She had a puffy neon jacket. Just like mine.
This was a big deal in our tiny school. The jacket that I thought was so original (and that my mother insisted was so hideous) was actually not original at all. And because we were a town of less than three thousand, everyone saw each of us (multiple times) and commented on the jackets, until finally we met and said, “Hey, you’ve got my jacket!”
Of course, we didn’t become friends immediately. In fact, it wasn’t until the next year when I showed up for marching band that she was there in the same french horn section, pointing at me and mentioning (again) that hideous puffy neon jacket. Day after day, we talked about more than just our common winter coats, and we became good friends. She was a little quirky, not like every other girl in high school, and seemed (to me) to be obsessed with Jesus.
While she was obsessed with Jesus, I was obsessed with a certain seventeen year old trumpet player, and when our six month relationship (a lifetime in teen years, let me tell you) ended, my friend in the puffy neon jacket was there to listen, to comfort, and to love me through the drama. I don’t remember exactly what she said, am not certain what her words were, but I know that at some point that spring, God changed my life through her witness. I remember thinking that she wasn’t like anyone else and that finally I could pinpoint what made her different — real, solid joy that didn’t depend on circumstances but on Christ alone. She informally discipled me through many seasons of our lives over the next seventeen (!!!) years, showing me how to have a quiet time, always recommending books, cheering me on as I learned, and always praying for me. She didn’t use a program, didn’t take me through a series of steps, didn’t do things in an event-driven way — she just lived her life for Christ.
I’m challenged to remember that the way I was won to Christ was through a relationship and the natural outflow of a life centered on being “obsessed” with Jesus. It was all the grace of God, of course, but how incredible that He used the friendship between two silly high school girls for such glorifying ends!
I kept thinking back to that friendship as I read the chapter this week. As Mr. Platt says, “Disciple making is not about a program or an event but about a relationship. As we share the gospel, we impart life, and this is the essence of making disciples.” Our churches have great intentions when we try to start programs and hold events that will do the work of winning others to Christ and discipling them, but the most effective means, the means Jesus Himself employed, was the power of intentional relationships. I don’t doubt that people are won to the Lord with huge evangelism rallies, but I wonder how many more people we have around us on a normal basis that would be won to the Lord because of our daily witness through the different challenges and struggles of life.
Something I heard again and again in seminary was an exposition of the Great Commission and how Christ’s command was not simply “to go and make disciples.” Rather, the command in its original Greek was “and AS YOU ARE GOING, make disciples.” It wasn’t a simple programmed process. It was a lifetime process of walking alongside others and growing together. Not just seeing them grow — but growing ourselves as well. “When we take responsibility for helping others grow in Christ, it automatically takes our own relationship with Christ to a new level.” And that takes time and energy and commitment, but “exciting things happen when the people of God believe the Word of God is worth spending their lives to teach to others.”
I totally believe it and totally buy into this idea that relationships are the best evangelism “strategy” out there. They’re not a strategy, though, but simply an emulation of what Christ Himself did with twelve friends. I’m challenged to live wholly for Christ and to relate to others in such a way that people come to know Him and love Him…