Barry Cooper is a co-founder of Christianity Explored Ministries. He lives with his wife, Lee, in New Smyrna Beach, Florida: the shark attack capital of the world.
Like the black eyes of the Mona Lisa, they follow you everywhere: those internet ads which promise one simple technique that will burn off belly fat.
Maybe it’s just me they’re following. I suspect the marketers are aware I’m solidly in the “needs to burn off belly fat” demographic, having recently married and moved to America.
But I'm not the only one who loves a simple technique, a silver bullet, or a magic wand. It's a promise also held out by a hundred books, resources and DVD series on the subject of evangelism and discipling.
Do those promises deliver? Given that we’re still susceptible to the same promises - which must mean none of the previous ones have delivered - I suspect we already know the answer.
So if none of the quick fixes work, how can we be better disciple-makers?
The most important verse
In my view, the single most important biblical verse about how we can be better disciplers and evangelists is Matthew 12:34, where Jesus says: “for the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” In other words, if we want our mouths to speak more winsomely about Jesus, we first need to fill our hearts with him.
And there’s no quick fix for a heart that isn’t full of Jesus.
Pharisees like us
“For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” It’s highly significant that Jesus says this to the Pharisees.
Like us, the Pharisees were religious folks with a weakness for superficial religious technique and spiritual life-hacking. "If we say and do certain things, then we'll get the results we want." In effect, they'd come to see the commandments as “Ten Steps To Get Right With God” - a kind of ancient Buzzfeed list, albeit better written and with fewer rude words.
But that fixation on technique and surface-level change was actually keeping them from God, and from genuine, inward transformation. As a result, the Lord said of them (quoting Isaiah), “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”
That distance - between our hearts and God - is the biggest single problem for our personal discipling and evangelism. And techniques won't fix it.
When I was trying to convince my wife to marry me, I didn’t have a set of chat-up lines I’d memorised. Frankly, that kind of thing has never worked for me. It always sounded fake and over-rehearsed. And Lee is far too savvy - she’d know I was just using a line on her.
I knew that if I was going to convince her to be my wife, I’d need to take seriously those words in Matthew 12: “for the mouth speaks what the heart is full of”. I’d need to speak from my heart rather than from someone else’s. Thankfully, because my heart was full of her, it wasn’t hard. Even the stumbles and bumbles were (apparently) quite charming.
Deep down, like the middle-aged man trying to work off extra lumber by drinking half a gallon of wine vinegar before breakfast, we know that the shortcuts and quick fixes don’t really work.
But that’s ok. Because that realisation can introduce us to a better way: filling our heart with Christ so that we can speak more naturally of him.
Our resources, Christianity Explored, Discipleship Explored and Life Explored, go beyond simply teaching the right moves and focus on the music which drives evangelism and discipleship: the love of Christ.
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