Recently a dear friend, a man I have spent considerable time over the years thanked me for helping him to be a better husband and father.
What is significant about that is I cannot ever remember having counseled he and his wife. Nor have I ever spoken to him about how to be a better father. How then could I have been helpful to him in these two areas?
My friend went on to explain what he meant. He thanked me for teaching him the gospel which consequently changed his life, resulting in him being a better husband and father. So even though I had never directly dealt with marriage and parenting with my friend, because he had learned the gospel, he was better equipped to function in those two areas.
Of course, he had learned it by sitting under my public teaching. But he also alluded to the fact that we spent considerable time together, giving him a front row seat to my life. He observed me from many different vantage points. And in this way, he had learned the gospel, seeing it at work in my life, both when my life reflected it well and when it did not. Yes, part of Gospel-based discipleship is observing our failures as well.
These two things powerfully work together in gospel-centered ministry in the local church—the gospel, the message of what God did in Christ resulting in the reception of the grace that transforms, and discipleship, the intentional process of pouring into lives so that men and women have a model of what gospel transformation looks like. When combined, they serve as a powerful means of life transformation.
First of all, let me be clear that just spending time with people does not automatically guarantee that change will occur. I have read many discipleship manuals which teach the importance of entering lives with a view to disciple them to follow Jesus. These books have been extremely helpful, but they often place all the emphasis on the discipling relationship itself as the change agent. But I have learned (the hard way), that just getting together with others does not guarantee they will change unless they are gaining a greater understanding of the gospel. We must be clear on that or else we will put our confidence in something else such as a ministry practice or technique of discipleship, rather than a greater apprehension of the truth of the gospel.
Nevertheless, as previously stated, learning the gospel occurs best when both formal (public teaching) and informal (life on life) relationships are employed. The apostle Paul seems to be alluding to these two means when speaking to the Ephesian elders “teaching you in public and from house to house” (Acts 20:20). Paul saw them both as necessary for effective Gospel ministry.
He pursued a public teaching ministry primarily in the synagogue at Ephesus “And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God” (Acts 19:8). Later, he used the school of Tyrannus as a teaching platform “But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus” (Acts 19:9). What is clear is that he used whatever public means he had at his disposal to preach the gospel. But he also related to others in what I have called ‘life on life’ relationships so that people could see what gospel transformation looks like up close and personal.
Those two things have been proven to be most effective in gospel ministry in my life: teaching and preaching the biblical gospel both publicly and personally. To this day, I continue to be committed to both. I am, first and foremost, a gospel preacher and teacher. But I also continue to meet weekly with several men whom I am privileged to share life together. I’ve had some of them tell me that they have learned more about the gospel from just a few weeks meeting with me than years of typical church life. I don’t think it has anything to do with me but is a testament to what God can do in lives committed to gospel growth and using biblical means to achieve it.