This is the first of a three part series on Discipleship and the Fourth Generation. (Part 2, Part 3)I sat around recently and doodled in my moleskine about the concept of the fourth generation discussed in II Timothy 2:2. Paul mentions 4 generations there.
As I reflected on what makes a fourth generation of disciples possible, I became increasingly aware why the fourth generation is considered by most people to be the true test of whether you have a movement taking place. The crux of a movement is exactly that, movement. However, you can see movement in the relationship between the first and second generation. There is undoubtedly movement taking place between Paul and Timothy. however, the goal is an exponential movement, that is, movement that keeps going. Sustainable movement that is able to keep going beyond the first generation and second generation.
It is tempting to think the third generation is a sign of movement, but the third generation is deceiving for a couple reasons.
1. The first generation can still have a hand in influencing the third generation by triangulating the relationship. The first generation can influence the third generation by influencing the second generation. In this sense, the third generation is still in the orbit of the first generation, which means that movement has not really spread beyond the first generation yet. Functionally, the third generation can still be dependent on the first generation's leadership and influence. The second generation is essentially the middle man at this phase of multiplication.
2. The second generation disciple can be a charismatic person, which means they can easily gather a group of people around them. Discipleship is taking place, but it is not necessarily because the first generation has made a disciple that will be able to make another disciple, who will be able to make another disciple. If I disciple a charismatic person, they will eventually attract someone to themselves and disciple them. The discipleship process will be contained in the third generation and go no further.
The true test is whether the people who are being discipled by that charismatic person are able to make disciples as well. Its true that a charismatic person can attract another charismatic person, and the chain reaction can go on and on. This is why Paultells Timothy to commit what he has hear from him to faithful "men" (anthropos in the Greek signifying male and female), plural, more than one person.
The fourth generation disciple is a sign that a multiplication movement is taking place because the first generation has no direct hand in the fourth generation. It implies the second or third generation has developed the capacity to make disciples as well. There are two degrees of separation between he first and the second, thus pointing to the quality and effectiveness of the disciple making taking place among and between the second and third generation. To put it another way, the first disciple can make disciples who make disciples. But the real test is whether or not that second disciple can make disciples that make disciples. Because of the triangulation factor or the charismatic factor, the fourth generation is the acid test of whether or not there is a multiplication movement taking place. True imitation takes place when the second disciple is able to imitate the process of making a disciple that makes a disciple. So in essence, what we have is a second generation disciple making third generation disciples, and the process keeps going.
What this points us to is the critical dynamics of the initial discipling relationship. The quality, simplicity, sticky-ness, and reproducibility of the process, content and relationship of this initial relationship is what sets the DNA of a multiplication movement. If discipleship is about imitation, then the initial relationship is crucial to the potential for a multiplication movement to happen.
It is interesting that Paul tells Timothy to transfer the things he has heard Paul say in front of many witnesses. In other words, the stuff that is to be transmitted is stuff that was originally shared in a larger setting with many people. Timothy is to pass on the things that Paul spoke in front of many witnesses. This implies that the content of what Paul said was able to be absorbed by many people. It was not esoteric or lofty. It was , Reproducible, Sticky and Simple, what we call here at Ikon a RSS Feed. The process and the content of your strategy for discipleship needs have these three qualities. Other wise, it will not be able to travel to the fourth generation.
Movement is not the same as multiplication. A multiplication movement is what Paul is aiming at in II Timothy 2:2. The capacity to make three generations of disciples is exceptional indeed, but you want the second generation to be able to imitate this process, and you want them to imitate it in a way that their disciples can imitate it as well. We at Ikon are using the tools and processes of 3DM to help us build a discipling culture. You might want to check them out. They have over 20 years experience in using tools that are reproducible, sticky and simple. Most of all, they have a lot of wisdom as to the process of making disciples as well.