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Do We Assume People Are Farther Along Than They Actually Are?

I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have made this error, even after I first recognized this flaw in my disciplemaking years ago! I assumed the men I met were more spiritually mature than they actually were.

When I left industry in 1980 to join the staff of a national evangelism ministry, I thought their mission, strategy, techniques, and resources were right on the money. I thought that once Christian business or professional men in a community heard what we had to offer, they would grab it and run with it. Well, they did get very excited by my first visit and talked a good game, but when I returned the next time, typically nothing had happened.

So I thought, “Maybe they just don’t understand the biblical basis for what we do and how we do it.” So I put that together and went back. Once again, they got very excited. But still, nothing had happened when I returned yet again.

I started wondering, “Where are these guys?” Mind you, these were generally long-time Christians, leaders in their local churches, Sunday School teachers, successful businessmen. It appeared they had everything they needed to readily engage in a ministry of reaching and discipling other businessmen.

Over the years, I kept asking, “Where are these guys? What keeps them from engaging in the Great Commission to which they agree God has called all of us?” And little by little, God kept backing me up, causing me to realize these men, good guys though they were, were not where I thought they were, despite their Bible knowledge and involvement in their local churches and other ministries. Though solid believers, they were not really followers of Jesus, let alone His disciples.

The mistake I made is one that I see being repeated everywhere I look. In fact, I would say this mistake is the norm, not the exception, for nearly every spiritual growth opportunity we offer in the Church. Rather than finding out where each person is on his spiritual journey and starting there, we start where we think folks are, where we want to start, or where we are ourselves. We hope others will get it. Although we probably cannot spell out the path over which God has brought us (often at our reluctance), we assume others are at the same point we are.

This flaw relates to several other flaws in our list of 17. For example, it is more apt to occur when we are focused on imparting information, rather than realizing transformation. We’re definitely more vulnerable to this error when we’re promoting and delivering a program, a flaw we’ll discuss in another post. And because learning where someone is on his journey requires individual relationships, this mistake is more likely to happen when we are working with a larger group of people at the same time, rather than one-on-one or with just two or three others.

God showed me that all the discipling of men I had learned to do up to that point was indeed good, right, and needful, but the problem was that it was all like a doughnut—it had a big hole in the middle. And until one helps a Christian man fill in that hole, all the rest of what one does with him ends up as just “wish to and wanna be” for him.

Sure he wants to be a good father and good husband. Sure he wants to be a good witness in his work. Sure he wants to be engaged in the Great Commission. But until the hole in his doughnut is filled and settled, all of his good intentions are at the mercy of forces and influences he doesn’t understand or isn’t even aware of. And like a magnet placed near a compass, these forces can pull him off his desired spiritual path and put him in the ditch.

We'll talk about filling that hole in our next post.

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