Infertility is a scary word for many couples that want to have children. Shortly after we married, Cathryn and I had a hard time getting pregnant and starting a family. We learned there are many medical reasons a couple might be infertile. With treatment and by God’s grace, we discovered something that was preventing the process of fertilization in our bodies and corrected it. In time, Cathryn became pregnant with our first child. She became pregnant with our second child, a daughter, six months after our son was born. Human reproduction is natural and truly amazing when all things are working biologically as they should.
Reproduction is part of the creation story found in the early chapters of Genesis. After God created man in His own image as male and female, He told them to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Genesis 1:26-28). Therefore, reproduction is part of our God-given human instinct. That is the primary reason we have more than 7 billion people living on planet earth today. However, human reproduction, though part of the natural order of things, is not always automatic, as Cathryn and I soon discovered.
What is true physically is also true spiritually. As Christians, we are born again to reproduce. But many Christians, for all practical purposes, are infertile because they’ve never reproduced themselves by making another disciple of Jesus, even though disciple making is the one thing Jesus told us to do (Matthew 28:19-20). Some churches could also be diagnosed as infertile. They have deacons but no disciples who go and make disciples. They have members but no missionaries who go and make more missionaries. Infertile churches are full of spiritually infertile people.
Why is spiritual infertility seemingly the norm in the lives of so many Christians? I can think of at least four conditions that might explain this scary reality in the body of Christ. First, people in the pews are not born again. Put plainly, dead people do not reproduce. That is a fact of physical life; it is also a fact of spiritual life. Jesus knew this when He said to Nicodemus, “You must be born again” (John 3:3). Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a religious professional, but he was still dead in his trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1). He was a walking dead man, a zombie who was alive physically but dead spiritually. Does that describe you?
By the way, we are born again when we place our faith in Jesus Christ. Though we are born into sin and spiritually dead upon arrival, the part of us that was created to have a relationship with God is brought to life when we believe that Jesus died on the cross for our sins and rose from the dead (Romans 10:9-10; 1 Peter 1:2-4, 22-23).
The late Adrian Rogers once said if you are born once, you will die twice but if you are born twice, you will die once. By dying twice, he meant a physical and then a spiritual death (Revelation 21:8) and born twice means you are physically born and then spiritually born. If you are born again, you will die physically (if Jesus doesn’t return first) and then experience eternal life. Are you born again? If you answered yes, you are able to reproduce spiritually by making disciples of Jesus who go and make disciples.
The second reason for spiritual infertility is that some born again people are not living consistently in fellowship with Jesus. The difference between being in relationship with Jesus and in fellowship with Him is significant and necessary to our understanding of how spiritual reproduction happens. Just as a married couple can be in covenant relationship with each other but out of fellowship at any given time, even so a Christian can be in relationship with Jesus but out of fellowship with Him. How? Sin interrupts our fellowship with Jesus (1 John 1:9).
Intimate fellowship is what Jesus had in mind when He declared to His disciples, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:6). Just as a branch reproduces fruit when it remains intimately connected to the vine, so believers in Jesus must abide in Him in order to reproduce His life in others. In verse 8, Jesus says, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”
When disciples of Jesus go and make more disciples, we bear much fruit and glorify God. This requires consistent fellowship and oneness with Jesus. Indwelling sin interrupts our fellowship with Jesus and our ability to reproduce the life of Christ. Apart from Jesus we can do nothing! This is why Paul encouraged the Galatians to “walk by the Spirit” (5:16). Spiritual sterility results in believers when we consistently walk by the flesh and not by the Spirit.
A third reason for spiritual infertility is that some born again people are unwilling to reproduce themselves through discipleship. That might sound unimaginable to you, especially if you are a committed disciple maker, but consider my own confession. There was a time when I actually thought I was too busy as the lead pastor of a large church to spend time with just a few people in order to make disciples. I completely ignored Jesus’s personal example not to mention the stated mission He gave to His followers (Matthew 28:16-20). Besides, I rationalized, we had a pastor on staff with discipleship responsibilities and a team of volunteers that led small groups. To my shame, personal disciple making was not my top priority.
Then I read again Bill Hull’s book The Disciple Making Pastor, which was published in 1988 and had been in my personal library for more than twenty-five years. Hull writes with conviction when he says, “Disciple making introduces people to the Savior, builds them to maturity, and trains them to reproduce and be effective for Christ. This is the work of the church.” Yes, discipleship is the work of all who are in the church by faith in Jesus Christ, clergy and laity alike.
Still, some might be unwilling to make disciples for the same reasons some married couples choose not to have children. Making disciples takes time and the investment of one’s life, as does parenting. Everyone knows that making a baby is a lot easier than the task of parenting a child to full maturity and adulthood. Likewise, the winning of souls can happen in minutes whereas the making of disciples takes much time. And yet, Jesus told us to make disciples not just converts. Because our Lord focused on making a few committed disciples and commissioned them to do the same, the early church did not fail to launch.
A fourth reason for spiritual infertility is that some born again believers don’t know how to make a disciple who follows Jesus. Fair enough. It is a pastor’s duty to equip the saints for the work of ministry for the building up of the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12). This includes the ministry of disciple making. Like most pastors, I desire to be intentional about equipping disciple makers. That is why I developed an online discipleship coaching experience called Starting Point: A Disciple’s First Steps. Anybody can use it to make disciples who go and make disciples.
In summary, born again believers in Jesus who are walking in fellowship with Him and willing to make disciples can, with the help of the Holy Spirit, reproduce the life of Christ in others. So, what are you waiting for? You are born again to reproduce. Start today.