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Panning for gold or disciples?


January 11, 2016
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Panning for gold is a timely process that involves constant and consistent removal of topsoil. The key to panning for gold is the quantity of soil you have to start with. The greater the quantity, the greater the chance the soil will yield the quality the panner is searching for. A panner shakes his pan in a circular motion, causing the gold to sink to the bottom while the plain soil rises to the top. He then disposes of the topsoil and repeats this sequence a number of times. If the panner fails to patiently shake and release the topsoil in small increments, he is likely to dump the gold out with the topsoil because it has not had time to sink to the bottom. Time, patience, and repetition are the key to successful panning.

Shaking process:

  1. Identify—your target group
    • Begin by praying through a target ministry field: a dorm hall, athletic team, class, sorority or fraternity. Look for areas that overlap with your interests and where God seems to be giving you relational favor. Identify potential places instead of focusing on specific people at this point.
  2. Initiate—immerse yourself in their world
    • Take the first step by entering a person’s world and introducing yourself. Spend a lot of time in the target area. The object is to meet them where they are and learn about them. Become a question asker, and seek to understand them. Very few people ever experience someone who cares about getting to know them. Try to come away with having made identification with Christ.
  3. Invite—introduce them to your world
    • Invite those you have initiated toward to join you in an activity (movie, lunch, ball game, group event). In doing so, you’re taking them away from their comfort zone to a more neutral zone. This allows for less-guarded conversation (because they are not surrounded by people they know) and also supplies them with information about you. Fewer people will accompany you into your world.
  4. Intentional—center the relationship around Christ
    • Start by adding intention to your informal times. Try to direct conversation toward spiritual subjects. Keep this dialogue at first, and try to get them to talk about upbringing, beliefs, and opinions. As the opportunity arises, voice your gospel experience, and try to find points of relation between you and them and look to highlight areas of overlap. Look to balance relational connection and spiritual direction times. Maintain a commitment to love and truth, and look to establish the Bible as a connection point for your relationship and you as their spiritual adviser.
  5. Isolate—make them come to you
    • As you begin to become very intentional with making the gospel the issue in the relationship, analyze their response to this. Are they a learner, or are they disinterested? After a period of time, you will have to choose to give your time somewhere, and the learner needs to become the person with which you spend our time. Find the most committed, willing, and sacrificial learners by raising the challenges of one-on-ones, prayer, meetings, recruitment, and vision and see who follows.
  6. Invest—share and impart your life to them
    • Give them your time and share your journey with them. Let them hear about struggles that you’ve faced and how it challenged, but grew, your faith. Celebrate together – let them see and hear you praising your God for the living hope He continues to provide. Allow them to come alongside you in the day-to-day seemingly mundane parts of life.

Selection of disciples is no doubt similar to the process of panning. It takes time, patience, and repetition to be a successful selector of men. The goal is to find the diamonds in the rough, but a discipler always starts with more rough than diamonds and must find the diamonds among the others. He must perform a series of “shakes” that will separate the topsoil from the gold. Each shake will cause more and more of what is not gold to be disposed and more and more of what is to stay in the pan. The process is repetitive and slow, but those who hone this skill and faith will no doubt regret the result of what is left in the pan. They are the treasure of faithfulness, availability, willingness, and vision that we are looking for!

  • Marc Lewis

    Very helpful! Great metaphor.