A Monday Night ‘Lightbulb Moment’
Every so often life brings along one of those ‘lightbulb moments’, where confusion gives way to clarity, and doubt gives way to clear direction. Monday night was one of those moments.
As church leaders for the last few months we have gathered together to work through material in a recent book called ‘the Vine Project’, which has the intention of helping churches develop a culture of disciples who make disciples.
Our discussion was based around how we are to go about making disciples of Christ, how do we help someone come to faith in Jesus and then to grow in understanding and obedience?
Maybe you have asked that question before, and pushed it to the back of your mind, assuming it to be the task of the ‘ministry professional’, or that it happens in a carefully organized program organized by the church. Perhaps you feel that you are still a young Christian so it is the job of someone more mature, or you don’t have all the answers so you would have nothing to contribute. If our thinking about discipleship moves it into the realm of the ‘super-Christian’ or even just the ‘competent-Christian’, it is perhaps unsurprising if few of us feel able to point others or lead others to Jesus.
Now for the lightbulb moment. Discipleship is about helping someone – whether they are Christian or non-Christian – take one step closer to Jesus. That’s it! Not converting someone in a single conversation (though that may happen and we should certainly pray for such moments). Not explaining the intricacies of Christian belief and practice so comprehensively as to produce full maturity instantly in another person. Discipleship is the practice of helping another person take even a baby-step towards faith in Jesus or growth in faith by our word and our example. Now that’s something we can all do!
The Principles of Disciple-making: 4 S’s
The vine project very helpfully demonstrated core principles that lie behind making disciples in the New Testament. I would summarise them as follows:
We Speak God’s Word
We want people to hear the gospel as the central message of the Bible, because it is the message needed both for salvation and for growth in Christian faith. This can happen in any number of ways: reading the Bible with someone, sharing an aspect of biblical truth in a conversation with a friend of colleague, reminding a worried child about God’s character by re-telling a story from the Bible, a note or message to someone with a passage of the Bible you feel will encourage or help them in a situation.
God works through his word. It is God through his gospel who changes hearts, minds and wills. To share God’s word with someone is to allow God to work through his word.
Speaking God’s word belongs to every Christian. Using the truth of the Bible and sharing the gospel with others is a key tool in helping a person move closer to Jesus.
We depend on God’s Spirit
To help someone live as a disciple of Christ – to learn Christ’s words and ways with an attitude of repentance and faith – requires the Spirit of God to be at work.
The Spirit inspired the Bible to be written and opens people’s eyes to see its truth and beauty. The Spirit gives a new heart to people so that they receive the offer of salvation. It is the Spirit that works within people to produce the fruit of a new life. And it is the Spirit who helps a weak disciple willing and able to share something of the love of God in word and by example.
Depending on the Spirit will see us put our trust in the Word of God and prayer. As we do this, the Spirit will work as we seek to help others move a step closer to Jesus.
We Serve under God
One of the remarkable truths of the Bible is that while God in no way needs us to do his work, he has chosen human beings as his agents for change in the world.
God is 100% sovereign and responsible for carrying out his plan of salvation. It is entirely by his grace, by his word, and by his Spirit. And yet at the same time, he works in and through the actions of God’s people in order to achieve his plans and purposes. Discipleship happens when we work, and God works. The final results are in God’s hands, but we are to be active agents. It is 100% us and 100% God.
Recognising that God uses his people to achieve his plans means every Christian is involved in making disciples. Our unique contexts, gifts and opportunities come together to allow us chances to help other people – whether Christian or non-Christian – move a step closer to Jesus.
We Stay the Course
To be a disciple involves a life-altering shift from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. But there is also the long, slow, steady change as we work out how to live out our new identity in this new kingdom. A disciples perseveres in following Jesus, staying the course, recognizing it is a marathon and not a sprint.
So when it comes to making disciples, we recognize that we are called to a life-long process of helping the people around us to respond to the good news of Jesus. And that process requires patience as we walk and talk with individuals in helping them to understand and apply the truth of the Bible to everyday life.
As we stay the course of the Christian faith, we will at the same time patiently share God’s truth and our lives with others, helping them to move a step closer to Jesus.
Putting it into practice
The basic point of ‘the Vine Project’ is to help churches and Christians see that making disciples is something achievable for everyone. Here are some example that will maybe help you reflect on your part of working with God to help other people move a step closer to Jesus:
- You could share a verse or story from the Bible with someone in your church or among your friends and family that they would find helpful or encouraging
- If you are a parent, you could pray to have an opportunity to both show and tell the gospel with your child over the next few days
- When a topic of conversation comes up at work, school or university, you could pray for the Spirit to help you think of a part of God’s truth that might help someone think a little differently on a particular subject
- As you think about who is in your church, you could think of someone to have coffee with, take a walk with etc. with the plan to talk about your faith and what you have been learning from the Bible
- In your group of friends, you could encourage each other to try and find time to read the Bible and pray every day, and share your experiences afterwards
- You could offer to cook a meal, baby-sit, or buy some flowers for a friend who is having a tiring time
I hope that lightbulb moment sticks with me! To see disciple-making as helping people take those small steps towards Jesus gives a great sense of freedom from guilt, fear, or a sense of inadequacy. To remember that God works by his Word and his Spirit gives both a sense of privilege and confidence that it is God’s work, and not mine.