In this earlier post, I shared what I learned about disciples in Jewish culture. To briefly summarize, a disciple is a replica of the teacher. As Jesus’ disciples, we should think like Him, act like Him, love like Him, serve like Him, pray like Him, teach like Him, be like Him.
Most of our Teacher’s ministry was one-on-one or in small groups. He spoke to the woman at the well; He visited Zaccheus’ home; He ate meals with sinners; He went away from the crowds with His disciples; He taught a small group at Mary and Martha’s home. But some of His ministry was to large crowds. He fed thousands; He went out into a boat to preach to the masses; He taught in a house so crowded a man had to be lowered in through the roof to get to Jesus.
Though I believe we will probably be most effective making disciples in one-on-one situations or in small groups, there are times when we Christians are called to speak to the masses. Think about those first Christians, the original disciples. They preached and thousands became believers in one day. I doubt Peter had intimate one-on-one relationships with the 3000 who trusted Christ during one of his sermons. Peter couldn’t live side-by-side with all of those people and teach them. After Paul began his missionary journeys, he sometimes spoke to large crowds and led people to Christ. I doubt Paul knew each one intimately, and he and Peter probably did a first-century version of “raise your hand if you just prayed that prayer” or altar call. Or maybe it looked more like what some missionaries experience in countries around the world today. Maybe one person shouted out, “I believe!” And then another shouted, “I believe too! It’s true!” And then another and another and another until a crowd of 3000 people were jumping and shouting like a crowd at a football stadium, crying and laughing and proclaiming their trust in Jesus.
So, I say all that to say that I believe it is certainly possible to preach the gospel and make disciples in large crowds. But I also know that some sort of personal follow-up, some real teaching and modeling and true interaction must follow. This is where I think we often drop the ball.
We know Paul wrote letters to the churches he planted. He rebuked them and taught them and encouraged them. He visited them when he could. And he arranged for a more mature Christian to come and stay with them and teach them and live among them and make them into disciples of Christ. Apollos and Timothy and Jason and Tychicus and others are examples of this. Undoubtedly, as these teachers lived in the home of a new believer and ate meals with the people and met together to study the scriptures and read Paul’s letters and repeat the teachings of Jesus, they formed deep relationships. We know that the new believers shared what they had with each other. They met often to eat and study together. I am fairly certain they did not dress up on Sundays, spend their hour together, and then go their separate ways.
These early Christ-followers were a community. Their teachers poured themselves into their disciples. Paul says that he was glad to be spent for his disciples. I think too often, we just don’t want to bother. We’re self-absorbed and busy with our own agendas and our own plans, so we can’t get too involved in other people’s lives. At least, I know that’s how I tend to be. We don’t spend time and energy and money and emotions building real relationships and investing in other people’s lives. It’s much easier to leave a gospel tract in the bathroom at a restaurant or even stand on a street corner and preach than it is to truly involve ourselves in the messy lives of people who need Jesus.
I have more thoughts, but this is long enough for now.