Disciple Making vs. Downline: Practicing God’s Presence or Pyramid Scheme?

downline or disciples?

Is disciple making some sort of glorified multi-level pyramid scheme?

The argument I’ve heard recently is that those of us who emphasize making disciples as the mission of our lives more closely resemble sellers of Amway than ambassadors for Jesus.

The “product” (soap, meds, or Jesus) isn’t the point. It’s all about the process of recruiting more and more people into your pyramid (the people in your “downline” or the people you are “discipling”).

The critics actually make it sound like multiplication (and obedience?) are bad things.

To the critic, it seems that if we are sharing the Gospel, pleading with people to follow Jesus, baptizing and teaching them to obey everything Jesus commanded, and mobilizing them to do the same, we can’t possibly have time left over to actually enjoy God. Right?

I personally don’t know anyone who fits the caricature. Sure, there are always those who come across as fake or “salesy” when they present the Gospel and in some instances, the criticism might be valid.

For my part, however, I couldn’t disagree more with this critique of disciple making.

In fact, I would suggest that we will never fully enjoy God if we aren’t actively engaged in making and multiplying disciples.

In the pages of Scripture there is no category of a disciple of Jesus who doesn’t make more disciples of Jesus. If you want to visualize that as a pyramid, fine. But don’t lump all disciple makers into one group and suggest that we only care about the process and not the “product”.

I would actually argue that if you want to draw closer to God…make disciples.

If you want to follow Jesus…make disciples.

If you want to practice the presence of the Spirit of God…make disciples.

Alternatively, by not making disciples you grow far from God, you stop following Jesus, and you can’t fully enjoy the fellowship of the Spirit in your life.

Our relationship with our Father stagnates when we are disobedient to His commands.

I’m wondering if those who criticize disciple making as if it were a lifeless pyramid marketing scheme have ever read John 13-17, 1 John, the Book of Acts, the story of Jonah, and the Great Commission (just off the top of my head).

The Great Commission

Consider what Jesus says in the Great Commission:

Mt 28:18-20 “Then Jesus came near and said to them, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 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, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Acts 1:8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

It’s in the context of witnessing and disciple making that Jesus promises to be with us. He promises He will be with us so that we will be empowered to be His witnesses.

Love + Obedience = the Presence of God

Those who separate love for God from obedience to God end up creating a false dichotomy. How can we separate the two? After all, isn’t the “Great Commandment” to love God? Is it obedience or love? Perhaps you can’t have one without the other.

  • Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commands. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever.” (John 14:15-16)
  • Then he said, “The one who has My commands and keeps them is the one who loves Me. And the one who loves Me will be loved by My Father. I also will love him and will reveal Myself to him. Judas (not Iscariot) said to Him, “Lord, how is it You’re going to reveal Yourself to us and not to the world?” Jesus answered, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word. My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.” (John 14:21-23)
  • Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me. I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me. (John 15:4-5)
  • My Father is glorified by this: that you produce much fruit and prove to be My disciples.” (John 15:8)

I can’t think of a better way to show love to my Father than to obey my Father.

If you feel far from God and defeated in your walk with Jesus, the first diagnostic you need to run on your life is whether or not you are making, maturing, and multiplying disciples.

You may call it a pyramid scheme, I call it practicing the presence of God!

But thanks be to God, who always puts us on display in Christ and through us spreads the aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For to God we are the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To some we are an aroma of death leading to death, but to others, an aroma of life leading to life. And who is competent for this? For we are not like the many who market God’s message for profit. On the contrary, we speak with sincerity in Christ as from God and before God.” (2 Corinthians 2:14-17)

Click here to read a little bit more about my evil disciple making pyramid scheme.

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Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Bravo!  Amway (Richard DeVos) stole the multiplication process from Jesus! Grin. It amazes me that critics of disciple-making discipleship do not see the New Testament model for the same.  Blessings, Nathan.  Keep up the good posts!

    • Anonymous

      Absolutely Scott. Isn’t it a bit sad that there are some who need to go to great lengths to criticize how and when and where we make disciples when that mandate is as clear as a bell in Scripture. And, like you said, multiplication isn’t new to Amway. I find that as I’ve studied a wide variety of topics, there are a lot of “innovations” that actually originate from Ancient Israel or from the Church. Could it be that the God of Israel and of the Church has ways higher than ours and thoughts that are higher than ours?

  • Heavenian77

    yes, sometimes i do encounter that comment from people, that’s the reason we have to let people know that the only…only…intention we love them is because of Jesus!

  • taydigga7

    Somebody needs to check out this blog and read this book: http://www.schooleyfiles.com/2012/12/the-great-commission-who-does-it-apply.html