I was recently asked, “How do we disciple people far from God?” This is the right question for two reasons. First, we are living in a world where people are far from God. Secondly, this was Jesus’ very approach for disciple making.
People Are Far From God
Reggie McNeal helped me frame this first issue years ago. At the time I was tasked with developing an overall church planting strategy for the North American Mission Board. We brought Reggie in to help us address how we might plant more churches. He asked me, “Why do you think we aren’t planting more churches and reaching more people?” I gave him a very pragmatic response, “We need more money. Give me more money and I will plant more churches and they will reach more people.” To this he responded, “It’s more basic than that. We’ve reached everyone like us or everyone who wants to be like us.”
Wow! Think about that for a moment. We have reached everyone like us or everyone who wants to be like us. George Hunter seems to agree in his book, “How to Reach Secular People”, suggesting as the North American Church we no longer enjoyed a home court advantage. If we play at all, at best we play on a neutral court and most often on a hostile court.
That’s the world we live in. If we are going to disciple new people we must begin right where people are. And, they are far from God or at least far from our churches. For Jesus this meant going to them.
Jesus Discipled People Far From God
Jesus’ starting point in making disciples was always with people far from God. We see it in the very disciples He called to be His Apostles. They consisted of mostly ordinary men with absolutely no spiritual aspirations. Peter was a fisherman and Matthew was a tax collector, of all things. Not exactly the kind of guys you would seek out in starting a movement.
Peter had been passed over by the religious system of his day. He had moved on to more mundane things. He was a fisherman by trade. Peter was a regular hard working Joe who worked out of a boat on the shores of Galilee. One day Jesus passed by and invited Peter into a relationship. “Come follow me and I will make you to become fishers of men.” Did Peter get the gospel? No, but yet he still chose to follow. It wasn’t until some eighteen to twenty-four months later at Caesarea Philippi that He got it, or kind of got it. Here’s what I want you to see. There were two movements of Peter’s discipleship journey. They included Jesus discipling Peter to conversion (up to Caesarea Philippi) and then Jesus discipling Peter to Lordship (Caesarea Philippi forward).
How do we disciple people far from God? We invite those far from God into a friendship where we live out the realities and implications of the gospel in real time.