We teach what we know. We reproduce who we are.

This is part 3 of 4 of a series where Pastor Taylor will share about 4 guiding principles that shape the mission, vision, values, and key convictions of Cross Community Church.

Part 1: Be before you do
Part 2: You can’t give what you don’t have
Part 3: We teach what we know. We reproduce who we are.

“I don’t like when you yell at me.”

These are words I thought to myself as a kid anytime my dad raised his voice at me. As virtually all kids do, I can point back to 1000 different times when I saw something my parents did and would say, “I’ll never do that.” This means, to date, that my “foot-in-mouth” insertions have reached approximately 1001. As I stood atop my adolescent ivory tower and stared through the lenses of my rose-colored glasses into my flawless future as the perfect parent, “Never,” I declared, “would I allow my emotions carry me to the point that I would yell at one of my kids.”

Except, this time, it wasn’t me thinking these words.
It was my then-3-year old son saying them to me.

The most difficult lessons about myself have been learned through parenting. When couples who are preparing for marriage or to have their first child ask Emily and me what our biggest challenge has been, our immediate response is to tell them, “You will learn how selfish you are.” It’s a difficult reality to embrace, but marriage and parenting both have a way of bringing out both the very best and very worst of ourselves. 

But the most difficult part of parenting hasn’t been seeing my selfishness revealed. It’s been seeing my shortcomings multiplied. The irony of my son telling me that he didn’t like when I yelled is that he was being yelled at for—you guessed it—yelling. Children are far less likely to be obedient to what they are told than to imitate what is being modeled. This means I can sit and lecture my son for days on end about not yelling, but the simple fact of the matter is that if he sees and hears me raising my voice, then he’s going to raise his voice. 

Parenting has taught me a piercing truth that I have also seen proven time and time again within the life of the church: We can teach what we know, but we reproduce who we are

God’s intention for His people from the beginning is that we would be people who multiply, both in the physical and spiritual sense. From the beginning of the Biblical narrative until the end, God’s clear desire is the multiplication of His image and of His people to the ends of the earth.

This is established in the cultural mandate of Genesis 1:“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it…” (v. 28) And it is echoed by the words of Jesus in the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” (Matt. 28:19)

This mission to multiply and make disciples was not a foreign concept to the earliest followers of Jesus. They had seen discipleship modeled for them in the context of the Jewish religious system. But Jesus makes it clear to his followers that it isn’t enough to simply multiply.

We need to take extreme caution to ensure we have something worth multiplying

Jesus emphasizes this point with a scathing indictment in Matthew 23:
15Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.”

The problem for the Pharisees wasn’t that they didn’t understand their mission of making disciples. Their problem was that they were multiplying their dysfunction. And at this point in the biblical narrative, their dysfunctional faith had been multiplied so many times over that it had become an altogether foreign religious system. They no longer served as an accurate reflection of their heavenly Father to the world around them. They were driven by their own personal glory. They were, as I shared in part 2, trying to give something they didn’t have.

The full scope of this unhealthy history of multiplication is revealed in verses 29-30:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets.”

That sounds an awful lot like, “I’ll never do what my parents did.” They were right. They would do far worse. Because while their ancestors may have murdered God’s prophets, they would go on to demand the murder of God’s Son.

Because we can teach what we know, but we reproduce who we are. 

Think of this as cancer that is left unchecked and untreated. It may start in the intestine, but before long it will metastasize to the lungs, liver, or other major organs. Ultimately, it will bring total death. The person who was once brimming with life, energy, and enthusiasm becomes an emaciated shell of their former self. So it is with our faith. A reproduction of dysfunction and unchecked sin will result in a sharp decline for future generations.

In his book, Building a Disciplining Culture, Mike Breen considers Europe as a case study. He writes, 

If we look at Europe, children, teenagers, and young adults don’t attend church any longer. Why is that? It is because Christians in Europe have forsaken the reproduction of themselves into a new generation. There really is not a “next generation” of Christians in Europe. Perhaps it is because the older generations of Christians were not healthy.
— Mike Breen

Because, if we yell, then they yell.
If we get impatient, they get impatient.
If we don’t forgive, they won’t forgive.
If we never admit our failures, they will only point out the flaws of others.
If we do not seek justice for the oppressed, they will soon become indifferent.
If we don’t make gathering for worship a priority, they will forsake it entirely.
If we neglect truth, they will invent their own truth.
If we don’t model confession and repentance, they will become comfortable with their sin.
If we neglect the primary place of the Word of God, they will soon reject its authority.

Within the life of the American church, we have seen this carried out over the past 100 years. We are now seeing the fruit of generations past who turned pastors into celebrities and ministries into personal kingdoms. This is, without question, something that has been going on in the church long before the 1900’s-2000’s, but the current cultural landscape reflects a generation that is obsessed with fame.

As a church planting team, we have seen this played out first-hand over the past 2 years as we have prepared for our upcoming launch: Grow your brand. Build your platform. Learn how everyone can know your name. What starts as a desire to drive cultural engagement and effectiveness can very easily become an idolatrous level of brand-loyalty that perpetuates an unhealthy cycle of consumer Christianity (this will be addressed more fully in part 4). 

The jury may still be out, but I fear we have not even begun to see the catastrophic effects of implicitly (or explicitly) teaching young ministry leaders that they can earn personal fame from a faith that, at its heart, is about denying ourselves and carrying a cross.

Like the Pharisees, we can multiply ourselves 100,000 times over. We can build a ministry or brand that earns us global fame. We can travel across land and sea to make disciples. But what does any of that matter if the next generation we are reproducing becomes “twice as much children of hell” as ourselves?

We are not simply called to multiply. We are called to be people (and churches) that are worth multiplying. And, by God’s grace, we are provided all we need in Christ to live a holy and righteous life, set apart for God’s glory and fully engaged in His mission to multiply the image of His Son to the ends of the earth.

It is Christ within us, and nothing else within ourselves, that is worth multiplying. Anything less will fall short in eternity. Let’s strive, with integrity, to say along with the Apostle Paul, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).

Because we teach what we know,
but we reproduce who we are

So stop yelling.