humility.

    I see this “standing” as the source of conflict, this lack of true discipleship.
    — Who cares if someone wants to church-plant in a different way then others… is Jesus being preached?
    — Who cares about the differences between elder-led and committee led (not really much difference)… is Jesus being preached?
    — Who cares if someone is using Francis Chan AND Adrian Rogers to teach about prayer or church or whatever… is Jesus being preached and honored? Is iron sharpening iron?

    The only real problem with all of these conflicts is ego and pride. Both of which stand in the way of being a true disciple of Jesus.

    • says

      And yes, I know this is a sweeping generalization, but, it is my generalization; my observation. It is not gospel and I know it isn’t true in all cases, hence the classification.

  2. Greg Harvey says

    There is a phrase that oversimplifies everything, but that responds to both Dan’s blog and Greg’s comment. You decide whether it is helpful, profound, pithy, or merely distracting:

    “Let go and let God”

    • says

      That is part of the problem Greg H… too MANY have “let go and let God” for too long as though it is His job to disciple alone in a vacuum.

      What does Matt 28:19-20 say: 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

      In the context of this article, I submit that the SBC is the biggest abuser of Matt 28:19-20. According to one former pastor, “the SBC is the best at evangelism…” however, there was never a good answer for what to do about discipleship. The majority answer I got was to place them in a Sunday School class ASAP because discipleship happens there. Bringing up another article of Dan’s, when Sunday school is done right, there is hardly any discipleship done in the class; it is an open group bible study that serves as an evangelistic entry point for visitors to church.

      The other majority answer that I’ve heard is that primary discipleship is in the sermon. I have to disagree for one primary reason: taken as a whole, a sermon is a lecture, not discipleship. There is no interaction, no attempt to measure growth, no feedback… it is: teacher dispenses and learner assimilates… back to the “this is my version of Jesus” format. The sermon is a dangerous discipleship tool if it is the only one.

      We claim to be an “evangelical” group, yet evangelism is all we do; to preach the Gospel is only the FIRST part of making disciples. Unfortunately, we very rarely actually complete discipleship.

      What we do as the SBC is mostly conduct membership drives. We fail at teaching new members how to belong to the club. It unfortunately devolves to a numbers game.

      • Greg Harvey says

        I agree that discipleship has generally been weak in SB churches since the cultural rejection of Training Union. I am sympathetic to the view that we overemphasize converts and baptisms and underemphasize personal relationships and one-on-one mentoring.

        But the point I was making I also made on Jeremy’s recent blog that highlighted cultural perspectives: teach the Jesus of the Bible with zero cultural adornments and let God change the person and the culture. Or as Dan put it don’t seek to clone the old believer in the new one. Trust God to complete the work HE STARTED in the new believer and handle the discipleship role as a privilege and an honor rather than an onerous, bookkeeping responsibility.

        And also admit the learner–not the human teacher–determines what actually is “caught”.

        • says

          Ah… sorry for the misunderstanding.

          I took what you said in the wrong direction… no wonder the scenery didn’t look right :)

          thanks for the correction.

      • says

        A couple of observations:

        1. Discipling is much harder than cloning. You can be a cloner, and primary operate as a “mouth”; as you noted, you have one-way communication from the teacher to the learner. Discipleship requires that you listen to your learners as well as teach them. Discipleship requires a relationship, cloning, not so much.

        2. As as result of 1, discipleship does not “scale” as well as cloning; you can talk to lots of people at once, you can only effectively listen to one or two at a time. This means that cloning is going to be a temptation for those who are primarily looking for numbers – for a given number of “teachers”, you can get a lot bigger numbers with cloning than you can with discipling.

        This, to me, points to discipleship being more a “church community does it” thing than a “seminary-trained staff does it” thing. In American churches, this means that moving more towards discipleship is going to run up against the “Pastor does everything” church tradition and the American “rugged individualism” tradition.

        And, this challenges me a bit. I’ve said before that my gifts don’t work well doing straight teaching – preparing and giving a lesson or sermon. I’m more of a clarifier – listening to the point where I understand someone’s understanding of what they’ve been taught, and then providing clarification or correction of misunderstandings and missing information. While I’ve at times wondered where I fit in, it strikes me that discipling requires gifts like these, and I’m not sure I’ve been using them as much as I should.

  3. Bruce H. says


    Wouldn’t our discipleship go hand in hand with our experience in raising our children? Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go,
    And when he is old he will not depart from it.” As I understand this, the emphasis is on the “he” not “in the way” meaning how the child presents himself, his demeanor, personality. We do not clone our children, why would men seek Christ-cloneness? If each of our children have a uniqueness about them that requires us to raise each child individually and uniquely according to their own way, we must be mature enough to see the same thing in the new believer and follow the same or similar pattern with utmost patience. The interesting thing is that each person has a preexisting personality with a new spiritual gift and a new faith. The intimacy level is the key to proper discipleship. Much more could be said.

    Great post.

  4. Bob Pederson says


    You’ve put a finger on something that can be a bit difficult to define; sort of an uneasy feeling I would get when going over current discipleship material. It was teaching us how to make clones that can make more clones. I even heard references to reproducing ourselves. Then my pastor at the time gave me a long form to fill out that would help him track our “alignment”, and it explained the whole concept. I Googled “business alignment”, and came up the latest strategies that corporations are using to create and maintain a certain culture and focus within their structure, as well as tools to track and tweak that culture. It is known in the corporate alignment, and it is exactly what I see being touted in the SBC (and elsewhere) as an original work of the Holy Spirit, and Biblical Christianity. The sad truth is, we seem to be losing touch with biblical concepts of church growth driven by the Spirit, and substituting worldly wisdom in it’s place.

  5. Kay Copas says

    I love this post Dan. It makes me think. More and more, I am dismayed by programs that put everyone in the same box and focus on numbers rather than quality for discipleship. True disciple is to invest in the long term. It’s not a step process. Look at Paul and Barnabas. How many years and then some??? Discipleship requires seasons (plural) of faithfulness. It isn’t a quick Operation Timothy and I’m done. We walk, we encourage, we correct, and we nurture . . .over time . . .tested and true time.

    I feel so frustrate that we appear to be stuck in milk in the church today and rarely provide opportunity to feast on the rich meat of the Word. The result is shallow Christianity and lack of knowledge or vision. While I understand we are limited in the time we have to address elementary Christianity, there is a big gap for the hungry. And overall, it seems to me that few understand the full counsel of God. Not in the pulpits overall and not in the flock. We get stuck on manmade or denominational doctrine and view things from Western American lenses way too often.

    Doesn’t surprise me at all. The Bible teaches that the church before the Lord’s return will be an apostate church – one who has left her first love. Uh oh . . .that is one of the forbidden topics in the church too isn’t it??? Too much division. Could our spindly week spirits stand in persecution????

    It seems to me that the sadly inadequate knowledge of man has replaced the wisdom and discerning Spirit of a holy and righteous God???? I do understand that there isn’t a perfect church because we are terribly imperfect people. I have a good church and I know it. A pastor who carries the Lord’s burden for the lost and desires to find them and bring them in. I feel as though it is one of the best churches in our city. But to find the meat I so desperately hunger for, I go outside of my church.

    Inside, I serve and I share and I walk with my brothers and sisters and I try to disciple with faithfulness. But in my fervor, it breaks my heart that so many tongues wag because I am a woman with a heart for Jesus who desires to share Him rather than eyes that see the Lord working in our midst. I don’t care. Nominal Christianity isn’t good enough for me. If persecution comes to my door, like it did in the early church . . .I want to be able to stand. When I stand before Jesus and should he ask if I have any disciples to show Him, I want someone to be there. Someone I’ve loved well in His name. Someone I’ve helped grow and mature in the faith.

    The truth is we can’t disciple in our selves at all. We can be noisy gongs and clanging cymbals, but to be used in the life changing work of Holy Spirit, we have to be submitted to the Lord. We have to be humbled before Him and teachable in order to be an acceptable vessel for His use. The Lord will draw His elect if we are and send them to us. And if we understand that it is all about Him and not a bit about us, we will learn to become those useable vessels.

    Father, revive us! Allow us to glimpse your glory and be forever changed in your presence! In Jesus! By Jesus! and through HIM alone!

  6. R. Richard Tribble, Jr. says


    Thought provoking post that should lead us to be better disciples of those God places within our sphere of influence. Recently I have been lead to 2 Pt 1:5-8.


    • Bob Pederson says

      God has me parked there as well. Probably until I become fruitful and effective by following that progression.