SIX STEPS TO EFFECTIVE DISCIPLE-MAKING
By: Win Arn and W. Charles Arn
Some of the most receptive people in your community are the people in each church member’s “Extended Family.” These are the friends, relatives, and associates of church members who are presently outside of Christ and a church. Helping laity indentify and reach these “Extended Family” members is a key to unlocking new growth potential in your church.
One of the most important steps in reaching friends and relatives in your “Extended Family” will be developing an appropriate and effective strategy for introducing those people to Christ and His Body. Here are some key insights that will help you develop an effective plan to communicate God’s love to each person in your Extended Family.
Your most important role as a witness to the people in your Extended Family is personifying Christ’s love. Here is a major principle in effective disciplemaking: “God’s love is best seen and experienced by others through your love.”
Look at the burden-lifting implications of this concept! The traditional requirements of a “good witness” (verbal fluency . . . extrovertive personality . . . tenacity . . . ) become less important in an effective witness than simply being an open channel through which God’s love can be expressed and experienced by those in your Extended Family. Think of it . . . you become the channel for God’s love! Exciting? Yes! Possible? Absolutely!
God’s great love for these potential disciples, and His desire to express that love, is seen throughout Scripture. As He first loved us, we express our love for Him through loving others . . .
“For I was hungry and you fed me; I was thirsty and you gave me water; I was a stranger and you invited me into your home; naked and you clothed me; sick and in prison, and you visited me. Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Sir, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you ? Or thirsty and give you anything to drink ? Or a stranger, and help you ? Or naked, and clothe you? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And I, the King, will tell them, `When you did it to these my brothers, you were doing it to me. ‘ ”
Scripture graphically illustrates what love for Christ entails. It is a basic, down-to-earth involvement with people in need. The response is to be personal . . . the response is to be caring. The people in your Extended Family may not require clothing, food, or water. But they do have real needs. Responding to the void of loneliness, frustration, or despair demands a personal investment of genuine caring.
David Augsburger, in his book Caring Enough to Confront, observes that caring people “. . . dare to be present with people . . . and to stand with people when they are hurting. Caring people look for the opportunity of affirming, of encouraging, of helping release others to become all they can be in Christ. ”
Unconditional caring is a reflection of God*s unswerving and unrelenting love. If a friend were to say, “I don’t want anything to do with your religion,” should your caring be any less than before ? Do you think God’s love is any less for those who reject Him? If anything, God’s concern is even greater. How many people have once rejected His love and then later, perhaps in a time of need, responded and are now active, reproducing Christians? Caring must be genuine and unconditional, and not depend on how the person responds to spiritual overtures.
“Unfortunately,” observes Paul Little in his book How to Give Away Your Faith, “many non-Christians today are suspicious of all Christians because of a previous contact with a ‘friendly’ religious person who had ulterior motives. Some non-Christians refuse to listen to a single world about our Lord until they’re sure we’ll be their friends, even if they reject Jesus Christ. We must love each person for himself.” Christ wants His lost children found. We should not take it upon ourselves to close the door on the relationship that God has (through us) with these Extended Family members. Caring must be genuine, long-term, and unconditional.
2. STRENGTHENING RELATIONSHIPS.
Your disciple-making effectiveness is enhanced where strong relationships exist with members of your Extended Family. The Apostle John writes, “Dear friends, let us practice loving each other, for love comes from God and those who are loving and kind show that they are the children of God. ”
What person does not enjoy the companionship of a loving, caring friend! A strong and growing relationship between you and your Extended Family member contributes immeasurably to allowing the Holy Spirit to speak to that person.
In The Friendship Factor, McGinnis says, “It is no accident that so many important encounters occurred between Jesus and His friends when they were at the table. There is something almost sacramental about breaking bread with one another.” Invite your friend to attend a special event that you both will enjoy. Drop by his/her home with something from your garden, workshop, or flowerbed. Perhaps you could make it a point to have lunch once a week with the person in your Extended Family, or seek him/her out for a coffee break conversation. Do you know of any special needs your friend has mentioned which could be a point of relationship building, such as helping lay a brick walk, hanging drapes, or painting the house? Strong friendships come with shared experience. Working shoulder to shoulder strengthens a relationship even when few words are spoken.
As your relationship grows, expect your Extended Family member to also respond to your needs and reciprocate in caring initiatives. Friendship is not a one-way affair. The close relationship will be as meaningful to you as to your Extended Family member. The joy and fulfillment which comes from being with friends and giving of yourself is one of the emotional highlights of life. Enjoy it!
A helpful research study shows the importance of friendship in the process of becoming a new disciple. The study, reported in CHURCH GROWTH: AMERICA,” identified two hundred forty (240) new Christians presently active and involved in their churches. In addition, a second group of 240 people were identified who could be classified as “drop-outs” (they had made a recent decision but had since lapsed into inactivity). A third group of 240 people were identified who had been presented with the Gospel message but had chosen not to make a positive decision. In individual interviews with these 720 people, each was asked to classify the person who had presented the Gospel into one of three categories: “Friend,” “Salesman,” or “Teacher.” The results provided some startling conclusions: The people who saw the church member as a “friend” were almost all now Christians and active in their churches (94 percent). On the other hand, those people who saw the church member as a “salesman” often made an initial decision, but soon dropped out in large numbers (71 percent later dropped out). Finally, those who saw the church member as a “teacher” generally tended to not respond at all (84 percent said “no thanks”). The implications are clear. The non-Christian person who perceives your relationship as one of a “friend” is far more likely to eventually respond to Christ’s love than the person who sees you either as a “teacher-instructing on doctrine, sin, and morality; or as a “salesman-manipulating toward an eventual decision.
Your greatest resource in developing a meaningful and caring friendship is in simply being yourself-natural and unmasked. The phrase “I’m not perfect, just forgiven” reflects a healthy attitude in recognizing the shortcomings each person has. The unique benefit of the Christian life is in the strength and support from a source greater than ourselves. When your Extended Family member understands this simple truth, it may change his/her entire attitude toward faith and life in Christ.
3. INVOLVING OTHER MEMBERS OF THE BODY. A third important consideration in your plan to successfully communicate God’s love to your Extended Family members, is to use the unique resource of your church. In effective disciple-making the local church is a central part of the process.
One important resource for disciple-making found in your church is other church members, particularly your close friends. Encouraging and building personal relationships between your Extended Family members and other Christian friends in your church is a highly effective way of introducing your non-Christian friends to the variety of ways Christ works in the lives of people. No person, other than Jesus. has ever been a perfect example of the Christian life. If you are the only Christian your Extended Family member knows, then his/her perception of the incarnation of Christ in a person’s life is limited to what that person sees in you.
What a unique new perspective to sharing God’s love . . . introducing Christ to your Extended Family member through the people in your church. And how much more accurate an introduction when Christ is seen in a number of people’s lives, than when their understanding is limited to one simple explanation from one single source.
This “cross-pollinization” between your Extended Family members and various Christians in your church adds a dynamic dimension to the disciplemaking process. On one hand, it provides you, as a disciple-maker with support from other members. In turn, you become part of other church member’s disciple-making activities as you build relationships with their Extended Family members. The process adds to the effectiveness of disciple-making. to the common concern of church members for other non-Christians, and to the accountability of church members concerning the people in their Extended Family. The process of communicating God’s love through the lives of other Christians takes a significant burden of responsibility off the back of just one person. Christians can look to the Body and its members for support in making disciples.
How do you help such relationships flourish between your Extended Family members and others in the congregation? Informal social gatherings at your home, or group outings to special events can include both Christian and non-Christian friends. The church may sponsor a series of special events or workshops of interest to non-Christians. The purpose of the events would be to provide an opportunity for building relationships between Extended Family members and other church members.
You could use present church programs, classes, and activities to introduce your Extended Family to others in the church. A special Sunday School elective class might be of interest to your friend, or a worship service where a particular message would be relevant. Church-sponsored social events are excellent opportunities to bring a non-Christian friend and introduce him/her to friends in the church. Another approach could be to enlist your Extended Family members in an on-going group, perhaps a home Bible study or a weekly lunch meeting with some friends from the church.
4. ENHANCING YOUR WITNESS.
As you think and plan how to communicate God’s love to your Extended Family, the question naturally arises, “But, what do I say?” To find the answer to that question, let’s turn to the Bible.
In searching Scripture to answer the question, “What do I say, ” one is impressed that there is no one simple formula that was used. Every situation was different. Jesus, in teaching His disciples to be fishers of men, used many different models. From Nicodemus, the religious ruler who was told he needed to be “born again”, to the woman of Samaria who was offered water of eternal life, to the thief on the cross who asked only to be remembered when Christ came into His kingdom. Each situation presented different needs, portrayed different relationships, used different words, brought a different response. Each situation was unique.
However, while there was not one formula, there were common denominators of the Gospel presentations which appeared again and again in biblical models. What were they?
The assumption-man’s sinful nature. The teachings of Jesus, the Apostles, the early Church all assume the common sinfulness of mankind. Because of man’s sinful nature, the Gospel embodies a call to repentance and faith. Scripture abounds with the recognition of the sinfulness of mankind: “All of us like sheep have gone astray. Each of us has turned to his own way, but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.” “Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins.” “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. ” “. . . His laws serve only to make us see we are sinners.” “If we say we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and refusing to accept the truth.”
The focal point-Jesus Christ. People in the New Testament did not respond to a series of theological propositions. They responded to a person Jesus Christ. “Come and see . . . we have found the Messiah,” said Andrew.
“Come, see a man . . . is not this the Christ?” asked the woman at the well.” We have met the man spoken of in the law,” Philip told Nathaniel.
The target for witness-responsive people. Jesus told His followers: As you enter his house, give it your blessing . . . but if no one will welcome you, or even listen to what you have to say, leave that house or town, and once outside it, shake the dust of that place from your feet . . . “Jesus was instructing His disciples to identify receptive people and communicate the Good News to them.
Throughout the New Testament we are instructed to focus on people who are willing to listen and respond: “He that has ears to hear, let him hear.” Turn your eyes unto the fields that are already white unto harvest. ” “The seed sown on good soil is the man who hears and understands . . . ”
The starting place-the person’s need. The message was relevant because it spoke to the person’s need. Jesus’ ministry of healing focused on people’s needs . . . then their healing . . . then their following of Christ. “They that are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. ” The Christian commitment one sees in Scripture is not based on a series of theological propositions to believe in, but on a faith that makes people whole. “Then He said to her, ‘My daughter, your faith has made you whole.”
The instrument of God-people. God uses people, in most cases, to bring other people to Himself. Conversions do not take place in a vacuum. Philip was there to interpret the Scripture for the Ethiopian. Peter was there to help Cornelius. Paul was there to help Lydia. When the people in the New Testament came to faith, they came through the influence and help of others.
The proclamation-the kerygma. There were important essentials that comprised the first Good News proclaimed by the early Church. ‘The kerygma (a Greek noun meaning ‘proclamation’ or ‘preached message’) was the earliest Gospel Christ’s apostles took out to their world. Archibald Hunter reviews the essentials of this kerygma. “The prophesies are fulfilled . . . the Messiah has come. He is Jesus of Nazareth, the servant of the Lord . . . who was crucified according to God’s purpose, was raised from the dead on the third day, is now exalted to God’s right hand, and will come in glory for judgment. Therefore. repent, believe this Good News, and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
This message was preached by all the apostles. At Pentecost. Peter preached, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ.” Paul proclaimed that through Christ, “God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.” In I Corinthians Paul outlines a summary of the kerygma, and then comments, “Whether, then, it is I or they [Peter, James, John, and the rest], this is what we all proclaim. ” The basic elements of the kerygma-the message-were proclaimed with the goal of persuading the hearers to repentance, faith and baptism.
The motivation-love. Christ’s entire life and ministry was a personification of God’s unconditional love. The apostles and early Church continued to emphasize this all-encompassing love. The rapid spread of the Gospel must have been in large part due to their desire to see others share in such extraordinary love.
The method-dialogue and interaction. The Ethiopian posed questions to Philip about the Scripture passages he was reading. Paul asked Jesus for a confirmation of His identity. The Philippian jailer asked, “What must I do to be saved?” Cornelius asked the angel for an explanation of his vision, and asked Peter for an explanation. The woman at the well asked Christ of His identity. Nicodemus, Zacchaeus . . . all interacted and had the opportunity to question, discuss, and consider the claims of Christ.
The goal-repentance/conversion. John the Baptist called for repentance. Jesus’ teaching and preaching demanded repentance. Peter’s instructions required repentance. Paul’s message required repentance. Repentance is an important step, from the biblical viewpoint, in the conversion process. Repentance involved a change of mind and heart; a turning “from. ” The other side of repentance is conversion. It is a person’s turning of allegiance to God in obedience and faith. In the turning and new lordship in life, God regenerates and gives eternal life. “Re-birth,” “new life in Christ,” “obedience to the faith,” “hearing the Word of the Gospel;” “hearing the Word.” “believed,” “believed and were baptized” . . . the Scripture uses many terms to describe a person who has moved from death to life, from doubt to faith, from sin to salvation.
The result-baptism and indentification with the church. In the New Testament the rite of incorporation into the Body was baptism. Baptism was a crucial part of becoming a Christian. “In fact,” observes Smalley in Conversion in the New Testament, “the New Testament knows nothing of coming into the Body by faith only. It was by faith and baptism. Baptism was the accompanying act of obedience and confession, and without baptism, a believer did not enter the early community of faith.”
5. PROVIDE FOR A VARIETY OF EXPOSURES. As we just noted, each church member should be able to express comfortably the meaning of Christ in his/her own life to a non-Christian friend. A dialogue between two friends on the subject of the church and Christianity would include sharing one’s personal experience on the subject. There is an important credibility in such sharing between two respected friends.
At the same time, as you plan ways to communicate God’s love to the members of your Extended Family, realize that there are additional ways to communicate the message . . . perhaps more persuasively. The pastor, a special evangelistic film, a guest teacher or speaker, or a church member with the gift of evangelism may be able to present the Gospel in a more compelling way than you. Actually, most people who end up as active Christians and responsible church members have heard the Gospel more than once from more than one source prior to making their decision for Christ. One particular research study found that those who were vital Christians and active church members had heard the Gospel presented an average of 5.8 different times before they made their Christian commitment.” This fairly high number of exposures to the Gospel among the group of active Christians
was in sharp contrast to the number of times the Gospel was heard among people who made a decision but soon became inactive. On the average, church dropouts heard the Gospel only once prior to their decision.
This leads to some important implications about communicating the Good News to your Extended Family members. People who eventually come to Christ and become active members of your church need to have enough exposures to the Gospel (and the implications of their life-changing decision) tofeel they are making a reasonable decision-one they can live with in the months and years ahead.
Church growth research shows that the person who makes a Christian decision on the spur of the moment (perhaps at the conclusion of an emotional public meeting or a high-pressure “manipulative’* presentation) is not likely to continue as an active disciple.
There is much more hope for the person who has had a number of exposures to various elements of the Gospel, has seen Christianity demonstrated in the lives of others, and has considered the important implications of his/her decision.
How do you provide for this important variety of Christian and Gospel exposures for your Extended Family member? Again, the unique and irreplaceable resources of the local church come into play. . . .
As mentioned previously, bringing non-Christian friends to church-sponsored events serves to both enlarge their own view of Christ in people’s lives, and to build friendships with other Christians. But bringing your Extended Family member to church related events also allows the person to hear and see other aspects of the Gospel. A “full blown” evangelistic message and
invitation is not required (or perhaps even desired) at every church-sponsored event. A brief devotional or prayer at the beginning or end of the event satisfactorily serves the important function of providing the non-Christian with a growing understanding and perspective of the Gospel.
This need for a variety of evangelistic exposures means a church needs to
provide adequate opportunities for members to bring their non-Christian
friends and relatives. Worship services and Sunday School classes may be
one means in this process. But other events may need to be designed to
provide such support to the church member. Films, printed material, special
outings and social events, home Bible studies, inquirer’s classes, special
interest seminars can be used as ways to provide exposure to the Good News.
The key insight is not what the particular means of communication is, but
rather the number and variety of exposure-how many times and from how many
sources has your Extended Family member been exposed to a portion of the
Good News through the church? The more exposures he/she has, the better the
chances of that person understanding the love of Christ and becoming a
responsible church member. Look for ways to help bring this about.
Exercising patience and consistency is vitally important in the disciple-
making process. Remember that each person in your Extended Family is at a
different level of development. Not all fruit ripens at the same time.
As you are involved in the process of making disciples, it is important to
let the Holy Spirit do the work, and not take it upon yourself to force a
decision. Paul Little has rightly observed, “None of us can play God for
another person. We can’t determine the stage of the Holy Spirit’s work in
his/her life. It may take several years for him/her to come to the Savior
and a long period of disinterest may precede his/her decision. For Christ’s
sake. we must love them nonetheless. It is the Holy Spirit. not we, who
converts an individual.”
Trying to manipulate a non-Christian into a “decision,” through a series of
dramatic appeals or pre-conceived steps, results in a staggering number of
“dropouts” in a short period of time. The “new life” of the unfortunate
people who are victims of a “quick sell” decision rarely becomes a reality.
Such “instant evangelism,” as Samuel Southard puts it, produces many
Helping people understand the implications of God’s unconditional love, in
their own time frame and their own life situation, requires patience and
consistency. It is a process that should not be hurried. View the act of
expressing God’s love to members of your Extended Family as a continuing
part of your everyday life, a process in which you willingly enter into a
long-term commitment of your time and energy for seeing your friend come to
Christ and the church.
(The original publisher of the above material is unknown.)
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