What do birds have to do with making disciples that make disciples? Bear with me for a minute–I promise there’s a connection.
You may have heard of the term “imprinting”. Famous zoologist Konrad Lorenz famously describes the process of imprinting occurring when an animal forms an attachment to the first thing it lays its eyes upon after hatching (McLeod, 2018). This is most often associated with geese when the farmer becomes its “parent”.
If the gosling is not parented by a goose, then the farmer will take the place of the parent. Because of this, the gosling will never learn how to fly. The farmer is imprinted upon the bird, thus preventing the goose from learning how to become what it was created to be.
Let’s go back to the beginning: what do birds have to do with making disciples that make disciples? Maybe you already see the connection. When a Christian begins the process of discipling a new believer, they run the risk of imprinting themselves onto the young disciple. The one who is new in faith may begin to follow everything their discipler is doing and begin to look more and more like them. This poses a danger to the developing believer because it takes away the focus of Christ and replaces it with the one who is leading.
This is not always done on purpose. Yet without maturity and discernment, a disciple maker may end up creating mini versions of themselves instead of creating followers of Christ. This prevents disciples from maturing into who they were created to be. We are not meant to be like those around us, but we are meant to become more like Christ. So how do we avoid this process of imprinting?
Whose imprint are you leaving on the newest disciples in the ministry you lead?
In the church where I grew up, there were two influential leaders under whom the church flourished. Skyline Wesleyan Church was planted by Orval Butcher. He planted a thriving church and pastored the families that were drawn to this “Christ-centered family church.” Pastor Butcher was a people’s pastor. The church grew under his leadership to over 1,0000, which is quite an accomplishment given the personal nature of his ministry. His successor was Pastor John Maxwell. Many have read his books or heard John speak and been inspired by his ministry. John’s mantra is “everything rises and falls on leadership”.
Imagine being under the leadership of two very influential church leadership and discipleship models. Regardless of the other models you’ve experienced throughout your faith journey, the imprint on your mind and spirit remains to this day. The models of Skyline Wesleyan Church gave me someone to look up to, emulate and aspire to be like as a follower of Jesus and as a leader. At some point along my journey, I needed to discover and (eventually did) lean into who I was as a follower of Jesus apart from the models that left their imprint on me.
How do we imprint Jesus on the newest followers?
We must first always point people towards holiness. We must pursue and model the life of Christ in every aspect, to the point that nothing in ourselves is taking the throne, or, keeping with the imprinting analogy, the “first gaze”. One of the truest ways to disciple a young believer is to show them who Christ is. That requires continually bringing them back to scripture and modeling a life of holy living. 1 Peter 1:16 states: “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” As we take on the disciple maker role, it is important to be reminded that others are always watching. So we must ask ourselves who they are seeing: us or Christ?
Secondly, it is important to look at who has been discipling us and where our influence is coming from. Has there been anyone upon whom we have “imprinted” when we were young in our faith? Looking back and reflecting upon our own discipleship journey can help us become more aware of the pitfalls we find ourselves in. We often repeat what was imprinted on us, thus creating a pattern – healthy or unhealthy.
Lastly, when we disciple, we must help people see for themselves who they were created to be. If we are faithful in our leadership, stripping away our own biases, then we must allow the Holy Spirit to do His work in the formational process. Our job is simply pointing people towards Jesus and allowing Him to work in the transformation towards becoming more like Him.
Church models, whether prevailing or micro, may not be as critical here as long as leaders don’t create a dependency on their leadership. What matters when a person enters a large group gathering versus a small group gathering is the direction they are pointed. Are they walking towards Christ, or are they emulating another individual?
Following are reflection questions to help you discern the imprint you and your church community are making on the newest disciples.
Whose image are you imprinting when you disciple a new believer?
How can we challenge church leaders to make disciples without making mini followers of ourselves?
What role do small groups and formational communities play in your disciple making process?
October 17 is right around the corner, and you know what that means… Our 5 Discipleship Coach Habits Webinar is finally launching! After putting a lot of time and effort into creating this training approach to disciple making, we are so excited to finally begin this journey with anyone who feels ready to take the next step in their discipleship coaching. The cohort launches on October 17, 2022 from 10am-3pmPST.
Photo by Jonny Gios on Unsplash