When I was a student in The Navigators ministry at the University of California in Irvine, I noticed that my campus director almost always discipled in a public space—like the student center or the public living area of the dorms.
That’s weird, I thought. It’s like he wants to get interrupted.
Turns out he did. And it turns out Jesus did as well.
My campus director’s commitment to discipling among the lost was intriguing to me because it was wildly different from the philosophy of my previous campus fellowship, where even engaging with non-Christians was looked down upon. But now I understand how vital this trait of a disciplemaker—“[living] among those who do not know or follow Christ”—is for the kingdom of God to flourish.
When we commit to living and discipling among the lost, we open ourselves to being interrupted more often. But these interruptions aren’t necessarily distractions from the goal of disciplemaking; they are opportunities to model, as Jesus did, how to engage with those who don’t know Christ, how to respond when tough questions or situations are thrown our way, and how to lead people into spiritual discussion, among countless other things. The person we’re discipling can learn just as much from observing how we respond to these interruptions as they can from a quiet time of teaching—in fact, I would argue they learn even more.
Living and discipling among the lost may involve intentionally choosing to remain in a public space as you meet with the person you’re discipling. If you’re discipling someone in the workplace, you could read the Bible together in the break room. If you’re discipling someone in a playgroup, you could meet around other parents and kids. As a mom, I often bring my son along to disciple ship meetings, not because I want to show people that I’m a supermom (hardly!), but because some of the most significant things I’ve gleaned from those who have discipled me have been from their interactions with their children.
As we seek to disciple as Jesus did, may we open ourselves up to interruptions and see them as opportunities for deeper insight and spiritual growth.
Disciplemaking Across Cultures and Socioeconomic Groups
When we encounter cultural or socioeconomic differences in a disciplemaking relationship, we may attribute them to a poor relational fit or even misdiagnose them as hindrances that will keep the person we’re discipling from becoming more like Jesus. For example, someone from an individualistic Western background discipling someone from a more collectivistic background may wrongly conclude that this person’s strong dedication to their family is a sign of a lack of dedication to Jesus or the church. Or someone from a higher socioeconomic status may take for granted the access they have to resources and mislabel someone from a lower socioeconomic status as less dedicated to the call of disciplemaking, when they simply don’t have the same access to resources that would allow them to be more available.
A survey conducted by The Navigators among everyday disciplemakers not in full-time ministry revealed that disciplemakers are most likely to disciple within their own ethnic or racial group.3 This makes sense. If you’re already familiar with the nuances of your shared cultural background, especially if both of you have the same minority racial or ethnic background, it’s likely you’ve already thought through how to translate Western-centered spiritual principles of the Christian life to reflect your own cultural context. This is not to say we shouldn’t make disciples across different racial and ethnic groups, but we need to do so responsibly.
If you feel God calling you to make disciples across cultures, it is critical to first be aware of your own cultural background, including your cultural values and biases. I say this gently and with grace: If you’re part of a majority culture, you may have a harder time noticing your biases, but it’s vital that you do. We all have biases, regardless of our cultural or ethnic background, but the majority culture’s experience of Christianity in any nation is often perceived as the default experience, making biases more difficult to see. But a majority culture’s faith experience is not the only or correct measure of Christianity. Christianity has a rich history among the nations and is expressed in many ways throughout the world. The Western experience and worship of Jesus are just one facet of worshiping a multifaceted God who delighted to express different aspects of his image in different cultures.
Similarly, if you feel God calling you to make disciples across socioeconomic groups, you must begin with noticing the privileges you may hold that the other person may not, or vice versa. What access to resources do you or they take for granted that others may not have access to? What things are they taking for granted that are acting as a hindrance to their discipleship? What experiences would require little of you that may be more costly to the person you’re discipling? For example, sometimes I haven’t realized that eating out weekly at a fast-food restaurant may be difficult for those I’m discipling and even exclude those in a lower socioeconomic group.
The apostle Paul provides us with a helpful posture for disciplemaking across cultural and socioeconomic groups:
To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.
1 Corinthians 9:20-22
What this means is that as we pay attention to our own cultural lenses, biases, and privileges, we must also become students of those we’re discipling. What are their cultural backgrounds? How do their racial and ethnic backgrounds impact their views of the world, their values, and their biases? What are their socioeconomic backgrounds? What blind spots might my own cultural lens or socioeconomic background be causing that could potentially clash with theirs and inadvertently cause harm?
The good news of Jesus is for all cultures and all peoples, with all of our varied expressions and interactions. Let us lay down our pride and avoid imposing on others what we believe is best for them based on our own experiences, cultural backgrounds, values, biases, and privileges, without first seeking to learn more about their backgrounds and worldviews. When discipling cross-culturally or across socioeconomic groups, we should be cautious not to make assumptions about another person’s experiences or values but rather posture ourselves to learn from them and honor their experience.
Don’t be daunted by the intentionality required to disciple cross-culturally and across socioeconomic groups. It’s worth it. While these disciplemaking relationships have stretched me more than some others, they have been even more enriching in expanding my worldview, as well as my worship and understanding of Jesus, who sits on the throne above all the nations.