“Discipleship” is a popular word in the church, but it is used in so many different ways with different understandings. So, what is true discipleship and what does it take for us to reach people and make new disciples?
Discipleship is not a course or a programme. Discipleship is not a particular tradition or style of church. Discipleship is not an optional extra for the keen. Discipleship is not yet another demand in the job description to keep us busy and feeling guilty.
Discipleship is a command.
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, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.
In Greek the imperative is the word “make” or literally “disciple”. Jesus commands us to make disciples. His commission shows what obeying that command will look require.
Go – Are we going to people outside the church and pointing them towards Jesus? If we’re too busy with administration or keeping the Christians happy what might we need to prune to obey the command of our Lord to go and make disciples?
Baptize – Are we inviting others to receive new life in Christ? Are we sharing the good news of Easter, God’s infinite kindness which leads us to repentance and a joy-filled, shame-less resurrection life?
Teach to Obey – Are we teaching them to obeyeverything Jesus commanded? Not just teaching information but walking alongside as together we learn to obey Jesus because that is the mark of a disciple.Love God and love one another, pray, give, serve, these are the commands of Jesus which a disciple is learning to obey. And of course the command to make other disciples.
If we feel inadequate for the job that is OK, because we are! Praise God they are not our disciples, they are disciples of the risen Jesus who said “and remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age”.
Here are some initial ideas to help you
Making new disciples: Evangelism that works
Is evangelism the one activity you secretly love to hate? Have you been disappointed through previous efforts at evangelism? Certainly it must be one of the most talked about and least practised parts of church life. It need not be so. Laurence Singlehurst believes that most Christians, when asked, admit to disappointment in their experience of evangelism. In his book Sowing, Reaping and Keeping - people-sensitive evangelism he claims that ‘you need never be disappointed again!’ His approach has helped many churches in evangelism.
Laurence asks people for their definition of evangelism. Common answers include: communicating the Christian faith; a lifestyle that shows Jesus to others; explaining the gospel to others...and so on. ‘Why were you disappointed in past evangelistic efforts?’ he goes on to ask. The usual replies are: ‘Very few people became Christians’; ‘No-one responded’; ‘It simply didn’t work.’ Laurence comes back: ‘So you describe evangelism as a process, but subconsciously believe it to be an event - the event of leading someone to Christ.’ This is an attitude which we must unlearn.
The Evangelism process: sowing and reaping
Evangelism is simply influencing someone
on their journey towards faith in Christ. Evangelism is not leading people to Christ! Instead, leading people to Christ is one part of evangelism.
The fourth chapter of John’s Gospel gives the account of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well. He explained (John 4:35-38) to his disciples that evangelism is a process of sowing and reaping. When Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman, he recognized from her questions that she had a great deal of knowledge about God and the scriptures. Others had done the harder work of sowing, so that he was able to reap. Imagine by contrast, standing on your high street and asking people what they thought of God. They might describe an old man unmoved by human suffering, or perhaps a vague universal force. What if you then asked their opinions of Christians and the church? The enthusiastic response is likely to be: ‘Boring weird hypocrites.’ Expecting someone in that state to make a commitment is the same as asking him or her to believe in a monster and join the most boring group of people on earth. No wonder we become disappointed!
Many of the unchurched people whom we meet are very near the beginning of the journey. They need to take steps of discovery about Christians and their God before they are in a position to make a lasting, heartfelt commitment to Christ and his church.
So what is sowing in our culture? Laurence contends that it’s simply helping people discover that ‘God is good and we’re OK!’ That is perhaps even more through seeing it than hearing it.It’s not just words but also our actions which communicate who Jesus is. It includes telling friends about the difference Jesus has made in our lives, but it also could be setting up a charity appeal or a men’s health night or a sponsored marathon. These are not separate from our ‘evangelism’ they are part of it. Through doing good, and living well, our lives point to the good that Jesus is doing in our world.
There may then be an opening to communicate slowly the meaning of the gospel. Gradually they will begin to open up to the gospel message and how it works in our lives. Only as they reach that point should we dare to confront them with a decision.
Finding Faith Today, John Finney’s research shows that in an overwhelming number of cases, it’s relationships that support and draw people through the faith-finding process.
The pools strategy
The Toddler Group has been going for several months. Twenty-five non-church adults have been attending regularly, and a few seem to be getting interested in finding out more about Christianity. The best idea seems to be to bring in someone to give a ten-minute “evangelistic” talk, to which the adults can ‘make a response’. Sadly though, they do not receive the talk with much enthusiasm. The following week only ten turn up. The rest left because they felt violated. They had chosen to come to a Toddler Group, not a Christian gospel meeting. The goal posts had been moved.
So what’s the answer? Obviously individual Christian helpers at the group carried on with personal evangelism. But the group can have much greater evangelistic potential than that. Switching to a different analogy, Laurence suggests thinking of our strategies as a succession of pools. These pools progress from cold, to warm, to hot. The problem with the Parent and Toddler Group was that its leaders turned up the heat and most of the fish jumped out!
The answer is instead for the ‘cold pool’ Parent and Toddler Group to stay as it was, a much-appreciated, high-quality service to local families. A generous gift of love with intrinsic Kingdom of God values. But linked to it, the church opens up a channel to a series of other pools, each warmer than the last. In this way, those who are ready for something warmer choose at their own pace to move on to the next pool, and the next until they choose to join a nurture course or come to another place of commitment to Christ.
Dream and Ask
Mission begins with the confidence that God is already at work, in the world around us, and also in
our own hearts. So take some time together to allow yourselves to dream and to ask questions.
Q. What are we dissatisfied with?
Q. What are we longing for?
Q. What are we passionate about?
Remember that passion can take the form of anger as well as enthusiasm.
Q. Where is the world around us changing in ways that create a need or opportunity?
For example a new housing estate or a changing demographic.
Q. Which groups are we most connected to and which groups are we least connected to?
Mission can start from recognizing the opportunity offered by existing relationships (for example, a
group of families may share a desire to pray for and serve their school). It can also begin as you
notice that a group of people have little or no connection to the church (for example, under 30’s or
Q. What promptings do we sense as we pray and read scripture together?
Q. What are people around us hungry for and open to?