Praying for Your Waitress?
I’ll never forget the day, two years ago, when I was at lunch with some church buddies at a Tex-Mex joint in Austin. One of my friends, Tina, asked our waitress if there was any way that Tina could pray for her as she came to take our order. So many thoughts and emotions flooded my mind all at once: Did she really just ask that? You can do that? That’s so easy! Why haven’t I ever done that before?
I had been following Jesus for more than 20 years at the time. A deep desire to share Jesus with anyone who didn’t know him had been with me every one of those 20 years. But, so often, even though the desire was there, I didn’t end up sharing with those I wanted to. Why not?
“Once our food comes out we’re going to thank God for our meal. Is there anything going on in your life today that we could also ask God to help with? Any miracle he could do in your life right now?”
The question my friend asked was so simple, so natural, and yet so genuine and caring. She really wanted to know how she could pray for her waitress. I hadn’t ever seen an evangelistic approach that (in mymind, at least) found a good balance between the two most common extremes–one that was both intentional and caring. The approaches with which I was most familiar always seemed to fall either to the side of being awkwardly direct, or of being socare-focused that you never actually get around to sharing the gospel at all but just spend a lot of time “building the relationship.”
What Was Missing
Perhaps these are anxieties especially suited to an ENFP on the Myers-Briggs. Either way, I had lived in and out of both approaches most of my life without ever being fully satisfied with either one. And to be completely honest, I saw very little fruit, if any, in all those years with eitherapproach. I know now that there are multiple reasons for this–perhaps the biggest one being that at the end of the day (or month, or year) I just wasn’t really sharing the gospel that often. But that’s not what I’m going to talk about here. I don’t think the average American Christian primarily just needs more reminders to “go and share.” I also don’t think there’s a silver bullet– a perfect approach to evangelism. The best we can do is to follow the example of Jesus and his disciples, which filters down into several guiding principles and truths.
That being said, looking back at my struggles, I can see now that what I was deeply missing over those 20 years was not any knowledge of the gospel. Nor was it a desire to share the gospel. Nor was it lack of sermons, books, and conversations encouraging me to share the gospel. The Holy Spirit had put the desire there, and had continued to prompt me to do it my entire life.
What I was lacking and very much needing to mature in obedience and faithfulness in proclaiming was someone who could model for me what it looked like to share the gospel in everyday life–not in a “share the gospel, and when necessary, use words” sense–but in a way where the gospel was regularly coming out of my mouth, even in the everyday moments of life, and in a way that was also helpful to the listener. In short, regular, simple, and helpful.
I hadn’t experienced the kind of lifestyle Tina was demonstrating, in such close proximity, in 20 years of following Jesus. The more time I spent with Tina and her husband Austin, the more I saw that they did this everywhere they went: at the grocery store, in their driveway when other neighbors happened to be out in the yard, with their barista. You get the picture. (Yes, they still did planned evangelistic outreaches with friends and with their church, and so do I. We should. But Austin and Tina didn’t live as though evangelism was a separate ministry in their life to which they gave some time in their schedule alongside family time, Bible study, fellowship, work, and hobbies. For them it was an on-the-go lifestyle in a way that I hadn’t witnessed before.)
Reproducing a Disciple-Making Lifestyle
Austin and Tina didn’t just wake up one day, full of conviction and the Holy Spirit, and start doing this. It turned out that they had seen their friends Chris and Becca do the same thing. So they asked Chris and Becca if they could learn from them and spend time with them. And Chris and Becca had learned from mentors of theirs, who had also been discipled in a similar lifestyle. Each believer in the chain was faithfully learning, living, and reproducing what they were living into other disciples, not just by instructing them, but by living it out in front of them and with them.
That last part was so important for me. The way I learn by seeing and doing is so much more powerful than what I learn in a classroom, in a podcast, or in a book. What I was missing most to grow in the ways the Holy Spirit had been prompting me to grow was someone to model for me what an evangelistic lifestyle actually looks like: a way that was simple, helpful, reproducing, and fruit-bearing.
The prayer conversations I witnessed above were not just asks for prayer. Austin and Tina had a comfortable rhythm of connecting with anyone and everyone which turned into sharing the gospel by means of a few simple questions, a 15-second testimony of how Jesus had personally changed their life, and a simple gospel illustration. Prayer was just the entry into care and into opening up a spiritual conversation in the otherwise mundane moments of life with family, friends, and strangers.
I needed to see that. I needed to see that regularly. It built up my confidence quickly and encouraged me. This is easy! Why had I made it so complicated? I couldn’t get enough. I also couldn’t stop trying to help my friends learn how to do the same after floundering for so many years in my own attempts. I wanted to save others from the kind of angst of feeling like you’ve been trying to use a hammer your whole life when a screwdriver would have been much easier and more effective.
The Wrong Focus
It’s no coincidence, I think, that around the same time God used one of the most familiar passages in my Bible to gently rebuke me and draw out a lesson for me that I had not noticed before. The passage is Matthew 28:18-20.
Go and make disciples of all nations… teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.
Something hit me, and it hit me hard. Jesus didn’t just say “go and make converts.” He said “make disciples.” I realized that after more than 20 years of following Jesus, I couldn’t say with any certainty that I had made even a single disciple in my entire life. I just stared and stared at that passage as I meditated on the words… make disciples.
I had invited others to church. I had shared the gospel (occasionally). I had led Bible studies and book studies. But I really couldn’t say that through any of that I’m sure it ever produced a disciple. (The emphasis here is intended to be less about any one person taking credit for when a disciple “is made”, and more about a deep and growing conviction from the Holy Spirit that I had gotten off track somewhere from what Jesus taught and modeled).
So now this passage is staring me in the face. I read it over again. And again.
…teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.
…teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.
What an interesting combination of words I hadn’t really noticed before in the Great Commission.
What would be the difference in saying “teach them everything that I have commanded you,” and, “teach them to obey everything I have commanded you”? They sound very similar at first, but the difference is crucial.
What is a disciple? Someone who learns, grows, and obeys Jesus.
Those two extra words, implying obedience and not just knowledge, jumped out at me like they never had before. As a disciple, how was I doing at obeying? Pretty well, I thought.What about all of Jesus’ commands? How was I doing at obeying the command to go and make disciples? Not so well, I realized. I had learned a lot about discipleship (gained head knowledge), had grown in maturity and in spiritual disciplines as a follower of Jesus over twenty years, but how was my obedience in disciple-making going?
And, going one step farther, how was I doing at teaching others to obey Jesus’ command to make disciples? That’s when a lot of the dots connected between Jesus’ discipleship command and my evangelism struggles. My aim for 20 years had been too small. Namely, my efforts had been primarily to impart right thinking or right doctrine, and my goal primarily to make a convert. I wasn’t really aiming for anything more than believer when I really should have set my sights on faithful, reproducing disciple, like Jesus did.
Jesus’ Discipleship Model
Jesus’ ministry wasn’t just a lot of preaching and teaching behind closed doors, followed by commands to his disciples to “go and do it.” It did include all of those things. But as Jesus preached, and taught, he also went and did exactly what he spoke about, with his disciples literally following him around everywhere he went. He was modeling. They watched. They listened. They observed. They practiced on their own with Jesus present to guide and then eventually without Jesus being physically present (Luke 9 and 10). He was showing them, every step of the way, how to live out all of the things he was teaching. He was modeling for them how to preach (share) the gospel and how to make faithful, reproducing disciples.
This leads me to imagine that, after three years of ministry with Jesus, as he leaves them with final instructions to “go, and make disciples of all nations,” not one of his disciples had to call a team huddle to debrief Jesus’ command. I don’t think any of them were scratching their heads about just what it was he meant by “disciples,” and what their role in the process was. All of them knew exactly what making disciples looked like because they had actually been doing it with Jesus for three years. He had taught and then modeled for them what it looked like in an everyday, day-by-day mentorship. I didn’t realize how much I needed that kind of life-on-life mentorship of practical obedience, how much I needed to be taught to obey, not just taught.
It’s been a rich and joyful journey since encountering Austin and Tina, full of simple tools, lots of baby steps, even more mistakes, followed by more questions and learning and observation from those who are a step ahead of me, followed by even more practicing. Rinse and repeat, along the way, every day. Now I’m learning how to take others with me as I go–how to be a “Tina” to others. God continues to kindly teach me more about what it looks like to be obedient in disciple-making and what it looks like not just to teach others, but to teach them to obey.