Discipleship 101: Engagement

In Christian RealTalk, Series by Antwuan Malone

“Making disciples of all nations” is the operative element of the command Jesus gave His disciples in the Great Commission. The command challenges all Jesus’ disciples to multiply in a similar way that God commissioned Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply to fill the Earth.

How consistent.

We’ve been trying to figure out the best way to do that ever since. In part 1 of this Discipleship 101  series, we determined discipleship  first involves equipping his disciples. Such equipping begins with Jesus inviting us to walk beside him, to follow Him, so that he can equip us to be fishers of men. We learned how this flies in the face well-meaning, but ultimately misguided plans for Christian discipleship that for whatever reason skips  the “prepatory” stages to plunge headlong into the field of mission. Jesus means to make us fishers of men, not simply call us and send us.

Admittedly, from a sequencing standpoint I flip-flopped when deciding which idea — equipping or engaging — is first in the process. I settled on equipment as the first step because I don’t believe God sends us into situations for which He has not prepared us.

And by “not prepared,” I mean we are not in a place where we can hear God’s voice clear enough to even consider obeying it. It’s possible that, in conversations like this, phrases like “equipped” or “prepared” could be taken to mean “taught” or “instructed.” Or that evangelism requires some form of training. Equipping, in this sense, is meant as a teaching term.

That’s half right. There is certainly a place for being able to make a defense for your faith, but the most important of all “training” produces an acute awareness to God’s Spirit as He directs your next step.

Prepared, in the context of Christian discipleship, simply means we are in a place to hear what the Spirit tells us, and that we are willing to obey Him. After all, our trust in our teacher and guide (the Holy Spirit) can only be proven by our obedience to what He says, even when what He says seems more than we are able to do. Sure, we need teaching and preaching to facilitate growth as a disciple. But getting close enough to hear what God is saying personally — that’s what Jesus called his disciples to when he said “follow me.” That’s why the veil split after He was crucified. That’s what God’s gone through so much trouble to make available to us.

The Next Step

Once we have understood equipping, engaging those around us is the natural next step.

However, engagement, it turns out, is even more tricky. At first it is natural to engage those around us. But then we begin to realize that the gospel doesn’t always fit nicely into place in the secular society. We soon find people who are confused and/or resistant to the good news of God’s grace. Or that they are willing to take on partial truths, rather than truth in its entirety.

The question then is, how can we engage a secular society to make disciples out of them? How do we speak spiritual truths in spiritual words to carnal ears? How can the gospel be made plain to any cultural mindset and people group we encounter?

So much of discipleship requires serious consideration of these questions. Because, if we are to take the Truth to the world the way Jesus and Paul did, we must know enough about the world’s various cultural mindsets and patterns to be able to bridge the spiritual/carnal gap. In other words, we must learn to speak the language of the natives.

It’s funny, I could read the Bible front to back to a run full of Chinese people. But unless they speak English, or I speak Chinese, it will do very little good. To make the Bible mean something, I’ve got to get to the place where we communicate through the same language. The same is true for non-linguistic barriers as well. Understanding the culture of those whom you seek to disciple transports us into their worlds, and gives us much larger influence. Once we’ve have done that, we can begin communicating the gospel through stories, arts, illustrations, and common language that facilitate Truth’s path to the heart. And transformation can begin.

Jesus exemplified this for his disciples as He went from town to town. He spoke parables using characters and scenarios his audiences understood. He complied to, and broke (when necessary), social taboos for effect — in order to reveal a truth. He knew what their questions were, what they valued, what their idols were, etc… And he used them to reveal the Truth.

Our engagement in discipleship must follow suit. But it will take work. It takes more than Bible tracks and mailing invites. We’ve got to be ready to go to where the people are, and learn about them. Then, we can begin to cultivate the kinds of relationships where true discipleship can thrive. Engaging the culture is a crucial element to discipleship?

How well do you think the Church engages the culture? What are some of the pitfalls of  engaging the culture, and where are some of the treasures?

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Antwuan Malone is a Ministry Director at ELEVATE Young Adult Ministry (elevateministry.net) where empowers young adults toward Christian leadership. He is passionate about seeing young adults take their place in church history by drawing near enough to God to hear his call on their life, and courageously living in obedience to that call.