The Great Commission calls each of us to “Go and make disciples.” Your lifestyle plays a part in that process. Eventually, you’ll need to talk about your faith in Christ and share the gospel, but your lifestyle and your character will play a role in your witness.
What areas of your character significantly impact another person’s journey to faith? Are there identifiable character traits that impact your evangelism?
Shawn Anderson makes a significant contribution to answering this question in his book Living Dangerously: Seven Keys to Intentional Discipleship.
He did a national study (in the USA) of adult conversion experiences to see what were some common characteristics of a person who led someone to start following Christ.
Anderson asks adult converts to think of key influencers in their journey to faith and what characteristics played a significant role in their decision to follow Christ.
It’s not a study of new converts and their background, but what about their “key influencers” that helped lead them to faith in Christ?
In my reading so far, this is a different angle to the effective evangelism question. Anderson’s work is not a study of evangelism techniques, as in
- memorize this presentation,
- develop this argument,
- seek after the lost,
- build relationships, etc.
There are plenty of books available on these evangelism approaches, the spiritual beliefs of unbelievers, and church growth methods about attracting people to Jesus via missional communities or attractional church methods. Yet, Anderson saw a gap – there are not many books focused on the discipler – the person who is instrumental in helping a person find faith in Christ.
He choses that term based on the Great Commission. Anderson intentionally makes a distinction between a discipler (all of us) and an evangelist (a particularly gifted person or office in the church). In the context of his book, this is a helpful distinction to understand.
I determined that I would uncover the mysteries of discipleship by asking people about their conversion process, so conducted a nationwide study to better understand how people became followers of Jesus. I hypothesized that people are led to Jesus when there is someone who takes a special interest in their salvation.
My thesis was that this person is especially influential in the lives of unbelievers when his or her life reflects Jesus, the greatest teacher of disciples. The results revealed that, indeed, individuals were influenced to commit their lives to Jesus by people who modeled Jesus in their lives.
The 7 top characteristics
Discipleship involves creating disciples out of unbelievers. Our role is to introduce people to Jesus. As such, Anderson identifies 7 character traits of the disciplemaker that are influential.
These are the character traits of a disciple maker that had the most influence in helping an adult become a believer in Christ.
Each chapter explores these character traits in fuller detail, particularly focused on how to develop this trait a little more in your own life. For example, in the chapter on “Knowledgeable,” Anderson writes:
“Nevertheless, unbelievers indicated that there were explicit indications of knowledgeable disciplers. They revealed that knowledgeable disciplers studied the Word of God, made the Scriptures relevant, and welcomed biblical questions . . .Some factual knowledge is essential in making disciples, but what seems to matter more to them is our ability to make the Bible relevant to their lives.” (71).
If some bible knowledge is important, then Anderson takes the step to call us into personal devotions, self-feeding, as well as consuming sermons. We need to understand ourselves how the Bible is relevant to our life.
Lifestyle Evangelism from Paul
Anderson’s research confirms that verbal proclamation can be supported through the characteristics of our lifestyle. The Apostle Paul’s character witness was just as a important as his verbal witness. He lives out lifestyle evangelism when we worked among the Thessalonian church. He writes:
We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. Instead, we were like young children among you. Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory. 1 Thessalonians 2: 6-12 (NIV)
Anderson’s research helps to identify particular characteristics that we can develop that are effective in relational evangelism.
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