“Old School” Discipleship
Nolan Ryan is one of my favorite all time baseball players. He is a Major League Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher who holds multiple records, including 5,714 strikeouts and seven no-hitters. A right handed pitcher who threw fastballs over 100 mph, he was known as “The Ryan Express.” As a fan favorite, three different teams retired his number. What’s even more astounding is he accomplished these feats spanning four different decades! He played until age 46, more seasons than any player since 1900.
How did he do it?
How was he able to maintain his effectiveness all those years?
Well, in the era of all the MLB doping scandals, Ryan chose to take the road less traveled: just a lot of plain “old school” hard work!
His coaches will tell you his strength and conditioning routines are the stuff of legend. Hour upon hour, every single day, he did the same rigorous exercises over and over. No exceptions. His teammates may have called him “grandpa,” but he didn’t care.
With unbending determination, he stuck with the basics, and would allow nothing to deter him. He had no interest in cutting corners, getting fancy, or experimenting with the latest trends. He was dedicated and disciplined. He knew what had gotten him there, and he wasn’t going to swerve to the left or the right!
Now that Ryan is 70 (and I’m not too far behind him!) it reminds me of my meeting with Curt tomorrow. It’s a two-hour lunch, but it really is what I call a “follow up” appointment.
Curt, a fraternity guy I had in a small group investigative study last Spring, finally prayed to receive Christ about 10 days ago. Since then, I’ve been meeting with Curt to help him get started in his new Christian faith. I’m going to have Matt join us, another fraternity guy who came to Christ a while back, who I’m trying to equip to lead others to Christ and disciple them.
Call me old school, but like Ryan, I too know what got me here, so I stick with the fundamentals!
I still love to sit with a guy and slowly and powerfully read through The Four Spiritual Laws booklet Dr. Bill Bright created sometime before the Vietnam War! The principles and illustrations it uses to explain key Bible passages will always be simple, but profound. You might say it’s too dated or elementary to use today, but Curt, my 4.0 pre-med campus leader, sure enjoyed it! Even though he was raised in a Christian home and thought he was a believer, he would point to just last week (and this booklet) as his conversion moment. Asking him which circle represented his life, and which circle he wanted to represent his life, shot an arrow right to his heart. He thought the The Four Spiritual Laws was so life-changing he wanted an extra copy he could take a friend through the next day. So simple, so basic, so reproducible. (Order copies of the booklet or download free pdf).
Once he invited Christ into his life to be his savior and lord, I immediately wanted to get Curt started on daily quiet times. Meeting with God through prayer and the Scriptures each morning is the quickest and most effective way to help Curt start to develop a deepening relationship with Jesus. I gave him another “old school” resource called Seven Minutes With God that Navpress puts out. It’s so ancient they don’t even bother to put a publishing date on it! But don’t let the age or brevity of the pamphlet fool you. It is a classic that will help any believer take baby steps to a consistent devotional life. The author, Robert D. Foster, goes through the ACTS acronym of Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. He claims any person can carve out just seven minutes if they want to: 30 seconds for a prayer of guidance, 4 minutes in Bible reading, and then a final 2.5 minutes using the ACTS prayer model. So simple, so basic, so reproducible. (Order copies of the booklet).
Yes, a clear understanding of the gospel and a tool to help Curt get started on quiet times are both essentials. But the thing I’ve found over the years (I too have been following up new Christians now in four different decades!) that builds the deepest roots is scripture memory. My preferred “go to” resource is the Beginning With Christ packet the Navigators have been producing since the 1940’s. It is bite size and so practical. I read a paragraph out loud. Curt reads a paragraph out loud. Either of us stop and ask a question or share a thought whenever we want to. It methodically goes through the “Five Assurances” (Assurance of Salvation, Forgiveness, Guidance, Victory Over Temptation, and Answered Prayer), with tear-out scripture cards of the key verses they recommend you memorize printed out. Curt came back with all five verses down cold. I could tell his spiritual confidence and assurances were getting stronger and stronger. Beginning With Christ and Scripture memory cards. So simple, so basic, so reproducible.
Tomorrow I’m going to go through part of The Four Laws again with Curt to make sure he truly understands his decision. Then I will ask him about how his quiet time is going and if he is enjoying his Seven Minutes With God each morning. Next, I will review him on the five assurance verses he memorized in the Beginning With Christ booklet. Lastly, we will open up a little larger booklet I gave him last week to work through. It’s called Lessons on Assurance, and is a self-guided, mini Bible study on each of those five assurance verses Curt now knows. We will flip through it page by page and let Curt make any comment or ask any question he wants. I want him to fully understand each of these verses. Even though this 1960’s era Navs booklet uses the old “ask a question and look up the verse for the answer” teaching style, it hits the spot with each person I go through it with. We’re not trying to get scholarly and exotic with deep doctrinal insights. No, just slow and steady with practical biblical truths. So simple, so basic, so reproducible.
After we finish up Lessons on Assurance, I will start taking Curt through a series of 20 lessons in The Basics, a follow up tool I created almost 30 years ago. It covers the essential topics a young believer needs to know and assimilate into their life to move from a convert to a disciple. I think Curt will love it. I know Matt, the more mature believer who will be joining us tomorrow, likes The Basics. After I went through them with him, he started taking a new convert of his through them. I think they are almost finished. All of the tools I have mentioned thus far, including The Basics, are so simple, so basic, so reproducible.
OK. I warned you I was “old school!”
Yes, I went to seminary and sat under all kinds of brilliant professors. Yes, I have read zillions of books on almost every theological topic there is. Even though I have forgotten most of it, I dare not pull out any of my deep doctrinal profundities during my one-on-ones with new Christians, and attempt to wow them with my vast and extraordinary grasp of the Holy Writ.
You see, as I am getting ready for any appointment with a new or young Christian, I have two options. One is a big winner, and the other—a big loser!
The Big Win
If after I pull out my little booklet and all we do is read it together, paragraph by paragraph, and at the end, he thinks “That’s it? That’s all you got, Shadrach? Even I could do that!” YES! If he walks away after each session thinking what you covered was so simple, so basic, so reproducible that even he could pass that on to someone else–HUGE WIN.
That, my friend, is the objective!
And, in fact, all through our appointment I’m sneaking in little snippets of vision and challenge to him, i.e. “Now Curt, when you take someone else through this booklet, have them tear out these cards, and show them how to memorize a verse.” It plants all kinds of awesome multiplication seeds in their mind and heart.
I yearn to fulfill what Paul told Timothy to do in 2 Timothy 2:2 and entrust the Truth to faithful men “who will be able to teach others also.” Utilizing this principle of transferability, and putting everything down on the “bottom shelf” for your disciple, will set them up for success, thus preparing them to be “able to teach others also” exactly what you taught them!
The Big Loss
If on the other hand, you choose to do extensive preparation, come up with your own customized outline of verses, cross references, in-depth questions, insights, and personal sharing, you will pay a dear price for it. Your young believer may not say anything, but he will walk out of that session in awe, thinking, “Wow, my discipler is a Super-Christian. They must know the entire Bible! I could never do what he just did.”
Guess what? You just lost. Big time.
If that new Christian cannot picture themselves taking the material and process you utilized and quickly, easily, and confidently pass it on to others, you just hit a dead end street.
You may make a disciple, but I doubt that person will ever be a disciple-maker. You may be doing addition, but I’ve never seen healthy multiplication come out of these kinds of Christian leaders who cannot exercise enough humility and self-control to keep everything simple, basic, and reproducible.
FYI: You don’t have to use my old school resources.
You may have found other ones you like better. But measure every tool, every approach you use, by the standards I have repeated here. Is it simple? Is it basic? Is it reproducible? As you use those same biblically sound tools over and over again, they will not only become second nature to you, they will become second nature to your disciples, and their disciples…and the chain continues.
Well friend, what do you think? Why can’t you be this generation’s “Nolan Ryan of the Great Commission?”
Spend the next four decades getting on track, staying on track, and not letting any of the latest and most popular Christian fads pull you off course.