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But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, Where are you? – Genesis 3:9
“Where are you” was the question the Lord asked Adam after he sinned and fled from the Garden of Eden. The Lord was not asking this question because He did not know where Adam was. Omniscient God knows all things past, present, and future. He was asking Adam the question because Adam did not know where Adam was. The Lord was leading Adam by drawing him out.
Discipleship is similar to this first sin scene recorded in the Bible. Astute disciplers know the primary problem before they ever meet with an individual. Understanding the problem is not the challenge. The difficulty in discipleship is knowing how to lead a person to the solution.
Let me illustrate. Suppose you were teaching a five-year-old math. You give the child a simple problem like 2 + 2 = 4. You know the problem and the solution. The five-year-old understands the problem but is unsure of the answer.
Your job is to figure out how to teach the kid to get from 2 + 2 (the problem) to 4 (the solution). Math teachers lead students from the problem to the answer. Good disciplers do similarly.
The million-dollar question is, what’s the unique, yet common problem that every person struggles? The good news is that competent discipleship is not rocket science, and the human condition is not so complicated that we can’t bring proper care to fellow strugglers.
Though you may disciple one thousand people and though they will have a thousand different stories, the wise discipler knows that all stories are rooted in one common problem. My problem and your problem is the same problem that Adam had in the beginning.
Adam’s problem was whether or not he would believe God. After Adam decided not to trust God, his story developed uniquely. He had our universal common problem (unbelief), though his story played out differently.
It is impossible (and even unnecessary) to know everything about a person. But it is essential that you understand how the doctrine of sin (Hamartiology) intersects with the doctrine of man (Anthropology) to create the doctrine of the soul (Psychology). And at that intersection will be our common temptation not to trust God.
Though Jesus is the way, each person uniquely comes to Him. In John 3 the Savior had a counseling session with Nicodemus. In John 4 the Savior had another counseling session with a Samaritan woman. Both of these individuals had the same problem. They were not living in belief. (In their situations, it was a lack of regeneration, not a sanctification issue. The core problem is always the same whether the person is a believer or unbeliever.)
Jesus did not give them two solutions. He gave both of them the same solution: you must believe (John 3:7; 4:13-14) The important thing to understand here is that Nicodemus, the Samaritan lady, Adam, you, and I struggle the same way in our hearts. Christ knew this, of course. In this case, you could say that one size does fit all!
Warning! Though we all have the same core problem, we do not do “cookie-cutter-counseling.” Christ did not use the same method to bring these two unbelievers to belief. He understood, discerned, sympathized, and loved them according to their individuality.
He listened to their story, and while listening to them, He figured out how to bring them from their story to His story. That, my friend, is “Discipleship 101,” and something all Christians need to know and do.
You can learn about a person’s story. You can figure out where they have been. But as you are determining their story, you must also begin the process of leading them from where they are to where they need to be. Remember, the Lord was leading Adam by good question asking.
One of the reasons I don’t ask for information before I meet someone or require intake forms is because I already know the solution to their problem. Whatever struggle they are going through, their biggest hurdle will be trusting God enough to follow His path.
Rather than gathering data before I meet with them, my preference is to sit with them, listen to their story, ask relevant questions, while also asking the Lord to use me to bring this person into a greater understanding, appreciation, and application of His Word in their lives. If they do begin to trust God, the process of soul care can be transformative, whether or not their problems turn out the way they want them to.
The kind of discipleship I’m talking about here requires “two-level listening.”
Level #1 – I am listening to their story. I want to know as much as possible about them. I want to know the good, bad, and ugly of their lives. I want to get into their heads and think the way they think. It is important that I exegete them to the point where I truly understand them.
Once I am thinking the way they are thinking, I can begin the process of bringing them to where they need to be. You could say it this way: I go to them and become like them (this is the gospel: Philippians 2:7-8). Then I begin the grunt work of bringing them to the cross.
Level #2 – While I am listening to their story and asking them questions, I am praying, asking the Lord to show me the path to bring them to a gospel-centered and gospel-motivated trust in Him. You could say that Level #1 is external, behavioral type questions, while Level #2 is going after their hearts, their functional belief system.