We have a field on our property that is too rough to be a nice lawn. It gets mowed twice a year with a cutter bar mower. About half of the field we'd like to smooth out and turn into a lawn; the other half is on a hillside, and we don't want to mess with it. For a couple years now we've been talking about simply not mowing that section, and letting it go to weed, knowing that there are stands of poplar trees all around, and it'll eventually become woods. Poplars aren't a great tree, but it's better than dealing with a tough-to-mow hillside.
This spring, my father had about thirty oak seedlings that shot up in his garden. I assumed he was going to till them under, but a few days ago I noticed they were still there, and asked him why he hadn't wiped them out. "I thought you might like to plant those in your field -- oak's a lot nicer than poplar."
That settled it. We're transplanting oak trees into our field, in hopes that it'll turn into something nicer than a poplar stand. It's possible that nothing will grow, but we're giving it a try.
So yesterday afternoon I went out into the field with a bucket full of stakes, a mallet, a spade, a tape measure, and a square (since I'm a geometry guy, my rows must be parallel). Oh, and one more thing. I took my five-year-old son.
His jobs were: hold the tape measure, bring me things I needed, and count off the spacing between trees on the tape measure.
The process of marking off and digging an array of thirty holes in the ground reaffirmed to me something every parent knows: sometimes getting "help" from your children results in a process much longer and more tedious than simply doing it by yourself.
For example, my son is just starting to get the hang of two-digit numbers, so the idea of starting at 15 feet and adding 10 feet to get 25 feet is still something he needs help with. And that slowly developing number-sense certainly does not facilitate the process of tracking down the number 25 on the tape measure. I would often end up standing around for a minute or more, waiting for him to find the number I wanted, when I could have found it for myself in about five seconds.
But here's the thing: I didn't bring my son out there because I thought it would make my job easier. I did it for the following reasons:
What was I really doing? I was making a disciple. I was training him in the things that I'm good at, that I hope someday he will be good at as well.
Jesus told us to make disciples. We often read Matthew 28:19 as a command for evangelism, and there's no denying that evangelism precedes making disciples, but making disciples is a much longer and more time-consuming process than simply sharing the gospel. Making disciples requires a great deal of effort beyond that initial sharing. And at times, it might make you feel like you're wasting your time.
Consider Jesus. For three years he went about doing the work of His Father, with a company of twelve men tagging along with him everywhere he went. In a lot of ways, those twelve men were like little children. They argued, they fought, they lacked understanding. Can you imagine how much more Jesus could have done if he hadn't been surrounded by these men who needed him to intervene in their arguments, and re-explain things over and over to them?
Yet Jesus saw these men as valuable. Valuable enough to spend his divine time on them. Correcting, rebuking, training, explaining. And the end result? In Matthew 10:5-8 we find Jesus able to send out these twelve men on their own to do the work He was doing.
The process of discipleship is the patient, time-consuming process of taking younger believers with you when you go out and do the work of the Father, in order to guide them in their faith and their service. In our efficiency-based culture, this process seems as counter-productive as having a five-year-old count off measurements when you could do it ten times faster by yourself.
But I didn't bring my son with me because I thought it would be more efficient; I brought him because of the tremendous value that I place on him -- because of my love for him. And really, when you think about it, this is what drove the Savior's earthly ministry. Not the desire for efficiency, but the love of people.