With football season just around the corner, I’m getting excited. (My wife is probably even more excited). I have the good fortune of living in Philadelphia, where we have at least one respectable professional team in the Eagles. With maverick coach Chip Kelly and media-favorite QB Tim Tebow in town, the drama leading up to the season promises to be entertaining, if nothing else.
As I watched the first pre-season game, I was re-introduced to all the cheesy cliches I had (happily) forgotten:
- ‘he’s just got to shake off the cobwebs; he’ll be fine’
- ‘we’ve got to play hard on both sides of the ball’
- ‘the best offense is a good defense’
Ah, Coach-Speak. The art of appearing insightful while saying absolutely nothing of real substance or value. It’s one aspect of the game I could live without.
The Point, Please
If you’re still with me, you’re probably wondering where I’m going with this. (At least you’re awake. Gold star for you).
I was thinking about that last example, though, the one about the offense and defense being related. Casual sports fans may think it’s another example of Coach-Speak. That the offense and defense both matter, but, that with different players and skill-sets, they’re essentially unrelated.
I think many Christians treat the main components of the Christian life – discipleship and outreach – a lot like casual sports fans view offense and defense. Like separate entities that both matter, but, basically fall into their own categories.
We have Pastors of Outreach or Discipleship. Small groups for fellowship, and missions trips or service projects for introducing people to Jesus. And our missions committees don’t interface with our Spiritual Formation teams to any significant extent.
A Short Disclaimer
Don’t get me wrong. I think there’s a place for divvying things up like we do. The New Testament talks about differences in our spiritual gifting, such as the offices of evangelist and pastor. And our own experience backs this up, strongly suggesting that most of us will be better at, and gravitate toward, either sharing our faith or building other Christians up.
The Problem With It All
But while there’s real truth to these disclaimers, there’s also a serious error. At least in the way we typically live it out.
We can see it easily by looking at the first disciples. Quite simply, they followed Jesus (discipleship) and shared about Jesus (outreach). Often in the same story. They – and Jesus – saw their lives as seamless wholes rather than neatly-divided fragments.
A Biblical Example
One place this shows up clearly is in the calling of Levi in Luke Chapter 5:27-32 (also found in Matthew 9 and Mark 2). At the beginning of the story, we find Levi hanging out at his tax booth. Jesus shows up, tells him to ‘follow me’, and next thing you know, he’s left his job (and everything else) to follow Jesus.
The intriguing thing, though, is what happens next. In verse (29), we read that Levi ‘held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them’. For Levi, there was no gap, or awkward tension, between becoming a disciple and sharing his faith.
There shouldn’t be for us, either.
This insight has a ton of implications for how we view discipleship and outreach in our own, everyday lives. Here are just two.
1. Discipleship and sharing our faith are – despite initial appearances – closely related. In fact, sharing our faith is a normal part of following Jesus, being a disciple. (Put another way, sharing Jesus (outreach) is part of following Jesus (discipleship). Discipleship is the larger category). The key to it all is tucked away in verse 29: ‘Levi held a great banquet for Jesus…’ It’s not that Levi was having a party and just invited Jesus along. No; he was transformed by meeting Jesus and was so grateful that his response was to throw a party for him!
When we’re excited about something – or someone – we naturally tell others about it. People recommend apps or books to their friends. Videos go viral. We just share what we’re excited about.
Of course, this raises the question: are we really excited about our relationship with Jesus? We’re supposed to be, but many days we’re not. We need to ask God for help to be genuinely excited about him so that we can introduce him to others with real enthusiasm.
2. If we want to share Jesus freely, we’ve got to follow Jesus fully. Notice how Levi ‘left everything’ to follow Jesus. He didn’t first negotiate a deal to retain some of the assets he had acquired in his career as a tax collector. (Which almost certainly involved stealing some of what he collected). He didn’t ask Jesus for clarity on what following him would involve. He put his trust in Jesus and left his old life behind.
The call is the same for us. Jesus wants all of us. Not in a demanding, ‘I’m the King’ kind of way. But he does want us to follow him fully, whatever the cost.
When we do, we’re able to share him freely. Without reservation or fear. Two areas of our life that feel fragmented are, in reality, very closely related. When we make progress in our discipleship, it overflows to others as sharing Christ becomes more natural.
When we’re not following fully, it affects our ability to introduce others to Jesus. If we’re giving into some secret sin, for example, it creates hesitancy in recommending Jesus to others. We keep our distance from the people we want to reach, afraid that if they knew who we ‘really are’ they would find us hypocritical. The more we find Jesus attractive and back that up with our lives, the more we can passionately share him with others.
So, it turns out, the best offense really is a good defense. When we leave everything behind and follow Jesus as passionate disciples, others have the opportunity to meet him through us. We still need tons of grace, of course, but it’s encouraging that following Jesus with growing integrity will naturally lead to more effectiveness in sharing him with others. More than new techniques, we simply need to follow Jesus as Levi did.
Let’s live it out: What area of your discipleship are you struggling with? How might that be affecting your ability to introduce others to Jesus?