How do we make disciples? Of course, ultimately it is God who makes disciples, but what role do we play in that process as a church? What does that role look like and how can we participate in what God is doing more effectively?
These are the questions rolling around in my head after hearing Dr. Tony Campolo speak last Thursday. Dr. Campolo was in town promoting the Missoula Interfaith Collaborative and he graciously took time from his schedule to have a session with about 50 area pastors. He shared for about an hour, and then took questions from the audience. It was a challenging time for me. Although Dr. Campolo and I would disagree on a number of things, I know he has a heart for God. His insights on our world and the impact of the kingdom of God on our society, especially those from a sociological point of view, were thought-provoking.
But out of all the good stuff I heard, there was one statement he made that immediately connected with me. I pulled out my phone, opened my task program and typed it in so I would not forget. (I hope Dr. Campolo did not think I was texting someone….)
The statement was made in the context of a discussion about making disciples. Dr. Campolo suggested that a primary way of making disciples in churches today was didactic. We have discipleship classes. We hold catechism classes and membership classes. We do one on one mentoring. And for some, this is a very effective way of making disciples. The challenge of course, is moving all that head knowledge – which can be substantial – into a heart knowledge that is lived out in daily life.
Dr. Campolo then mentioned a second method of training disciples, and he illustrated it with a story. A few years back, while speaking in England, he was approached by two young men who were doing doctrinal theses on American cities. After hearing about Dr. Campolo and his ministry work in the inner city, they asked if they could join his ministry for the summer as “missionaries.” They added to their request with this bit of information – that before he said yes, Dr. Campolo should know that they were both agnostic. Could they still come and work with his ministry?
Dr. Campolo enthusiastically invited them, but with one condition. If they were going to be missionaries, they would have to participate fully in the spiritual life of the ministry. They were expected to attend and contribute to morning Bible Study. They were expected to attend worship services. They were expected to do everything that was expected of any other missionary in the organization, despite the fact that they were agnostics.
And that is just what they did. And you probably know the end of the story – before the summer was over both of them had received Christ as their Savior and Lord and both are now serving the Lord as Anglican clergymen in England.
The story was meant to illustrate Dr. Campolo’s second method of making disciples – becoming disciples by doing the work of a disciple. That is the phrase that connected with me. Not because the idea was necessarily new, but rather the way he crystallized it really got me thinking. As a church, we need to be intentional about training disciples. And one effective way of doing that is placing believers, especially spiritually young believers, in environments and circumstances where they are expected to act like disciples.
What does that look like? Well, for our church, the first examples I thought of were encouraging believers to serve with AWANA or on our Mexico Missions team or at camp in the summer. Each of those opportunities places them in an environment where they are confronted with the word of God, where they are serving alongside mature believers and where they are expected to do the work of a disciple. Dr. Campolo’s words got me thinking about other places and opportunities where we can be intentional about training disciples this way.
Does this mean the teaching part of making disciples should be thrown out? Not at all. In fact, I cannot think of a better combo for training disciples – being taught and mentored by a mature believer while placing them in an environment where they are expected to do the work of a disciple as well.
Is this a new and revolutionary idea? Nope. But God has a wonderful way of taking ideas we have heard before and repackaging them in a way that suddenly connects for us. In this case, it is to be intentional not only in teaching disciples, but encouraging them to participate in opportunities where they will be expected to do the work of a disciple as well.