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Down to Earth DisciplingEssential Principles to Guide Your Personal Ministry
By SCOTT MORTON
NAVPRESSCopyright © 2003 Scott Morton
All right reserved.
Chapter OneYour Secret Asset in Ministry
You possess a powerful secret resource for ministry. It can open the hearts of Christian friends; it can melt the skepticism of nonbelievers. And it reduces the size of your personal problems. It is readily at hand-you can use it whenever you are around people.
Is it intercessory prayer? No, though that is indispensable. Is it your spiritual gifts? No, but those are helpful. Is it finding a dynamic church? No, but it helps to have a team of likeminded friends. Furthermore, you needn't go to seminary or a retreat to learn to use your hidden asset.
What is it? Here is a clue from Colin Powell, speaking to the National Endowment for the Humanities in Washington D.C. in 1999. He pleaded with the delegates to help economically deprived young people, but warned, "It's more than just throwing computers at them." He went on to explain that organizing programs is not enough. Powell asked people to spend quality time with youngsters-to give them personal attention one by one. The result?
You should see those kids being tutored by old, retired geezers at my church. And suddenly these kids are saying, "White people are not enemies-look at them; they spend their Saturday mornings with me."
What is your secret ministry asset? The power of personal attentiveness. Colin Powell understands that programs alone cannot bring lasting change, but personal attention to people one by one can make the difference of a lifetime.
Do we have the same understanding in Christian ministry? There is no shortage of Christian programs in the U.S. On any given weekend believers can find seminars on church growth, spiritual formation, leadership skills, discovering one's spiritual gifts, handling money, and rejuvenating marriages. All helpful.
But despite the multiplication of good teaching, good books, good videos, and good churches, research shows we are not penetrating the culture with the gospel. Frankly, we are not much different from the nonChristian culture we seek to save. A manager of a large hotel told me the hotel sells more in-room pornographic movies during Christian conventions than any others!
The kingdom of God needs more than programs. We need a massive dose of millions of believers demonstrating personal attentiveness. We seem not to realize the power one life can have on another. Proverbs 27:17 says it best: "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another" (NIV). The picture here is of a farm implement-metal rubbing against metal and becoming sharper in the process, like sharpening a knife. But notice that iron sharpens iron. Creampuffs do not sharpen creampuffs! Pillows do not sharpen pillows! Gummy bears do not sharpen gummy bears! Furthermore, iron can't sharpen iron from a distance-iron must touch iron! In the same way, people can sharpen one another only if they are in close proximity-close enough to "rub."
The Shoe Store Clerk
When personal attentiveness is added to a "program," the results can be powerful. Not many of us have heard of Edward Kimball. (No, not Richard Kimble, "The TV Fugitive," who spent a half-hour each week in the 1960s searching for a one-armed man.) He taught a Sunday school class for young working men in Boston. In the midst of revival services at his church program, Kimball left his lodging at America House on Saturday morning, April 21, 1855, impressed that the Lord wanted him to speak to one of his students employed as a shoe clerk. He describes his visit to Holton's shoe store:
I thought maybe my mission might embarrass the boy, that when I went away the other clerks might ask who I was, and when they learned might taunt [him] and ask if I was trying to make a good boy out of him. While I was pondering over it all I passed the store without noticing it. Then when I found I had gone by the door I determined to make a dash for it and have it over at once.
Not exactly a bold leader! Nonetheless, Kimball found the young clerk in the back wrapping shoes in paper and stacking them on shelves. Kimball continued: "I went up to him and put my hand on his shoulder, and as I leaned over I placed my foot upon a shoe box." There were tears in Kimball's eyes as he told the young man about Christ, "who loved him and who wanted his love." Kimball recalled afterward that it was quite a weak plea, and he could not remember the exact words he used. But the young clerk received Jesus Christ that very hour.
No one remembers Edward Kimball, but most of us have heard of the young shoe store clerk-D. L. Moody! The personal attentiveness of Edward Kimball multiplied over the next forty-five years to millions of people through the worldwide preaching of D. L. Moody.
Though Moody attended church services, that is not where he came to Christ. It was not even in Sunday school class-though both the class and the church services prepared him. It was not a program that reached Moody, but rather the one-to-one personal attentiveness of a fearful Sunday school teacher.
And Moody passed it on. In his crusades, Moody urged his "personal workers" (as he called them) to be patient and thorough in dealing with each inquirer: "No hurrying from one to another. Wait patiently and ply them with God's Word, and think, Oh! think what it is to win a soul for Christ, and don't grudge the time spent on one person."
"Don't grudge the time spent on one person." Amazing! That is different from today's football-like, hurry-up evangelical offense whose playbook calls for filling large rooms with people, hoping they will attentively watch PowerPoint presentations.
This is not to say that group meetings are not important. Indeed, it was at a group event that I was prompted by the Holy Spirit to surrender to Christ. Both events and face-to-face encounters are needed. But group meetings don't inconvenience themselves to go downtown to a shoe store and win a clerk to Christ.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said it well:
Let three of you come together and you shall not have one new and hearty word. Two may talk and one may hear, but three cannot take part in a conversation of the most sincere and searching sort.
But one-to-one ministry is so slow. Why teach one once? Saves time and money!
Yes, it is slow, but what are we measuring-bodies at a meeting house? Samuel Shoemaker said, "disciples are not mass-produced; they are hewn out one by one."
What can you do? You know enough about walking with Christ to realize you must have an outlet-you know you must be a river, not a swamp. You know that your intimacy with Christ will shrivel if you're only a consuming spectator rather than a player on the field. Like me, you realize that when you share your life with others, your own problems seem to reduce in size. But where to start? You want to make a difference in people's lives personally-but how?
How did Jesus do it? Though He taught large groups and small groups, He knew the value of personal attentiveness with one person at a time. For example:
He separated Peter from the other disciples to commission him to "tend my lambs" (John 21:15).
He purposely sought out the blind man He had healed in order to follow up (John 9:35).
He usually healed people one or two at a time-not in groups (though group healings would have helped more people and saved time).
He singled out Thomas to reveal lack of faith. He singled out Zacchaeus in the tree, the woman with the issue of blood, Matthew at his tax desk, and James and John as they fished along the lake.
Jesus did much in groups, but personal attentiveness was a high valve. But Jesus is not alone in His one-to-one approach. Examples of face-to-face personal attentiveness are scattered throughout the Bible.
Jethro reproved Moses for the way he was leading (Exodus 18:13-23).
In spite of great danger, Jonathan went to David to encourage him in God (1 Samuel 23:16).
Moses charged Joshua-not a group, but one man-with the leadership of Israel (Deuteronomy 3:28).
Aquila and Priscilla honed in on Apollos to explain "the way of God more perfectly" (Acts 18:24-28, KJV).
Where do you start? Don't volunteer for another committee. Don't ask to teach the biggest class at church. Begin with one person in your world who needs help.
But will personal attentiveness make a difference today? It made a difference to Robert. I'd known Robert through mutual friends, and we connected frequently over several months. He was recently back from Germany, where he had served his military term and was looking for a job. He wondered whether I had a job to offer him.
"No, but let's get together and go over your résumé," I said, sounding more confident than I actually was! We met at a sandwich shop one noon and went over his résumé. That didn't take long, but we enjoyed getting better acquainted. Realizing I might not see him again because he might move soon, I asked if I could tell him about something that had made a big difference in my life-my spiritual journey. And I said I wanted to hear about his spiritual history, too. "OK," he said cautiously.
So I turned over the greasy placemat, took out my pen, and traced my spiritual journey using the bridge illustration (see appendix, page 149). I didn't preach. The response was silence. I felt a little like Edward Kimball-wanting to make a dash for it! "Robert, what's your spiritual background?" I heard a voice saying, not certain it was mine.
Robert smiled. "Not much," he said. "My dad never stayed around, but when he was home, this Jehovah's Witness guy kept stopping by. I read a little of his stuff. That's about it."
"Could I take that diagram home?" Robert said, pointing to the placemat.
My next risk was suggesting we meet to read about the life of Jesus. He cautiously agreed, and we began getting together in his tiny duplex at 7 A.M. every second Tuesday. I'd bring three Burger King breakfast croissants-one for Robert, one for me, and one for his teenage son, who grabbed it on his way out the door heading for school.
At each of our meetings, Robert and I read one chapter of John's gospel and discussed it. No notes, no handouts, no sermonettes, no opening or closing prayers, no easy answers. Just Robert, me, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit.
I took my time. Robert turned out to be highly opinionated about Jehovah's Witnesses, the military, and women, to name three. I listened and tried to bring him back to John's text. Jesus was a mystery. I didn't pin him down to receive Christ, lest he make a premature decision.
After eight months Robert said he wasn't "good enough to receive Christ-got to make some changes first." True, Robert had some bad habits-smoking, drinking, cursing, and chasing women, for starters-but I had not railed against these during our breakfast studies. I kept the focus on Christ. He said, "Scott, in the mornings I get up and look under my car to see if I hit somebody while driving home drunk the night before."
I tried to explain that Christ changes a person over time and that no one has the willpower to change without God's help anyway. But Robert persisted: "Not good enough." Even Romans 5:8 ("while we were yet sinners") didn't help.
To my surprise, a few weeks later Robert asked if I thought a person could "do business with God on their smoke break." I raised up in my chair. "I took a smoke break at work last night... knew I needed to surrender ... tears came. I couldn't stop crying, and I asked Jesus to come in."
Tears came to my eyes too. But that was just the beginning. Robert and I kept reading John together. Then I showed him how to memorize verses about assurance. I had moved from evangelism to discipling.
I tell this story to illustrate the power of personal attentiveness. There were half a dozen churches within a few blocks of Robert's duplex, but he didn't attend any of them. He had cable TV with a couple million channels, including religious ones, but he didn't tune in. Religious programs were advertised in our daily newspaper for single dads, but he didn't go. "Program" were available, but it took my weak-kneed personal attentiveness to be the catalyst for Robert's finding Christ.
Edward Kimball-my hero! Soon Robert began attending the storefront church that had been there all the time. He was baptized and became active in their church programs, which supplied the momentum I could not supply one to one.
Neither programs nor personal attentiveness can thrive without the other, but in Christian ministry today we are overbalanced on the program side. We've got plenty of wonderful programs, but thousands of people like my friend Robert bypass these programs every day. Instead of expecting people to come to our programs, we need to go to them with loving one-to-one personal attentiveness. Once they see we care genuinely, once they see we have words of life, then they may take an interest in spiritual growth.
Can you make a difference? Why not ask God to give you one person to focus on? It may be a woman who rarely speaks up in Tuesday morning moms Bible study group. Maybe she doesn't have assurance of salvation. Or it may be a nonbeliever who would never darken the door of a church, but wouldn't think twice about joining you for lunch at a favorite sandwich shop.
But don't limit your personal attentiveness to only one lucky individual who is going to be your spiritual mentoree whether she likes it or not! Don't pick out "the one" just yet. Show attentiveness to many people-the new neighbor, the new assistant at work, the copier repair guy, the teen who babysits your kids, the mechanic who can't seem to find the problem with your transmission. (Perhaps the reason he can't find the problem is so that you will have opportunities to build a friendship with him!) Ask God to enable you to share your life with several people. He'll let you know when it is time to invite one to read the gospel of John with you.
But isn't this already happening? With the success of so many Christian activities, aren't all having their spiritual needs met? Unfortunately, the old adage is true: "Everyone's responsibility becomes no one's responsibility."
Years ago I took a group of college students to the beaches of Florida on a spring break trip. There were twelve of us in a 1953 Ford school bus, including Sydne, a newcomer to the group. On the return trip, we pulled away from a gas stop in a small Alabama town, and five miles down the road someone asked, "Where's Sydne?" She wasn't in the bus! I was driving and immediately screeched to a stop and made a U-turn.
Excerpted from Down to Earth Discipling by SCOTT MORTON Copyright © 2003 by Scott Morton. Excerpted by permission.
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