Rev. Alex Absalom thinks we’re not doing a good job of discipling.
“I think one of the reasons we’re not any good is that we’re intimidated by it,” the author and consultant said in a phone interview. “We think we have to be experts before we start discipling people. But actually, I would argue the way Jesus sent his disciples out to go disciple others was completely irresponsible. When He sent them out, they probably weren’t even saved, and they clearly don’t know a lot. And yet He empowers them and sends them to go, but He gives them a very simple model.
“And I think we need to get back to the simplicity of what it is to be a disciple of Jesus.”
With his wife, Hannah, Absalom will be the plenary speaker during the Great Plains Annual Conference session from 1:30-3 p.m. Thursday, June 9, at the La Vista Conference Center in La Vista, Nebraska. The Absaloms founded Dandelion Resourcing four years ago and are authors of two books in a series called “Naturally Supernatural.” Alex Absalom is also the co-author of “Discipleship That Fits: The Five Kinds of Relationships God Uses to Help Us Grow.”
Absalom writes that there are five different spaces in which discipleship can take place: Public space (large gatherings), social space (groups of about 20 or less), personal space (4-12 people), transparent space (2-4) and divine space, for our time alone with God.
Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. heard Absalom speak at a conference and invited him to share his insights with the Great Plains.
“He’s very practical in his understanding of how disciples are made,” the bishop said. “I think his information is going to help churches really develop their own frameworks for how to go about making disciples, from meeting Jesus to understanding the message of Jesus to being sent out in mission for Jesus.”
Absalom, a British native who was ordained in the Church of England and came to America in 2007 as missionaries with his wife, said churches of all denominations face a challenge when it comes to discipleship.
“Most churches don’t have an intentional process, and it’s left to chance,” he said. “If that really is the central task of the church, to go and make disciples of Jesus — that’s the Great Commission — then to just to leave it to chance or to rely on the giftedness of an individual, I think, is a horrible plan.
“As good Methodists, that was the genius of the Wesleys, wasn’t it, that they created a process for it.”
The most effective discipleship, he said, takes place at what Absalom calls an “extended family” level — family, neighbors and business colleagues — “basically, the people you do life with.”
“That’s what we in the Western church have mostly forgotten how to do,” he said. “We focus our energy on the big gathering, the public space gathering, which is Sunday morning. Even when our groups are small, we operate by the rules of the big gathering with hundreds of people there. It looks more like cathedral worship rather than a group of 30 people gathering around a meal where you eat together, read scripture and love each other and support each other and care and challenge and laugh and cry and all the rest of that.”
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic more than two years ago, Absalom said, revealed “we haven’t been discipling people very well,” although some did excel during that time.
“I think it should be a cause of reflection by church leadership,” he said. “As pandemic becomes endemic, I think we’re in a season now where we have an exceptional opportunity to accept Jesus, because our culture has shifted so much.
“It’s a time of great opportunity if we can seize the moment, because there’s so much change going on in our culture … and most of the caring professions have struggled because people have worn out,” Absalom continued. “People are asking a lot of questions, whether it’s the great resignation or where people are living. To me that feels like a time where the church should be the one offering responses to that.”
Discipleship, he said, requires a new mindset.
“We have to go where people are and demonstrate a Jesus-centered lifestyle that’s going to be attractive and endures and gives people a sense of hope and fresh direction,” Absalom said.
Contact David Burke, content specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.