A New Take on Classic Methods of Evangelism and Discipleship
More than a decade ago, Ann Voskamp wrote a wonderful book titled One Thousand Gifts. In it she challenges readers to make a list of 1,000 blessings, gifts and signs of God’s goodness in their life—small and large. More than that, Voskamp calls followers of Jesus to live with grateful hearts, noticing God’s goodness all around us.
More than a hundred years before Voskamp wrote her book, Johnson Oatman Jr. wrote the hymn “Count Your Blessings.” In the chorus of this song are these words: “Count your blessings; Name them one by one. Count your blessings; See what God has done.” Numbering the good gifts of God and remembering his overflowing goodness was as important in 1897 when the hymn was written as it is today.
But wait, it goes back even further. Around 2,000 years ago, the New Testament writers were saying the same sort of things. The apostle Paul calls us to give thanks at all times and for all things (Eph. 5:20). James reminds us that every good and perfect gift is from our Father above (James 1:17). If we look back to the Old Testament, we hear the same message. One thousand years before Paul was born, King David reminded us to be sure we never forget all of God’s blessings.
Innovation is not always about coming up with something new. Often it is addressing something old in a fresh way. Both Oatman and Voskamp were inspired by God to remind people in their respective generations that God is good, even in times of loss and pain.
What was true for Oatman and Voskamp is just as true for us. Solomon may have declared there is “nothing new under the sun,” but many ways are available to bring enduring truth alive for the church today. This is the heartbeat of innovation.
Old Things New
About four years ago, my wife Sherry and I led a conference for church leaders from all over New Zealand. In particular, we looked at the relationship between discipleship and evangelism and how a Christian can know they are growing in faith.
At the end of the conference, we were surrounded by Kiwi pastors who implored us to take what we had taught them and turn it into a book, a study, preaching resources or whatever we could create to help churches innovate and take new steps forward in discipleship and evangelism. We told them many great resources were already available. Wouldn’t we be saying what so many others had already articulated effectively?
“Innovation is not always coming up with something new. Often it is addressing something old in a fresh way.”
They convinced us that God had given us a fresh way to say what God had taught clearly in the Scriptures. These passionate church leaders set my wife and me on a four-year journey seeking to fulfill their request.
Through prayer, research, writing and developing resources, something new was born. Organic Disciples: Seven Ways to Grow Spiritually and Naturally Share Jesus is now a reality. The innovation is not that we have come up with something entirely new. As a matter of fact, all of our best ideas come right from Scripture. But we do believe God has given us new ways to express his eternal truths.
Tying It Together
Pastors need to bring the familiar themes of evangelism, discipleship and spiritual growth alive through innovative leadership, a healthy community and creative preaching. Here are three questions to consider.
1. Is Discipleship About Just Jesus and Me?
The simple answer is no. Too many Christians think of discipleship as being fundamentally about how much they read their Bible, pray, go to church and do other “spiritual” things. These practices are all part of the journey of a disciple, but there is so much more.
Discipleship is always done in community. We need to have someone in our life who is discipling us, helping us grow to be more like Jesus. In addition, we are to grow up as a disciple and tend to our own spiritual growth journey. Then, we can take the hand of someone younger in faith and help them walk more intimately with Jesus—we disciple them. Finally, we have the honor of teaching those we disciple to do the same with others.
This forms a chain of four lives, connected in faith, on the journey together. Paul gave us this model in 2 Timothy 2:2. It is the heartbeat of the Old Testament pattern of spiritual growth found in Psalm 78:5–7.
2. What Is the Relationship of Discipleship and Evangelism?
There is great confusion on how to answer this question. For some people, discipleship and evangelism are seen as different parts of our spiritual life, different departments in the church and a different set of books on a shelf. They are only loosely related, if connected at all.
In the heart of God, they are bound together like a marriage covenant. And what God has joined together and made one, let no person tear apart. As Sherry and I developed a pathway for churches to help people grow up in faith, we see discipleship and evangelism connected like Jesus saw them (see Matt. 28:19–20). They are two sides of the same coin, two peas in a pod and they fit hand-in-glove.
Our work in helping believers grow up in both discipleship and evangelism at the same time is really just reclaiming the teaching of Jesus. As it was in the beginning, so shall it be today and for all time.
3. Can I Know I Am Growing Up in Faith?
For most Christians, we assume that the longer we believe in Jesus, the more we grow up in our faith. It is automatic. The truth is, time does not guarantee maturity. We all know people who are relatively new followers of Jesus but they are on a meteoric journey of spiritual growth. We also can identify longtime Christians who seem to be spiritually treading water and are relatively stagnant on their growth trajectory. And, we can all admit there are some areas of life where we grew quickly in our faith, but others remain more of a struggle.
We believe growth is not only possible but is expected for every Christian. Paul gives an amazing vision that we can “become mature and attain to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13). Try to get your mind around that idea—God’s desire is that your life should reflect the measure of the fullness of the Messiah.
How does this happen? In Organic Disciples, we identify and take clear teaching from the Bible through seven clear markers of spiritual maturity. Jesus modeled each one, so we can study his life and example. Then, we emulate our Savior, seeking to be more like him. Finally, we discover that the closer we walk with Jesus, the more we love the lost. Every step deeper into becoming more like Jesus also drives us toward the world he came to save. Love for our Lord and love for the lost are always bound together.
For more information about leading your church in new ways that bind together discipleship and evangelism, go to OrganicDisciples.org for free resources and a link to the book and study.