12. Prayer: The Inner Life of a Disciple

Can you imagine walking and living with Jesus day after day and never having a conversation with him? Can you imagine a family never communicating? A married couple? Partners in a business? Of course not! If discipleship involves a deep, personal, long-term relationship with God in Christ, following Jesus day-by-day and learning from him, then disciples are required to learn to commune with God through Christ.

Prayer is the vital communication link that permits our relationship with God to grow and deepen. Just as a relationship with spouse continues to evolve and grow over time, we never reach the end of growth in our prayer life. Our relationship with God grows, changes, and deepens as our walk with God grows and deepens day-by-day. In this way, our relationship with God is no different than our relationship with any other person: We must take time to be in communion with another person.

When I first became a Christian, I had trouble learning to pray. Over the years, I found that the best way to learn to pray is to just pray, learning at each stage of discipleship what you need to move forward in the life of prayer. No one can ever learn all there is to know about communicating with God, just as no person can ever know all there is to know about human communication. What we can know is something we can put into practice today! If we continue to open our lives to the Spirit of God, we will grow in our prayer life.

We live in a post-Christian society. Many people did not grow up in Christian homes with parents helping them learn to pray. They never attended Sunday School or Vacation Bible School. They never prayed in church with other members of the congregation. They never experienced the prayers of family, friends, or fellow church members. Even those who grew up in Christian homes may never have seen and heard their parents and friends pray. Many of these people live in a “soulless would” in which there is no room for a God of Love who cares for them and wants to get to know them. They grew up thinking that a material universe is all there is or can be.

For these people, prayer can be a foreign experience. Nevertheless, in times of suffering and pain, most people cry out for help, even from the God they do not know, but whose character is written upon their hearts. (In fact, this instinctive human propensity to pray is one reason for believing there is a personal God.) It is not that people do not have the capacity to pray or the inner inclination to pray. [1] They do. The problem is that they have never developed a personal relationship with God such that they can lift up their needs to God in a natural way. Once such people open their hearts to God, their God-given capacity for prayer can be developed and enhanced. Maturity in the life of the Spirit is dependent upon moving from a state of prayer immaturity to prayer maturity.

Even among Christians who know something of prayer, many are reluctant to pray. Prayer is an act of self-revelation. Some people are afraid of what they might say. Others are afraid that they will not be able to pray as well as a professional, such as a pastor or group leader. These fears can deprive people of a vibrant prayer life. Opening up in honest prayer in front of family, friends, fellow church members, and others can be as embarrassing as being seen without clothes on. Our False Self—our façade of control, of capacity to solve our own problems—must come down for us to learn to pray honestly concerning our fears, faults and failures. [2] There is no hiding who we are in honest prayer.

A Disciple is a Person of Prayer

Like discipleship itself, prayer is not something we learn about, it is something we learn to do. Like all skills, no one begins his or her life of prayer as an accomplished prayer. Instead, by trial and error, long experience, praying well and badly, rightly and wrongly, maturely and immaturely, slowly but surely our prayer life grows. This has been my experience, and I think it has been the experience of most Christians. In prayer, like pitching a baseball, you begin learning to just throw a simple fastball, and then you improve your game.

As a result, it is important in prayer, as with any skill, to keep practicing and keep learning. A disciple needs to be a person of prayer, and a disciple of fifty years should be a better person of prayer than a disciple of fifteen minutes—and they will be if they just keep on praying. A few years ago, I went on an eight-day silent retreat. For a week about twenty-five of us did nothing but pray silently. We prayed in groups, alone, in journals, on walks, while running, etc. We prayed prayers from Scripture, in writing, and in silent contemplation of God. Once a day we prayed out loud in worship. Believe me, forty years ago, I could not have endured such a long period of silence and prayer.

Learning to Pray

Most Christians learn to pray by watching someone else pray. People born into Christian homes, learn to pray hearing parents pray at meals or at bedtime. Before long, we were saying our prayers just before we went to bed. As we attended Church with our parents, we listened to the pastor pray and prayed from a bulletin or prayer book. In Sunday School we heard prayers, and then learned to pray ourselves. Perhaps we saw our parents praying in difficult circumstances or over difficult decisions. As we matured, we learned to pray under the pressure of difficult times of life.

This description of the way people learn to pray alerts us to the need for mature Christians to help new Christians, and especially those who grew up in non-Christian homes, to learn to pray. As important as books, tapes, video’s, classes, and other opportunities to learn to pray are nothing can take the place of a personal relationship with another human being who models prayer for a new or growing Christian.

Prayer involves a personal relationship with God and is best taught within the context of a personal relationship with another person. This can be a family member, friend, a small group leader, a Sunday School teacher, a pastor or anyone else who prays regularly.

When I was a new Christian, I was good at reading my Bible, attending church, and being involved in certain ministries. I was not good at praying. I am naturally an active person. Sitting silently, praying, and listening for God was (and is) hard for me. Therefore, I did what people who like to read do: I bought a book, Prayer, by George A. Buttrick. [3] It did not take long to realize that reading a 300-page book was not likely to improve my prayer life. Therefore, I took a different tactic. I just started praying.

Then, I found a short guide to prayer that focused on adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and personal requests (supplication), the so-called “ACTS method” of prayer. I listened to people pray who were in Bible studies I attended. Several years later, I was part of an early morning prayer group that met for a couple of years during a difficult time in an organization we were a part of. This group stretched and improved my prayer life. In seminary, a group of us met weekly for prayer and had prayer partners. Once in ministry, I developed habits of prayer that continue to this day. In a tough period in ministry, I started another prayer discipline: that of praying the scriptures and a kind of Christian contemplation on Christ. One summer, I want away for an eight-day silent time of prayer, wanting to further deepen a prayer relationship with God. More recently, I began keeping a long prayer list. Sometimes, I write out prayers in my journal. All these disciplines did not come naturally or easily. They just appeared at the right time in my life of discipleship. The same thing is true of nearly all Christians. What disciple-makers must do is get a person started in the life of prayer.

Jesus and Prayer

Jesus had a simple method for teaching his disciples to pray: he prayed. Jesus prayed at every turning point in his life and ministry. Matthew tells us that, after Jesus fed the 5000, he went out alone and prayed: “After he had dismissed his disciples, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray” (Matt. 14: 23). At the end of his life, Jesus prayed for release from the momentous task ahead of him. Mark describes it this way: “Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:35-36). From the beginning to the end of his earthly ministry, Jesus was a person of prayer.

His disciples recognized that prayer was the secret of Jesus’ unusual wisdom goodness, and power. Therefore, the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray (Luke 11:1). In response to their request, he taught them what has always been considered the model prayer. By the time of the Sermon on the Mount, the disciples had been with Jesus for a while. They had seen miracles, healings, exorcisms, and the like. They had heard his teachings and his preaching. They had eaten a lot of meals together. They had experienced his hidden, secret, silent power. They had seen him pray and go away to be alone in prayer. They had noticed that Jesus was a person of prayer, and somehow his prayer life was deeply a part of who he was and his mission and ministry. Therefore, it was natural that they should ask him to teach them to pray.

In response, Jesus provided them (and us) with a few basic things to remember. He begins with some general instructions:

  • First, our prayers are to be directed to God. Jesus prayed to his Heavenly Father. This does not mean that we cannot use different words to refer to the One True God, the Father Almighty, the Maker of Heaven and Earth. We can pray to God, the Eternal God, the Almighty, God the Healer, the Triune God, the One Who Is, and the like. We can direct our prayers to Jesus and the Holy Spirit, but we must remember that we are directing all those prayers to the Triune God whom Jesus called, “Father.” In particular, we don’t pray to other god’s, natural forces, new age figures, crystals, or the like, Just the God of Love revealed in Christ.
  • Second, we should pray from the heart. Jesus tells his disciples to pray in secret (Matthew 6:6). He does so to remind them (and us) not to pray to show off, show how spiritual we are, try to gain the praise of other people, show off our personal prayer language, or for any reason other than to communicate with God. Although we use our minds as we pray, it is our heart connecting to the heart of God that is at stake in prayer. This is why silent prayer and contemplative prayers are still prayers: our human heart is connecting with the divine heart of God.
  • Third, we should be careful about “babbling” (Matt. 6:7). We should not pray words just to be seen praying words, nor should we think that we are going to get a better response from God just because we use a lot of words. Christians should pray rationally, that is reasonably. We should be careful not to pray nonsense or repeat a request 1000 times, hoping to force God’s hand. We should not make our prayer life a time of emotional self-exposure, irrational, or showing off. If occasionally overcome with emotion, we pray an especially emotional prayer, that’s fine. If on occasion we repeat a phrase or a request, that is fine. If we have a deep prayer for a family member or ourselves that we must pray over and over for years, that is fine. Jesus’ instructions were not meant to be hard and fast rules, but things to do and avoid doing.

The Two Tablets of the Lord’s Prayer

Having given some basic teaching on what prayer should be like, Jesus gave his disciples (and us) an example in a prayer we all know as the Lord’s Prayer. [4]  In its historic form it goes like this:

Our Father, which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name. Thy Kingdom come, 
Thy will be done. On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those that trespass against us. 
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. 
For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, 
For ever and ever.  Amen. [5]

Pastors, scholars and others have noticed that it is possible to understand the prayer as divided into two halves, much like the Ten Commandments, with one half being about our relationship with God and the other half being about ourselves and our needs. [6] It begins by invoking “Our Father who art in Heaven.” This is meant to indicate that we are not praying to a force, to an impersonal deity, but to a person, our Heavenly Father who loves us and who can be trusted to hear our prayers. Because God is personal, we believe he hears and responds to prayers, even of the answer is “no” or “not yet.”

When we pray “Hallowed Be Thy Name,” we are recognizing and invoking the God who gave us his Name on Mt. Sinai and who is absolutely holy and who we should recognize as absolutely holy. This means that God is wholly other, different from us, not under our control, and not subject our complete scrutiny. In the end, we cannot fully understand God. We can only worship God. God’s holiness also means that God is uncontaminated by sin, self-interest at the expense of others, and limitations or flaws. Therefore, God can be trusted to hear and respond to our prayers in love.

Second, we pray for God’s Kingdom to come “on earth as it is in Heaven.” This is where the Gospel and discipleship begin to enter into our prayers in an important way. When we pray for God’s Kingdom to come we are praying that God’s mercy, wisdom, justice, peace, and love would come into our broken world. We pray that old divisions be healed, that wars cease, that the poor, widows, and others in need be taken care of, that those unjustly imprisoned be released, that those who are being treated unfairly be treated fairly. We pray that our world would become like heaven itself. This is a time when we can speak to God about big issues, war, peace, government, and the like. Jesus came proclaiming the Kingdom of God, and every day we should pray for that kingdom to come to us in some way that day.

Third, having prayed to God for big things, we pray for ourselves. When we pray for our daily bread, we pray for the necessities of life. We pray for the things we need for ourselves, our family, our friends, our neighbors, and those we love and care about. This prayer brings our faith into the very smallest, ordinary, common needs of our life. We all need clothing, food, shelter, family wholeness, and other things.

Fourth, we pray to forgive those who have wronged us. If the first prayers we have are for physical needs, our second prayers are for our moral and emotional needs, our need to be forgiven and to forgive others. Jesus warns his disciples that it is not healthy to hold grudges. It is not healthy not to forgive others. In fact, if we cannot bring ourselves to forgive others, it interferes with our prayers for forgiveness (Matt. 7:14-15). Our personal wholeness is deeply related to achieving relational wholeness with God and others.

Just as those who have wronged us need forgiveness, we also need forgiveness. In this regard, God reminds us that if we expect to be forgiven, we had best get about the business of forgiving others. Since we are all flawed in some way and hurt others, forgiving others is a part of our solidarity with the entire human race filled with fallen, flawed, and finite people, just like us.

Finally, we pray to be delivered from evil. We live in a fallen world, and sin and temptation are ever-present realities. When we pray to be delivered from evil, we are praying that God will rescue us from our own sin and from the sin that surrounds us. Among contemporary Christians, this can be a neglected prayer. We are accustomed to thinking of ourselves as being able to handle the circumstances of life, including those that are less than healthy. This prayer to be delivered from evil is a recognition of the limits of our human goodness and power to resist temptation.

The Power of Prayerfulness

Prayer is part of God meeting our needs. Through prayer, God protects us where we need protection, changes us where we need change, and allows us to be part of bringing God’s kingdom into the world. Most importantly, however, prayer is about building and growing in our relationship with God in Christ. In 2015, I took a sabbatical. Every day that summer, I spent a significant amount of time reading my Bible, reflecting in my journal, contemplating Scripture and the problems of our family and our congregation. More than once, I spent an entire morning praying. It was one of the most important things about the time. It had a big impact on my life and ministry.

Jesus was a person of prayer and so was the apostle Paul. Paul knew firsthand the power of prayer. Here is what he wrote to Timothy, his “child in the Lord” near the end of his life:

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men – the testimony given in its proper time (I Timothy 2:1-6).

For Paul, prayer was the source of spiritual growth, of political stability, of salvation, of peace. In prayer, the power of God is brought to bear upon the human condition. Paul desired that prayers be made for all people, and especially for those in authority, with the goal that Christians and the rest of the world live in peace. It is particularly important in our prayers that we recognize, as Paul did, that God does not play favorites. God wants all human being to be saved and in a deep relationship of love and wisdom with the Eternal. God wants all human beings to know Christ and the power of the work Christ did on the Cross for all humanity. The Cross was a testimony, revealing to the world God’s message of salvation available for everyone. IT was an act of love and of solidarity between God and the world (John 3:16-17). The life of prayer is fundamentally a process of being drawn as a disciple into the wisdom and love of God for the benefit of the disciple who prays and for the world Christ loves and desires to be in everlasting fellowship with God. Our prayer life, in the last analysis, is a part of the process of being filled with the self-giving, transforming wisdom and love of God.

Prayerfulness and the Crisis of Discipleship

At its foundation, a crisis of discipleship is a crisis of prayer. The power of God is not unleashed into the world by human strategies, human programs, human philosophies, or human actions. The power of God is unleashed through prayer by the power of the Holy Spirit. The book of Acts records that, when the early church prayed, “the place where they were meeting was shaken” (Acts 4:31). When the Holy Spirit comes, the power of God is present, and our lives, families, churches, and communities are shaken by the power of God’s love. This is not a human shaking. It is a shaking produced by the love and wisdom of God entering into the lives of people and into the organizations and situations in which they find themselves.

The churches of the Northern Hemisphere have relied upon cultural support, financial affluence, advertising, charismatic leadership, and a host of human programs rather than upon the Spirit of God. In the era we are now entering, none of those things will enable the church to survive and prosper without prayer and the kind of deep faith that prayer produces. Until then, there will continue to be a crisis of discipleship.

Copyright 2019, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] One of the most fascinating of the attempts to explain away the spiritual dimension of life is found in the occasional articles that proclaim that a group of scientists have “found the God part of the human brain and now can explain religious experience. Human beings are complex psychosomatic (mind and body) creatures. It is, therefore, to be expected that, for human beings to have any awareness of the transcendent, there must be some physical and mental capacity for such awareness. The capacity to be aware of an object, in this case God, is a requirement for such awareness to develop. See, Sharon Begley, “Science Finds God” https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/newsweek/science_of_god/scienceofgod.htm?noredirect=on (Downloaded July 15, 2019). The very fact that human beings have the capacity for faith in God and for prayer to an unseen God is evidence that there is a reality behind this capacity.

[2] The “False Self” is a construction of the human ego designed to project an acceptable persona to others. This constructed False Self divides a person from the True Self, preventing psychological and spiritual wholeness. The human propensity to create a “False Self” is a coping mechanism resulting from our sense of insecurity and inadequacy, usually stemming from the anxieties of childhood, youth, and adolescence. From a religious perspective, our False Self ultimately derives from alienation from God due to pride and selfishness, unwillingness to accept who God has made us, and failure to recognize God’s ultimate trustworthiness to redeem and bless his creatures and creation. Example: I lift up myself because I am prideful but I try to not let my pride show. This is a false representation of who I am. I am a prideful sinner and I hope to not reveal this truth to others.

[3] George A. Buttrick, Prayer (Nashville, TN: Cokesbury/Abingdon Press, 1942). It is still in print, but it is often reproduced in small type. Its style is dated to a time when people liked longer paragraphs and more complex writing than most of us enjoy today. Several years ago, I tried to read it again and had great difficulty keeping my mind on it!

[4] Bonhoeffer devotes an entire chapter to the Lord’s Prayer in Cost of Discipleship. See, Cost of Discipleship, 180ff. This discussion follows both Bonhoeffer’s discussion and that of John Calvin in his Institutes of the Christian Religion. See, John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion Vol. 2 John T. McNeill, ed. Ford Lewis Battles, trans. (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1960), 3.3.34 ff.

[5] See, Matthew 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4. In this essay, I have used a version found in the confessions and prayer books of certain churches, that the older, more traditional language. As a matter of fact, my churches use a more contemporary version, particularly one in which the word, “Trespasses” is translated “Sin” or “Debts.”

[6] John R. W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Downer’s Grove, Ill: IVP Press, 1978), 146

Disciples Have a Way of Life

Being a disciple of Jesus involves more than recognizing who Jesus is. It involves adopting the way life of life Jesus lived. The Great Commission does more than ask disciples to witness to Christ. It asks Christians to teach new believers “to obey all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:20). This involves teaching the Christian life by word and example (I Peter 5:3). Just words are not enough. [1]

A Tradition of Wisdom and Love

Much contemporary teaching about evangelism and discipleship implicitly indicates that, to be a good disciple of Christ, you need to be “radical.” In a culture that celebrates extreme individualism, this kind of approach can be attractive, especially to young people. A negative aspect of this approach is that it implicitly implies that ordinary people, who have conventional lives, and spend most of their time with family, at work, and among friends must completely alter their lives and change what they are doing in order to be true, disciple-making, followers of Christ. This is largely untrue.

This does not mean that we Christians do not need to change a few things about how we live, work, and relate to others. As previously indicated, a deeply pragmatic and skeptical culture will be more impressed by how we live and than by what we say.  As disciples, we are called to live wisely, love others unconditionally, and follow Christ. As we follow Jesus, our lives will change, but that may or may not mean that we change our careers, friendships, basic lifestyle, location, and the like. After becoming Christians, many people continue to live where they formerly lived, in the career and occupation they formerly had, now sharing God’s love with their family, neighborhood, community, friends, and fellow-workers in a new way. This has been true throughout history.

The “radical” ideal of Christianity is an import from the inherently radical nature of the Enlightenment mentality with its reflexive notion that what previously existed (tradition) is corrupt and backward. [2] But what is to come (revolutionary change) is better. From the French revolution forward, this has led to disaster after disaster, and currently in the West, to the increasing dissolution of Western civilization. Into this cauldron of often mindless change, Christians are called to defend a kind of wise and loving personal and communal order. Some things do need to change, but a lot of things don’t. What needs to change is anything that prevents us from living wisely and with self-giving love toward God and others.

People of the Way

The earliest name for Christians was “People of the Way” (Acts 9:2). The first Christians, most of whom had lived lives structured by the Law of Moses and Jewish customs, found in Christ a new way to God by faith in Christ. This new way did not involve following a lot of external rules. Nevertheless, this new approach did not mean that the moral aspects of the law of Moses were eliminated (Romans 6). The new way involved a relationship with God in Christ, a relationship in which disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit and empowered to live wisely in loving relationships with God and others (Romans 8). As people of the Way, our ordinary, day-to-day lives are to shine with the power of God’s Spirit of Wisdom and Love. The earliest Christians saw in Jesus not just a new way to experience forgiveness of sins, but also a new way of living in relationship and in harmony with God and others.

Jesus summarized this way of life as characterized by loving God and others. When asked what was the greatest of the commandments, Jesus replied: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:37-39). Living out the love of God in our day-to-day lives is the primary duty of the Christian. Everything else flows from this first decision—the decision for unselfish, self-giving love.

Salt and Light

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has these words for his disciples:

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:13-16).

These words remind us that it is not just what we say that matters; what we do matters even more. We are not to just talk about salt and light. We are to be salt and light. We are to shine with the light of Christ. It is not only what we say that will cause people to praise God. It is what they see and experience in and through us that matters.  [3]

Salt is a physical mineral. Light illuminates the world and allows us to see where we are going. Salt gives flavor and is a healing agent. Light is also an antiseptic and healing agent, as well as a source of illumination. Jesus described himself as “The Light of the World, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). To be a disciple is both to walk in the light that is Christ and to reflect that light into the world (Matthew 5:14).

To be a disciple of Jesus is to both experience the love of God in Christ and reflect that love into the world. Jesus wants us to live in such a way that we are a preservative and healer of the foolishness and brokenness of the world. He wants us to have a kind of wisdom in the way we love others that that we become a kind of light that shines into the darkness (Philippians 2:15). It is that light, the light of God shining in our lives that can and should attract people. This is not so much radical as it is entirely unexpected, but fundamentally the wisest and best way to live.

A Matter of Grace

All of this might sound legalistic until we remind ourselves that we are saved by grace, and it is God’s grace that empowers us to live the Christian life (Ephesians 2:8-9). In my experience, and in the experience of many Christians, the first step towards hypocrisy is to forget the role of grace, God’s mercy, and gift of the Spirit in our daily Christian life. When we forget our dependence on God’s grace, sooner or later we lose that intimate fellowship with God that allows us to live in the Way of Christ and share that way with others. God by his mercy calls us into a relationship with Christ, and we cannot live the Christian life without the presence and power of God sustaining our spiritual life.

When we allow God to illuminate and empower us by the Holy Spirit, we reflect the light and the healing power of God in our day-to-day lives. Of course, we fail and fall short—not only from time to time, but a lot of the time! Nevertheless, if we remain in Christ, and continue to live on the basis of grace, if we continue to ask God to enter our lives and transform us, we do make progress in the Christian life. When I am teaching about the life of grace, I like to say, “I am not the person I ought to be, but thank God I am also not the person I used to be!” This is what we should all aspire to daily: Thank God we are not the people we were yesterday, or last week, or last month, or last year. We are making progress because of the Spirit of God working in us.

Theologians, have ways of talking about how God allows us to grow in Christ. They talk first about the “Means of Grace.” The Means of Grace is a way of describing how God works in our lives so that we grow in Christ. These means of Grace are important because it is how we remain connected to the source of our new life in Christ. The Way of Life of a Christian is largely a way of Grace Empowered Living.

Christ in Us the Hope of Glory

Of course, the primary means by which we become and grow as a disciple is in a relationship with the Word made Flesh. Jesus called his disciples into a personal relationship with him, and Christians ever since have called people into such a relationship with Jesus. This relationship changes us from the inside out. Paul begins his letter to the Colossians by reminding the Colossians who Jesus was and is. He is the very image of God (1:15). He is the vehicle through whom the universe and everything in it was made (1:16). He is the head of the church, those called out by God to proclaim his glory (1:18). He is the one who reconciles creation and people to one another so that God’s peace can prevail (1:19-20. He is the source of forgiveness of sins and fellowship with God the Father (1:21). In Christ, our old life is put to death and we receive a new life (3:1). He is the Logos, the Word of God, who embodies the wisdom by whom and through whom everything was made (John: 1:3). Christian faith is not irrational or foolish, but rational in the deepest possible way—a way the world sometimes thinks is foolish.

In response to what God has done, believers live a different kind of life—because a different kind of life, the life of God, is growing up inside of us. This putting on of a new life is described both as a dying to an older kind of life, characterized by passions, immorality, evil desires, greed, covetousness, malice, slander of others, and obscenity and the like, and the growth of a new kind of life characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, self-control, and the like (Galatians 5:17-21). As we overcome the dark side of our personalities, we begin to experience a new kind of life. Here is how Paul describes this new life:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Colossians 3:12-17).

Notice that it is not primarily behaviors that Paul urges on the Colossians but spiritual qualities people receive as they remain in a relationship with Christ. Compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, and love are spiritual qualities we receive by grace as we allow Christ to work in our hearts. Growing in Christ involves behaviors, however, most importantly it involves developing new spiritual qualities.

Sacraments: Baptism

The Christian life begins with Baptism. God works in our lives through his Word, that is through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. God also works in our lives through what are called, “Sacraments” or “Sacred Acts.” When we come to believe in Christ, we are baptized. In some groups, parents baptize their children when quite small as a sign that God is already working his salvation in their lives. If a new believer has never been baptized, they are baptized a sign of their new faith.

Some denominations baptize only adults on profession of faith. Even if there has been an infant baptism, in many cases a believer will want to renew that baptism in a Renewal of Baptism service that is much like a baptism, except that it is a renewal of a prior baptism and not a baptism. [4] The purpose of this discussion is not to take a theological side, but to indicate that some form of baptism is practiced in all Christian fellowships.

In any sacrament, there is an outward sign. In the case of baptism, the physical sign is water. Some groups immerse, some groups pour the water on a new believer, and some groups sprinkle. However, the water is administered, it signifies our leaving our old life and the new life we have in Christ because of the cleansing power of God.

One of the first things we should do when we become a Christian, and encourage others to do when they accept Christ, is experience the sacred rite and mystery of baptism, as we celebrate new life in Christ and profess our faith to the world. If we were baptized as children or even earlier in our lives as adults, it may be important to “own” the new life we have received by publicly renewing our baptism. [5]

Some years ago, a lady in our congregation married a man who had been in her life some years earlier. She had always remembered and loved him. When he left, he was in a lifestyle that was not Christian by any definition of the word. Years later, God brought them back together and him back into the community of faith. This person became a friend, prayer partner, and fellow worker in our congregation and in a Christian ministry in our area. One of the great privileges of my life was the day we baptized my friend! We used to see each other almost weekly, and once or twice a year, we would take time to remember that “sacred moment” in his life when he publicly declared his faith in Christ and his commitment to be a disciple of Christ.

Word-Centered Worship

When the Word of God is read, taught, and proclaimed, God works profoundly in the human mind and heart. This is why Paul says that faith comes by hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17). This “hearing” is not any hearing, but a hearing of the Gospel, the Good News of God’s love. Reading and hearing the word of God, studying the Bible, memorizing Scripture, and allowing Scripture to form the way we see and react to the world is a very important part of discipleship. We cannot grow in discipleship unless we grow in our understanding of the story of God’s people.

Although hearing the word read in Scripture is of supreme importance, hearing it preached and taught is also important. This aspect of growing in discipleship reminds us that it is not enough to simply read the Word on our own. We also need to hear God’s Word in the company of others who are also growing in faith. Listening to the Word of God in Scripture allows us to hear its meaning for our lives through the voice and in the words of another person, often the pastor or teacher of a Bible study. It allows us to respond with others who have also heard the word together with us. Finally, hearing the Word taught or preached by another person, who may know more about this particular passage, and who probably studied the passage in connection with preparing to speak, reminds us that our private interpretation and response to Scripture, as important as it is, must be disciplined and clarified by the opinions and responses of others.

All of this means that a disciple will be regular in worship and in attending Bible studies from time to time. We cannot enter the communal life of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, without living and learning in community with the people God who have responded to God’s call to show his light and love in the world. Although in Protestant worship services the Word is at the center of worship, it is like a jewel in a precious setting. The calls to worship, the songs and hymns sung, the prayers of the people, the common confession of sin, baptism, the Lord’s Supper—all these things deepen our walk with Christ.

When was younger, I went through a period when I did not attend worship and was not a part of a Christian community. Not surprisingly, I drifted away from the Way of Christ. While Christians believe that it is possible to live the Christian life without living within and worshiping as part of the community of faith, ordinarily this cannot and should not happen. Most of us can take time to worship God regularly. We can hear the Word in community with others. We should thank God we can, for there are those who because of age, infirmity, or other necessity cannot.

Sacraments: The Lord’s Supper

Once you are a part of a Christian church, sooner or later you are certain to participate in a Communion Service. Different groups have different names for such a service. In Catholic Churches it is called the “Eucharist.” In Protestant congregations it is called the “Lord’s Supper” or “Communion.” In one way or another, Christians believe their faith is strengthened by this service of remembrance and spiritual participation in Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross. God is present to believers by the power of the Holy Spirit in a special way when we share the Lord’s Supper together.

Just as with baptism, different groups have differing ideas of what is happening when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. For the purpose of growing as a disciple it is not so much important which group is correct concerning how the Lord’s Supper acts as a means of grace, but the sheer fact that it does. Some congregations celebrate communion weekly. Others celebrate communion monthly, quarterly, annually, or on some other schedule. Disciples make every effort to receive communion whenever it is offered in a way consistent with their particular tradition.

Some groups have a similar service called a “Love Feast” that small groups within their fellowship celebrate a meal in which the love of Christ and the unity of the group are celebrated. Love Feasts are not communion services for those groups in which an ordained clergy must be present for the Lord’s Supper to be celebrated. In whatever case, remembering and contemplating the love of God present in Christ strengthens our faith. [6]

Public and Private Prayer

Because the life of discipleship is a life of relationship with God through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, the life of a disciple is strengthened and deepened by the habit of prayer. Once again, prayers should and will be said in worship, in small groups, and in other places where Christians gather. Nevertheless, daily private prayer is one of the most important ways in which we grow in discipleship.

In the beginning of our Christian walk, our prayers may be selfish and even a bit simple. That is fine. When a small child begins to talk, his or her conversations are not complicated or deep. However, as a child grows and matures, his or her ability to communicate grows and deepens. This is true also of the life of faith. Once again, this particular part of the Christian life is of such importance that it is discussed in more detail in a later chapter. For now, it is important to encourage the practice of communal and private prayer in the life of every disciple.

For Christians, prayer is not a means to an end, but a conversation with the Friend of All Friends—God. As we spend time with God, our friendship deepens and grows. In the beginning, we may ask for things that our friend thinks harmful or destructive. Over time, we will learn that fact about our friend. In the beginning, when prayers are not answered, we may think our friend has deserted us. Only much later will we know that our friend is present even in his silence and immovable intention not to answer a particular prayer. In the end, we will have something more important than simple answered prayers. We will have. A deep relationship with God.

Works of Love

Jesus involved his disciples in his own work of love to the world. [7] The Gospels and Acts reflect the disciples doing acts of healing and of mercy towards others. Although God is interested in our spiritual growth, we are physical creatures and self-giving love, the most important virtue of a Christian, by its nature must be enacted. In fact, experience teaches that those who never put their faith into practice serving God and others, don’t grow.

Therefore, every disciple needs to develop the habits of serving others in some way. These acts of service can be both personal, such as giving to the needs of others, personal actions of mercy, visiting the sick, caring for those in need, and the like, and public, such as being involved in solving social problems, overcoming injustices, and the like. As we change our priorities and move out of a life of selfish self-seeking and into a life of loving service to others, we grow in discipleship.

My duties as a pastor often caused me to be in my study a good bit of the week. I found that, if I did not take time to visit the sick, to be involved in some ministry outside of our congregation and serve others, sooner or later I began to feel dry and my faith became joyless. The best cure for this problem was and is to get up and do something for someone else. I think that this is true of nearly all Christians. In order to grow in our faith, we need to put that faith to work in acts of love. In addition, as has been emphasized already, when we put our faith to work, people, including unbelievers, take notice.

Walking the Walk as Well as Talking the Talk

The bottom line is this: if we are to lead other people, and especially new believers, into a deeper walk with Christ, we must be attentive to our own discipleship and to ways in which we can draw others more deeply into a life of discipleship. Assuming we regularly attend church, one sure way for us to help another person internalize the Word and participate in the Sacraments is to invite them to join us at church or a discipleship group. The same is true of Bible studies, prayer groups, and other Christian ministries in which we participate.

Once again, new and old disciples, like children, “catch” more than they are “taught” what it means to be a disciple. If we regularly visit the sick, give to the needs of the less fortunate, manage our lives with wisdom and prudence, are involved in making our neighborhoods, cities, and nation a better, fairer, and more just place to live, those we know, including those we are discipling are sure to see what we are doing.

Many years ago, as a layperson and an elder in a local congregation, I had the habit of visiting people who were sick in our Sunday school class. I did not always visit, but I did visit a good bit. Over the years, people have mentioned to me how much that meant to them. Years later, when I was in seminary, one of our members had a very serious heart attack. Although I wrote a card, I could not visit. I was heartbroken that I could not visit my friend. Other people in his Sunday school class did visit my friend and his spouse. Others saw what was being done, and I am sure that many years later, people are visiting the sick without being told or asked because they saw it modeled.

My father-in-law was in the food business. After he retired, he developed the habit of going around town to the bakeries in Houston and picking up bread and other items. He then distributed them to certain local ministries. This was his way of actively serving the body of Christ even though he was retired and beyond the time when he could do many things he had always done. We all need to have such ministries of care and compassion.

One of my good friends was a successful business person in a very competitive business. He was a good businessman. As the leader of his company, he also demonstrated the love of Christ in his dealings with others in business. Our secular occupations, if we have one, can be the best witness we make for Christ. Some time ago, I attended a funeral for a High School coach. I watched as men of all ages went to the lectern to testify to the difference this person made in their lives. This person’s work was his mission field.

Hidden for All the World to See

Some people think that faith should be a private thing. There is a sense in which that is true. One step on the road to hypocrisy is the step of making our faith too much a public matter so that we feel we must continually be seen as religious. No one likes a religious show off. On the other hand, no one will ever be moved by us to enter God’s family unless they see it lived out and hear the Gospel in some way. Perhaps the best way to think of how we might present the Gospel in our lives is to make our faith, “hidden for all the world to see.”

In addition to a faith that is hidden for all the world to see, we also need to have a faith that is publicly proclaimed for all the world to hear. There is something about hearing the testimony of some person who is been touched by God that changes both of them and everyone who hears that testimony. Speaking out into the world what God has done for us is an important part of being a disciple.

In Acts 3, there is a wonderful story about a healing involving Peter and John. One day, Peter and John were going to the Temple to pray. As they came to the Temple Gate, there was a lame man. When the man saw Peter and John, he asked for money. Peter, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, look at the man and said, “Silver and gold have I none but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk” (v. 6). Then, he took a man by the hand and lifted him up and the man was healed. The story ends like this:

“He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him” (vv. 8-10).

The result of this man’s willingness to respond to God’s healing by walking, jumping, and praising God was that not only did he receive a blessing, but everyone who knew him received a blessing and a sign that God was present. If we keep our Christian faith a secret, if we keep what God has done for us a secret, then we’ve been blessed what the world has not been blessed. If we are willing to share all that God is done then we are blessed and the world is blessed.

We should never be afraid to share our faith. We should never be afraid to share what God has done for us. We should never be afraid to “walk and leap and praise God” for the salvation he has promised us (Acts 3:6). In Memphis our church was a part of a ministry called the “Great Banquet.” The Great Banquet is a three-day retreat designed to deepen Christian faith and leadership. As a part of the weekend, I have the opportunity to hear many testimonies. The Biblical content of the talks on a weekend were actually outlined for us. We have to say what was supposed to be said in the talk. On the other hand, we were asked to share a portion of our personal testimony as a part of our talk.

Now here’s an interesting fact: I have given a lot of talks, and I’ve heard hundreds of talks. I have prepared about two dozen teams for the weekends, and have heard the talks during the training sessions. Despite all of that I don’t remember the exact Biblical or theological content of many of the talks. I do, however, remember almost every personal testimony. I remember every story of salvation. I remember every marriage that was healed, every addict healed from addiction, every criminal who went straight, every housewife who prayed for a child, every man who ever prayed for a spouse. Those testimonies are more important to me theological content of the talk. When we tell others about our salvation, we are doing a great thing. Testimonies of what God has done in our lives is prove to a skeptical world the Christian faith is more than just words. God is more than just a distant principal or master mathematician who created the heavens and the earth. Instead, God is an active participant in his creation and in the lives of his people. He is always working to bring love and more wisdom into the lives of his people and into the universe he created.

Copyright 2019, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] Portions of this chapter are drawn from Salt & Light, previously cited, Lesson 10, 99-103.

[2] Tradition matters. I have been a pastor for a long time. My churches have all had some form of contemporary worship. Interestingly, while I love contemporary worship, I deeply appreciate the liturgical worship of my Catholic and Episcopalian friends. Many weeks, I take time to attend a worship service that connects me to a way of life that is hundreds of years old. Tradition has much to say for itself. This is not only true regarding worship, but regarding a lot of other things as well. The question is, “How should be change to live more like Jesus and the apostles?”

[3] Bonhoeffer has an entire chapter of Cost of Discipleship devoted to an exposition of Matthew 5:13-16. See, Cost of Discipleship, previously cited Chapter 7, 120-134.

[4] Most groups that practice infant baptism do not rebaptize people. Theologically, the reason is that because the person was baptized once, and because God is sovereign and faithful to his promises, there is no need to rebaptize and to do so infers that God was not faithful to the first promise made by the parents. Nevertheless, even in these cases, many congregations perform a renewal of baptism service. In one of my former churches virtually all the young people renewed their baptismal vows at confirmation.

[5] In this book, I am taking no position on the question whether infant or believer baptism is the correct understanding of the sacrament or on how the sacraments work. This differs among different groups, and this group of essays is not intended to defend any particular theological position.

[6] Once again, the role and proper method of receiving the sacrament is the subject of differing theological views and denominational practice. This book is intended to help people find a deeper walk, whatever their denominational (or non-denominational) background. Some Reformed pastors, for example, do not believe in “love feasts” or “renewal of baptism” services. My advice to new Christians is to follow the tradition into which God has called you. My advice to disciple-makers is to follow the guidelines of your particular church related to the sacraments.

[7] In Cost of Discipleship, Bonhoeffer emphasizes that disciples are not called out of the world but into the world. “The disciple must not only think of heaven; they have an earthly task as well” Id, at 130. This earthly task is both our secular occupation and other service to God in the world. There can be no real discipleship until and unless the entire being of the disciple and all that the disciple does is for God and the well-being of others.

1o. Disciples Have a Family

Christians are meant to be part of a family. We are meant to live like a family, in community with other Christians, sharing our successes, our failures, our hopes and dreams, our dashed hopes and dreams, our worries, and our cares. The church, with is the community of those who have responded to the call of Jesus to come and follow him, is not something optional. It is essential. Becoming a part of the community of Christ is basic to becoming and being a growing disciple of Christ.

The Bible uses many metaphors for God’s community of discipleship. The Church is “Body of Christ;” the “City of God;” the “People of God;” the “Family of God.” When Jesus came to display the wisdom and love of God in human form, he did not so it alone. He chose a small group of followers and poured his life into them. He created a community of disciples. During his lifetime, the little group grew. When he ascended into heaven, his group of disciples grew into the church as we know it today. Of all the metaphors, the one most near to most Christians is that of the Family of God. We all come from human families. Even if our human family is not functional, we need a functional divine family.

In an individualistic culture, it is tempting to think of the church as a voluntary society of like-minded people formed to advance a set of beliefs. This is not the best way to think of the church. The church is a family. Our families existed before we existed, just as the church existed before we became members—or even believed in Christ. Just as we grow up in a family, we grow up in the family of God. The church is a family in which the children are disciples of Christ growing into a deeper relationship with God.

Christians will never reach the late modern or emerging post-modern world with words or ideas alone. After lives are changed and people commit to Christ, the details of our theologies, doctrines, and programs have a role to play, but not before. In a world that no longer believes in truth, ideas have no power separated from changed lives. In a world that no longer believes in morality, moral theology has no power to change people until they have received a new heart from God. In a world that no longer believes in beauty, words about beauty have no power until people have experienced God’s beauty. In a world of isolation and loneliness, people will never be motivated to become part of God’s community until and unless they experience the reality of that community. The world needs to see lives that are being changed for the better.

Discipling Groups as Families of Christian Growth

All our married life, Kathy and I have been members of discipling groups. We met in a Bible study. When we were a young couple, we were in Bible studies with other young couples. Each of us has been a part of small discipling groups with men and women separately over the years. When I worked as a lawyer, I sometimes had a small group in my law office. When we went to seminary, I met weekly with a group of fellow students and Kathy grew in fellowship with a group of women.

Since entering full-time ministry, both of us have been part of discipling groups. For eighteen years, I met with several men weekly. For many years, I taught a year-long Bible Study for no more than eighteen people. Those groups met for nine months. Often, our churches sponsored short-term groups that meet for six or so weeks. Most recently, Kathy and I led “Salt & Light Groups” in our local church. The size and length of the group is not what matters. It is the love of the group and the teaching and example of its leaders that matters.

Some years ago, we became part of a renewal movement that encourages the formation of small accountability groups, and over the years we have been members of several such small groups. We’ve led other discipling groups in our home and at church. We’ve always been members of Sunday School classes. We’ve attended special groups to learn special skills such as child-raising or how to manage our money.

Each of these groups changed our lives in some important way. Along the way, we’ve grown, helped others, made life-long friends, and experienced the joy of Christ. Just as Jesus was lifted up into heaven and was no longer physically with his disciples, most of these groups eventually disbanded as people moved along in life, but each person in each group remains a precious memory. Some of the members of these groups keep in touch after as much as thirty years apart!

As this was initially being written, we joined a couple we’ve known for over thirty years for a social outing. We’ve never attended the same church. In fact, we belong to very different churches. However, when we were young, for a few weeks, they attended a weekly Bible Study in our home. The friendship created years ago emerges every time we are together. The day before, another couple dropped by our house with their grandchildren. Once again, we met in a discipling group many years ago. Today, we are still Christian friends, helping one another grow and face the new challenges of a new stage of life. The love of discipling groups is a kind of love that never ends because it was not primarily a human love but a divine encounter.

Interpersonal Relationships Imitating a Personal God

Christians celebrate and worship God who exists in an intimate, self-giving, life-transforming relationship. God not only reveals himself to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in some mysterious way, God exists as one essential personal being in three distinct persons. These divine persons have an unbroken relationship of eternal, perfect, self-giving love. In other words, God exists as a community (a family) of self-giving mutual love. Within God’s community of love, there exists both individuality (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) and relationship (Divine, Self-Giving Love).

This has profound implications for the Christian life:

  1. If God exists in a relationship of love, then there is no being a Christian without being in a relationship of love with God and other people.
  2. As persons who are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27), we were made for deep, loving, wise, and powerful life changing relationships – with God, with other human beings, and with creation.
  3. The church is made up of people in a Christ-centered relationship with one another. A church that is merely a place for so inclined people to meet on Sunday morning, sit in pews, sing, and listen to a talk, is not the church God God meant the church to be a place where people are in relationship with God and with one another. A church is not a worship service. A church is a group of disciples called to live together and demonstrate to the world God’s love. [1]
  4. Since God is love, and the love God showed when he “sent his only son” (John 3:16) eternally exists between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, it is only as we exist in communities of love that the Church can be the body of Christ it was intended to be. This love is not a love based upon attractiveness, or other human qualities or worthiness. It is a pure self-giving love, which Jesus demonstrated for us on the cross.
  5. Finally, the very names of the divine person: Father, Son and Holy Spirit encourage us to see God existing as a family. This is exactly the relationship Jesus claims and models with his disciples. When Jesus says that he desires the disciples to be one just as the Father and he are one (John 17:20-21), he is praying that we might enter the family of God and become participants in the self-giving love of God. In other words, he is making us part of God’s eternal family. When John calls believers, “Children of God” (I John 3:1), he indicates that by faith in Christ and participation in his body, reflecting the love of God in our lives and in our life together, we become part of God’s family.

Jesus: Our Model

Jesus was the greatest transformational community builder in history. He called twelve average people. He saw their potential. He trained them. He lived with them as if they were his family. He loved them enough to give his life for them (and us), just as if they (and we) were his biological children. In the end, he called his disciples, “Brothers.” The disciples had become a part of his divine family. Then, he set them loose to change the world and build the same kind of community wherever they went. They did exactly that.

How did Jesus do this? Here are some concrete things he did:

  1. He called the group into being (See Mark 1:17).
  2. He shared his life with them (the entire four Gospels).
  3. He prayed for them (John 17:6ff).
  4. He taught them (Mark 1:21).
  5. He loved them (John 13:39).
  6. He rebuked them (Mark 9:36-39).
  7. He allowed them to lead (Mark 6:6-7).
  8. He gave his life for them (Mark 10:45).

In all of this, one fact stands out: A personal, intimate elationship with his disciples was important to Jesus. From beginning to end, his mission was conducted in and through relationships with people who were so close to him that they became like his family (Matthew 12:50). It is how Jesus conducted the most central part of his ministry: getting a small group of men and women ready for the day when they would lead others to faith in God the Father, who Jesus called “Abba,” or “Daddy,” by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ intention was to disciple those he met, so that they too would become children of God (John 1:12). This is not surprising, since in Christ the disciples were being called to become part of the family of God.

Jesus lived as part of a discipleship group as his disciples learned how to be a part of God’s family. It follows that every Christian should have a similar life-transforming experience. Small groups of believers call people into relationship with Christ and each other, allow people to share their Christian walk, deepen their prayer life, and experience life transforming community. These small groups are a source of Christian teaching, become places of loving care, are a source of guidance in difficult times, and a source of new leadership for a growing fellowship of Christians.

Life after the Resurrection

Life within God’s family of disciples after his Resurrection and Ascension is not identical with the life of discipleship when Jesus was physically present. When Jesus was physically present, his call was to come and physically follow and be with him (Matthew 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20; Luke 5:2-11). Those who did not have the kind of faith necessary to leave all and follow him, did not become disciples. When Jesus ascended into heaven, the call of the apostles was to trust and believe in the Risen Christ and then, by the power of the Holy Spirit, follow Jesus, becoming a part of the little, and sometimes persecuted, fellowship of Christians. After the resurrection, the call is always first to have the kind of faith that follows a now invisible Jesus who is present in his people by the power of the Spirit.

After Jesus ascended into heaven, it was no longer possible to follow physically Jesus. Jesus, however, let his disciples know that while he would not be with them physically, he would be with them by the power of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:20). His manner of being with the family of disciples after the resurrection was going to be different than his manner of being with them before the resurrection. He would be invisibly present by the power of the Holy Spirit. In the Gospel of John, Jesus promises his disciples that he will not leave them as orphans without a parent. Instead he will come to them again and be with them in a new way (John 14:18). He tells them that it is a good thing that he is going away, because when he goes away, the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, will come to them and will both work in the world to bring people to faith and in the lives of his disciples bringing them all the knowledge they will need to have that Jesus could not tell them while physically present on earth (John 16:7-13).

The new way that Jesus will be with us is by dwelling within us by faith (Galatians 3:2). This faith will be shared, grow, and mature inside of the community of faith, and especially a small community of faith in which we have the freedom to grow and share our successes and our failures, our strengths and our weaknesses, our gifts and where we are not gifted. When Christians develop such communities, we enter into the life of God and enable others to also experience and enter that life. This is why Jesus could say, “wherever two or more are gathered in my name, there are I with them” (Matt.18:20).

God’s Transforming Community

When people are drawn into God’s community of love, hopefully they find healing, acceptance, and physical examples of a better life, the barriers to the gospel in our society can be overcome. There is no other or easier way to share the gospel. People desire to see the gospel lived out in the lives of people they know and respect. In a world of hyper-individualism, where a consumer mentality dominates, and people are primarily interested in having their personal needs met, real transformational community is hard to build and maintain over time. It is only with difficulty that existing Christ-Followers can build little, authentic communities of believers.

Although it is tempting to talk about “small discipling group programs,” programs come after people. Groups come after community. Christians must desire to reach out and love and build community before community can be built by any strategy, however well thought out. Before people can or will respond and reach out with God’s love, hearts must be filled with the love of Christ and willingness to love others. This is the transformation that takes place at conversion and continues as we experience ongoing, transforming Christ-centered community.

During my early Christian years, I was blessed to be part of several smaller communities of Christian disciples. In some cases, we were almost all immature Christians. Nevertheless, we gathered weekly. We shared our lives. We shared times of worship. We shared prayer. We studied the Bible together. We read Christian literature. We tried to build Christian marriages together. We learned to manage our finances as Christians together. We raised our children as Christians together. We tried and failed a lot! But we kept on trying. We still are trying together. In the meantime, we built strong relationships that continue to this day.

People often ask whether or not I believe small group ministry is necessary. The answer is always “Yes!” Because of changes in our society, “worship center churches” that were important in the history of Christianity, including recent history, can no longer do the task of growing disciples without a strong community discipleship emphasis. Although a few churches will be able to grow as a result of worship excellence, Sunday school or other educational programs, the sheer busyness of people today make this difficult, especially in major metropolitan areas. In addition, most new churches and many churches in Western Europe and parts of the United States do not have the room to create expansive Sunday school programs. Therefore, bringing people together in small groups, primarily in homes, but in other places as well, is the best method to disciple them.

If we are to reach out and touch a “Culture of Death,” the culture and community dissolving end of the modern world, we need reach out in love, not just individually but as communities of believers. Discipleship is no longer the task of a few highly gifted people. It is the work of all Christians working together. While no strategy is possible without changed lives and Christians who desire to build life transforming community, the sheer number of people who need to hear the gospel and have the opportunity to grow in Christ requires some kind of programmatic solution—and small discipleship groups is the program most likely to succeed.

People Need Discipleship Groups

A fundamental principle of disciple-making is that all believers, and especially new believers, need to be part of a discipleship group, that is a small gathering of people who are seeking to grow in Christ. This was true of the first disciples, and it is true of us as well. Just as young children need a healthy family to grow up in, so also young Christians need a healthy, Christian family to grow up in. New believers need the experience of growing in Christ in an intimate fellowship of other people who are trying to grow in Christ as well.

In the ancient world, a disciple was a learner, someone who followed a teacher around and learned from them. The process was twofold: First, the disciple learned the information that teacher knew. Second, the disciple came to model the lifestyle of his teacher. For example, Socrates had a group of young men who followed him and learned from him. Plato, a disciple of Socrates, taught his disciples, one of whom was Aristotle, who himself formed a community of followers. In this way, the teachings of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle were passed down. We need recover this ancient way of teaching people and changing lives. Modern universities excel at transmitting information. They are not as good at transmitting character. [2]

The internet and “online-learning” have made college and other educational opportunities available over the internet. There are even “online seminaries.” While these online educational opportunities are good for transmitting information and gaining credentials, they cannot, by their very nature, provide the kind of discipling Jesus modeled and wants. Jesus personally spent time with his disciples and they learned as much by what they observed as by what they were taught. There is an old saying that children “do as the see their parents doing, and not as their parents urge.” Disciples model themselves after older, more experienced disciples just as children, for better or for worse, model themselves after their parents.

A Family in a Culture that Does not Value Families

The family of God is important in a society that does not value family, and in which many people live and work far from their biological family. The form of life common in American and other cities increases loneliness and isolation among people. Many people live far from parents and siblings. Because of divorce and other factors, many people do not find loving community within their biological family, The structure of modern corporate society makes it necessary for some people to move and live away from their families, sometimes across the globe. With the advent of social media, many people have come to rely upon social media and electronic connection as a substitute for real human relationships.Finally, many people are working longer hours than in prior generations. The result is an epidemic of isolation and loneliness.

This loneliness is not healthy. In fact, it is pathological. If we human beings were meant for community, for deep and abiding relationships of deep care, then the modern structure of living is bound to leave most people unfulfilled and some people deeply wounded. If being fully human requires being in life giving relationships with God and others, then it is no surprise that the result of our society’s deconstruction of the family and of stable communities and neighborhoods has had a devastating impact on the mental, moral, and spiritual health of people.

When our society does provide community, that community is increasingly political or economic in nature. Unfortunately, jobs, corporations, business relationships, and the like can only provide a kind of limited social connection. Business does not love anyone as a person, only as an economic unit. Similarly, particularly among the young, belonging to social and political causes may provide some limited sense of connection. However, causes can only provide a limited amount of love, meaning and purpose. Our government and political organizations value us as citizens, not as children of God. Exercise classes, hobby groups, and other groups have similar limitations. Human beings were never meant to live as isolated individuals bound together only by work and the laws of a society. We were meant for deep, loving, wise, relationships.

Unfortunately, at just the moment in human history when the relational, family aspect of the local church is most needed, several factors have limited the ability of Christians to respond. First, over many generations, churches assumed that the loving community of the church would automatically permeate its fellowship. When most people lived in small towns, had relatively strong families, and attended churches in which their families had long and strong connections, church community grew naturally. Pastors and seminaries did not think that they needed to focus on the creation of life-transforming fellowship as a central duty. They assumed community would automatically result from the teaching and worship ministries of the local congregation. The massive transfer of population to major cities and the decline of small, community churches put an end to the effectiveness of this strategy.

Secondly, for most of the 20th Century, the major Christian denominations increasingly developed a corporate model of church operation and a professional model of pastoral formation. At the very moment when the sheer size and complexity of our culture was forcing people to live in large cities and in anonymous neighborhoods, and the natural ability of people to find spiritual nurture was declining, the church developed in a way that was not easily able to meet the changing reality of people’s lives. The corporate model no longer meets the deepest needs of people.

Finally, in the past many young people were not particularly active in church during their immediate post high school and college years, but when they had children, most returned to their local congregation or a similar congregation where they lived. Unfortunately, young people are delaying families longer and longer, and while they are delaying family formation, they are constantly bombarded with images of churches as judgmental, corrupt, interested only in money, and backward. Therefore, when confronted by the need for meaning, purpose, and community, they are unlikely to seek out the church for an answer to their deepest needs.

The only way to respond to these changes in contemporary society is to focus attention on the process of building life-transforming community and making and growing disciples within that community. This is not an easy task. It cannot be accomplished with slick advertising or any other corporate approach to church growth. It happens as people are drawn into a deliberate community that itself attempts to model the life of God among the peoples of the world. If we are to respond to the crisis of discipleship in our day, we must learn again what it means to be a part of the family of God—a family called to go and bring others into that family.

Copyright 2019, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] Bonhoeffer makes this point both in Cost of Discipleship, previously cited, and more directly in his earlier book, Life Together. See, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together tr. John Doberstein, (New York, NY: Harper One, 1954). Cost of Discipleship, previously cited, Chapter 7, 129-133 and Chapters 29-30, 263-304.

[2] It is important to remember that we are not called merely to transmit information to people. We are called to help people live a new kind of life as a disciple of Jesus. In a sense, every disciple is a child of those who helped that person grow in Christ and is the parent of those that they are discipling into the image of God-in-Christ.

 

9. Communicating the Gospel in a New Era

Part of the postmodern movement involves a change in the way people think, moving from an objective idea of truth, in which the observer is an uninvolved reporter, to a relational definition of truth in which understanding is created in a relationship between the observer and reality. [1] In this way of thinking, neither the observer nor the reality can be completely separated from the relationship they have with one another. From the perspective of Gospel communication, this can be positive, because it emphasizes conversation and dialogue. It moves disciple-makers from a purely “proclamation centered” view of sharing the gospel to a “conversational, relational centered” approach to evangelism. This change is consistent with the Biblical view that faith and understanding flow from a personal relationship between a relational, Triune God and the human race established through the Word of God by the Spirit.

Communicating and Community

The word, “communicate” has at the same root as the words, “community” and “communion”. We think of communication as something spoken or transmitted by words or symbols. This way of thinking reduces communication to the transmission of information. This can lead to an approach to sharing the gospel that is impersonal and unbiblical. Real communication is not just about information, it is about establishing a communion with another person while seeking to answer the deepest questions of their heart, spoken or unspoken.

Jesus, when he was amongst his disciples, was in an intense community with them. The disciples experienced more in this relationship than just Jesus as a transmitter of information. Jesus lived with him. He shared his life with him. He ate with them. He drank with them. The band of disciples was a kind of community in which the disciples found information, but also support, love, advice, and even the physical necessities of life. It was in this community that the Gospel was lived out and shared. When Jesus corrected his disciples, they knew he did so from love and friendship and for no other reason. Often, he knew what they really wanted to know even before they asked (See, Matthew 12:25; Mark 2:8; Luke 6:8; 11:17).

Non-Christians See What You Do as Much as Hear What You Say

In the area of child-raising, there is a saying that children “imitate what we do and not do what we say.” Every parent knows this is true. The disciples not only said what Jesus had said and communicated information to them, they lived out among new believers the way of life of Jesus lived. Jesus had established a community, and so did the disciples. Here is the way Paul describes it in one of his letters:

“You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me.  But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. (Acts 22:18-24).

The Ephesians and other with whom Paul lived and ministered knew who Paul was and how Paul reacted to stress, conflict, opposition, threats and the like—not just from his words but from his actions and behavior. In times of conflict, Paul could write with authority to those who had lived in close proximity to him and knew of his heart for God and for them (See, 2 Corinthians 6:3-13). Paul’s effectiveness as a disciple-maker reflects his effectiveness as a builder of Christian community. Wherever the apostle went, he personally created and participated in little Christian communities in which people and lives were changed in relationship with Christ, him, and one another.

Postmodern Communication

As mentioned earlier, the modern world was inclined to see knowledge and information as paramount, and relationships as something good, but really only an “add-on” to the information conveyed or as something desirable for better communication. Increasingly, in the postmodern discipleship based upon this type of approach is not effective. From the insights of contemporary physics to communication theory, relationship is of paramount importance. This does not mean Christians do not believe that Jesus is the “Way, the Truth and the Life.” It means that we need new ways of communicating such information in the context of human relationships.

Postmodern people tend to be deeply pragmatic as well as relational. They, like our children, watch to see what difference faith makes before committing themselves to any belief system, including Christianity. In such a cultural environment, creating a relationship is as important as the message. People want to see the difference Christianity makes. This does not mean that the message is not important. It just means the relationship might be more important and longer lasting in its impact.

Just after the Second World War, the Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer moved to his family in Switzerland and created a community known as L’Abri. Over the years, many people came to L’Abri and participated in the community. Many came to Christ and became Christian leaders. Scholars have critiqued some of the things Schaeffer taught. However, it is not possible to deny the reality and importance of L’Abri as a healing community. [2]

Conversations and Dialogues

Contemporary disciple-making profits looking at the meaning of both “conversation” and “dialogue.”  The meaning of these terms illuminates the difference between the idea of truth as the result of critical analysis and a relational model of truth. The term “conversation” comes from a Latin root “con” or “with” in English and “vertere” which means to “turn” or “bend.” Interestingly, like the Hebrew word for knowledge, this particular word was used in the 1500s as a synonym for sexual intercourse, and also had a connotation of a household, a manner of conduct and behavior or way of life in a home. In other words, a conversation is an intimate, deeply human relational activity. A conversation is implicitly communal and intended to create communion. It involves a relationship in which two or more individuals share their thoughts and lives in such a way that an understanding that is cognitive, emotional, and spiritual results. Hopefully, in the conversation, their ideas, thoughts, and commitments will be “bent” toward each other.

The word “dialogue” has a similar derivation. The Greek roots of this term are “dia” meaning “through” and “logos” meaning “reason.” The process of dialogue happens when two or more persons share meaning through the exchange of views, and new understanding emerges as meaning is shared and reality illuminated by differing points of view. [3] For two people to enter into a dialogue is for each to commit to a mutual exchange of ideas and information in the search for a better understanding of reality. A dialogue implicitly seeks a truth, which the parties are humble enough to know requires sharing ideas, thoughts, and perspectives in order to achieve.

Human beings sometimes have dialogues with themselves as they conduct an internal conversation about a decision or problem. Sometimes people dialogue with one other person for example about a personal business situation. And, of course, we dialogue in a larger context in which many people participate. In fact, the reasoning of Congress or the governing body of a church is a dialogue of sorts.

Not so long ago, I was faced with many difficult decisions in a relatively short period of time. The future of an organization was at stake. Sometimes I would disappear for a long walk to clear my head. While gone, I would have an internal conversation about a problem. More frequently, the executive director of the organization and I would meet. Each of us would share what we thought and our opinions about what others suggested we do. In the end, though I was the decision-maker, more often than not we took her advice or some third idea that neither of us had considered emerged. This is the benefit of a dialogue.

Dialogues and Community

It is easy to see that, if God exists as a community, and if that divine community is a community of shared meaning and love, then some form of conversation or dialogue in which two people can share deep meaning and purpose is most likely the best possible way to share the gospel. We’ve already established that God exists in relationship and wants to draw us into a relationship of self-giving love of the kind that characterizes the Triune God. Obviously, that relationship of love cannot be achieved or sustained without a deep and personal sharing. This is why conversations are a big part of sharing our Christian faith.

In a conversation, we speak what we believe, others share what they believe, we ask questions and clarify our understanding, and we modify what we have said in order to reach a common understanding. To have a conversation with another person, involves inhabiting a common spiritual, emotional, and intellectual space to share concerns and information in a deep way. For Christians, this is more important than it would be for non-Christians because of our conviction that the ultimate rationality (the Logos of God) is revealed in the self-giving love Christ showed on the Cross—a love God shares with directly by the Spirit and through believers in Christ.

The Difference between Dialogue and Discussion

Dialogue is different from a mere discussion. Interestingly, the term “discussion” has the same route as the word “percussion.” A discussion can be no more than two people or groups expressing their views, with each trying to convince the other that their view is correct. [4] There is no community formed. There is simply an attempt to persuade. This kind of activity is subject to the post-modern critique that all truth claims are bids for power. A dialogue should not be a mere discussion. It should involve sharing meaning. Even in the context of a direct dialogue, there must be an open willingness to hear the other person’s views.

Although some proponents of dialogue suggest that we must suspend, give up, or hold in abeyance our own views to appropriately enter a dialogue, the kind of dialogue needed in conversations regarding faith requires only that we continue to hold our beliefs but remember that others do not share these beliefs and we may not be entirely correct in what we think. [5] Therefore, we must learn to be open-minded in how we share the Gospel and what we say. We do not need to give up who we are or what we believe. That would not be authentic. We do not need to agree with everything that is said by another person or persons. In fact, we should not do anything like the foregoing. We need to share our perception of the truth with love and openness to the opinions and views of others.

The Value of Unintentional Disciple-Making

Many people think of evangelism as involving intentional attempts to persuade others of the Gospel. We all know that some conversations occur intentionally, but many conversations occur spontaneously in the business of everyday life. We have conversations with our parents, children, grandchildren, neighbors, business associates, church members, political representatives, members of clubs we belong to, and many other people. Only a very few of those conversations begin with a religious premise.

Most conversations are not on a single subject matter. For example, when our family meets around the dining room table on a holiday we may talk about church, politics, books for reading, children and grandchildren, politics, the economy, hobbies, and many other subjects. No one is really in charge of the conversation. It may begin with one person talking about one subject, it may end with someone else suggesting that we change the subject.  In between, the conversation moves along a path chosen by those in the conversation, generally subconsciously and informally.

Perhaps most importantly, most people resent an exchange in which one person seems to be pushing an agenda or dominating the conversation. This means that we must enter a conversation armed with who we are as a person and not with an agenda to convert others. Although I have conversations that begin and ended with a religious premise, and are at least partially intended to explain the meaning of Christian faith, such conversations almost always begin with a question. In short, most conversations that have a Gospel component evolve as a part of a larger conversation and relationship among acquaintances.

Jesus and Dialogue

When Nicodemus came to Jesus to ask him questions in the middle of the night, the Gospel of John records a long conversation designed to help Nicodemus understand who Jesus is and what Jesus came to do (John 3:1-21). In the next chapter, Jesus meets a nonbeliever at a well in Samaria (John 4). The scene is something like this: Jesus and the disciples are traveling back to Galilee through Samaria. When they reach the town of Sychar, everyone is hungry. Outside of town there was a well where they choose stopped. (You can see the well today.) The disciples left Jesus at the well and went into town to get some food.

As Jesus sat by the well resting, a woman came to draw water at an usual hour. Jesus began the conversation with the woman by asking for a drink from the well, since she had brought her bucket with which to draw water. The woman was surprised that Jesus even spoke to her because she was a woman, a sinful woman, and a Samaritan. Jesus, ignoring the religious and racial conventions of his day, began a conversation with the woman. In the beginning, the woman spoke of physical water, at a point in the conversation in which Jesus was speaking of spiritual water. Eventually Jesus explained to the woman that he is the source of a kind of water that permanently quenches a deep human thirst. The woman, who like most Middle Eastern women of the day spent a lot of her time gathering water, wanted this kind of water.

This response allowed Jesus to speak into the spiritual life of the woman. Jesus explains that those who drink only physical water, meeting physical needs only, will always be thirsty again. In the spiritual world, those who drink of the love of God will never thirst again, because they are filled with the source of all love. (It has not yet been revealed, but this information meets this woman at the precise point of her own need for authentic love.)

The woman then asks for the water. Jesus, knowing the woman is not married but living with a man, asks her to bring her husband to see him. This allows Jesus to speak into the woman’s spiritual and moral condition. In the end, the woman understands that God is able to meet her desire for love without an endless series of men. She goes and tells everyone she knows about her conversation with Jesus at the well. As a result, the woman and many other Samaritans become Christ-Followers.

This story is helpful in understanding the importance of conversation. When the woman came to the well, she was an outcast in her society, known to be promiscuous, isolated, and alone. Jesus did not simply proclaim to her that she was a sinner who could receive restoration by confessing her sins and accepting him as the Messiah. Instead, he stepped out of the social conventions of his day, which did not permit a rabbi to speak to a promiscuous woman, and formed a relationship with her in the form of a conversation. It may seem like a small thing today, but in Jesus’s day for a rabbi to speak to such a person was unheard of. The woman not only received a message about living water but experienced the personal presence of that living water. Her relational isolation was healed by the presence of Jesus in. life transforming conversation.

Jesus did not change the truth he already knew about the woman or her moral and spiritual condition. He knew very well the woman’s condition both morally and spiritually. Nevertheless, he did not brow beat, condemn, or judge the woman. He entered into a relationship with her though a dialogue in which the woman discovered for herself who Jesus was and what he could do to heal her and her relationships.

Examples from Life

Some time ago, my wife and I led a class designed to help people learn to share their faith. One project of the class was learning to share Bible stories from memory. The second week or so, we learn the story of the woman caught in adultery.  In that particular class, there was a woman who decided that very week she wanted to drop out of the class. Some weeks later, she came back to tell us a story. Not long after dropping out, she had coffee with a friend who was having marital problems. Infidelity was involved. Her friend was not a Christian. Actually, her friend was opposed to Christianity due to some early life-experiences. The friend felt that her husband would never forgive her for what had happened. Our friend in a casual way spoke about what she remembered about the story of the woman caught in adultery. The other woman, who that her Christian friends would condemn her, had never heard the story. She left their coffee feeling supported, understood, and loved. I have no idea whether this person became a Christian or not. What is important is that a Christian friend shared the love of God with a friend at a critical time in her life. In the story and in the presence of a Christian friend, the woman felt God’s love.

This story contains important elements to ponder. First, our friend was not motivated to meet with her friend out of a desire to convert her to Christianity, save her soul, or add another convert to her list of Christian accomplishments. She was having coffee with an old friend who needed love and support. Although she did share God’s love, her purpose was to support and care for another human being. Second, our friend did not set out to make a gospel presentation or imply that coming to Christ would save her marriage. She simply told a story that related to the women’s situation and allowed the woman herself to decide how she would apply it to her life. [6] Our friend did not demand a commitment or response. Our friend shared the love of Christ with someone in need, communicating care and concern for the person.

In business, I’ve had important conversations that involved Christian faith. However, almost all the time they were in the context of some legal or business discussion. For example, years ago I spent a good deal of time with the manager of a local investment group. The group was trying to acquire a business in another state. We had to travel to and from another city and engage in incredibly tedious negotiations with a business owner with whom it was extremely difficult to communicate. One-night while flying home, the manager expressed an interest in why I handled a situation in the way I did during the negotiations that afternoon. He knew I was a Christian and assumed that my Christian faith had been guiding my words and actions in the negotiations. He was correct. We then had a conversation about the importance and difficulty of bringing Christian faith into business dealings. The context of our relationship was not religious nor was the situation a religious meeting. It was a business negotiation. Nevertheless, both of us grew in our faith as a result of the conversation that we had that evening on the airplane. I learned from him, and he learned from me. It was a dialogue. Incidentally, we were successful in acquiring the business.

Dialogue in a Lonely, Isolated Society

In a society characterized by loneliness and isolation, in which a good bit of the time people don’t feel loved but instead used, caring relationships in which the gospel is communicated in compassion is incredibly important. The basic prerequisite is to be centered in love upon the other person and his or her needs, not on any agenda, including the Gospel. The most important thing we do is just love the other person and try to sympathetically enter into his or her world.

There are, of course, a few useful techniques that are helpful in centering a conversation on the needs of the other. First, there is a technique known as “reflective listening.” Try, if possible to respond to the other by rephrasing what they have said to be sure you understand what they are saying. A good deal of the time, we think we know what another person is saying, but we do not. We have misunderstood. Learning to listen and pay close attention to what another person is actually saying is important.

Second, be aware of personal emotional responses. People can often say things that are either shocking or so opposed to what we deeply believe that we cannot help but be emotionally impacted. As a pastor, I have had many such experiences. Much of the time, if we are not self-aware, we end up responding too quickly and often too strongly. Our faces or physical movements may communicate our shock. When one detects such an emotional response, it is best to remain silent for time until you can respond in the kindest possible way.

Often, statements produce a physical response in us. Being aware of these physical responses is important. Experts report that the physical and emotional cues we give another person are just as important as the actual words of our response. It can take a bit of practice to not just speak words of love but also physically express our concern for the other and to resist physical responses that are inappropriate or unhelpful. For example, I tend to look away from a person if I truly disagree with what they are saying. When I look away, I am listening but the other person senses a disconnect. Looking a way often involves formulating a response to what is being said before the person is finished speaking. Although the other person may not know I am formulating a response (which they would not appreciate), they usually know I am not paying attention to what they are saying! The best practice is to pay close physical and mental attention to the other person until they are finished speaking.

The Fruit of Dialogue

It is impossible to over-estimate the fruitfulness of learning to have conversations and dialogues with other people, personally, professionally, and spiritually. Learning to have a good dialogue is an important element in being a good disciple-maker. Of course, dialogue is important as a person asks questions and explores what it would mean to become a disciple of Jesus. It is important to have answers to some questions. It is important to know a gospel presentation and to have a personal testimony. But, the most important thing is to be in a loving conversation with another person.

The conversations and dialogues we have with people after they have become Christ-Followers are just as important as those we have before they come to follow Jesus. People do not become perfect disciples the moment they accept Christ. Just like us, people resist change, make mistakes, hide their faults and shortcomings, and fear rejection if they are entirely honest about their struggles. If we are to help people at critical junctures in their walk with Christ, we have to continue to be open, non-judgmental, diplomatic, and conversational was we help them “learn to obey all that Christ has commanded.”

As mentioned at the beginning, our business as disciple-makers involves more than getting people to a point in which they except Christ as their Lord and Savior. Our business as disciple makers is to help him become deeply committed, mature disciples of Christ. This involves the ability to walk with another person, talk with another person, learn from and with another person, teach in mutual conversation and loving relationship, as both the disciple-maker and the new disciple grow in Christ. It is not easy, but it is the most rewarding thing we can do to show God’s love to those around us.

Copyright 2019, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1]  It is the fundamental insight of quantum physics that level it is not possible to disengage the observer from the event being examined as was the model of investigation dominant in the modern world under the influence of the Newtonian view of science. This insight, first discovered at the subatomic level of physical reality has implications in other areas, and is a part of the emerging postmodern view of science. The American philosopher Charles S. Pearce foresaw this insight in his relational theory of signs, in which he spoke of the relationship between reality (an object under observation), an interpreter (observer), and the sign used to understand the reality observed. See, C.S. Pierce, “Questions Concerning Certain Faculties” in The Essential Charles S. Peirce Edward C. Moore, ed (New York, NY: Harper & Row), 1972.

[2]  Francis and Edith Schaeffer moved to Switzerland in 1955. Today, there are several L’Abri fellowships all over the world. To learn more visit,www.labri.org. Edith Schaeffer wrote the story of L’Abri in her book by the same name. It is well worth reading. See, Edith Schaeffer L’Abri(Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Books, 1992).

[3]  This section is much indebted to David Bohm and especially to the digest of his thought published as On Dialogue (New York, NY: Routledge, 1996).

[4]  On Dialogue, at 7.

[5]  This is an important difference between what is being said here and what some proponents of dialogue urge. David Bohm, for example, believes that a dialogue requires that we suspend our own opinions and beliefs.  When Bohm urges suspension of beliefs he means creating a situation where we neither believe or disbelieve. It is doubtful that this is even possible or desirable as to our most deeply held beliefs or the most deeply held beliefs of others. If I believe that God is Love it is neither necessary nor desirable that I suspend that belief to have a conversation with another person, whether or not they agree or violently disagree with that belief of mine. What is necessary is that I listen with love and be willing to be corrected where I may not be acting or believing consistently with that deeply held belief.

[6]  One important quality of stories is that a story does not demand or require acceptance or rejection. It simply allows another person to imaginatively enter into a narrative and decide for his or herself what impact if any the story has for the hearer. Jesus used parables in just this way. For example, in the story of the prodigal son, while many people see themselves as the prodigal, others to see themselves as the older brother or one of the servants.