I teach evangelism, discipleship and spiritual formation, and how to help new believers form local churches that multiply. Occasionally, friends and colleagues from my own mission organization will challenge this work saying that following Jesus is a non-linear process and what I teach reduces following Jesus to a simple, linear, step-by-step process.
Most of this well-intentional criticism is primarily from those in post-Christian cultures. I appreciate their engagement and do not fear this pushback because I know that, while life is not linear, that education and training and transferable discipleship requires approaching it as if it is linear.
I’m reading Steve Smith’s Spirit Walk book and found this excellent understanding of this complexity:
The Spirit Walk is unpredictable. But the process of learning the steps of walking in the Spirit of God is predictable. The Bible and its application throughout history point to common patterns that we must follow. They are the spiritual disciplines of learning to let the Spirit guide us every day. [Spirit Walk, Steve Smith, page 40.]
The word “process” is defined as “a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end.” Steve is saying that, while truly walking in the Spirit day by day is an unpredictable experience because of who the Spirit is, we can LEARN to be obedient through a series of actions or steps taken in order. Ministry to others, whether evangelistic or spiritual formation, is rarely a linear, predictable process, but we can teach others to be effective by teaching the steps in a process of engaging others.
I appreciate Steve Smith’s 3 Ps of movement-building: a common pathway for discipleship, a common process that is teachable, repeatable and transferable and a common power available to all that comes through walking with the Spirit of God.
This fits well with my engineering education. Most of the physical laws in our universe are complex and not linear. But in order to train engineers, we make some assumptions that simplify the basic physical laws of the universe. My first courses were spent solving engineering problems in this simple, linear space. Then we admit later on that it is more complex and instead of linear equations that predict behavior, we actually have to learn what is called partial differential equations. These are equations that are too complex to actually solve except by making assumptions which simplify them and give acceptable accuracy (99.9%). Maybe they train engineers differently in this era of very powerful computers than can model and offer solutions very quickly. But the guys who put a man on the moon with less computing power than my cellphone did it by solving very complex problems by simplifying them into a step-by-step process.
We do the same with teaching a process of evangelism, spiritual formation and discipleship, and local church formation with a DNA of multiplication.