Sabbatical Sit Down: Jonathan Dahl

Getting a chance to sit down with Jonathan was a slightly unexpected, but greatly appreciated opportunity. I’ve felt a connection to Jonathan for several years – the meeting that I got a crazy idea to bring River’s Edge into the Converge fold was the same that Jonathan was introduced as the newest member of the Converge North Central staff (Converge North Central is our local region, including the Converge churches in Minnesota and Iowa). Jonathan was the one that later shepherded River’s Edge through the process of joining Converge. He’s been a great support and resource to me personally and for River’s Edge for the last several years.

I didn’t think that we were going to get to meet because he has recently transitioned to a job with the Converge national office. However, a couple of days ago he contacted me and let me know he was going be in a meeting at the same time and place that I would be in a meeting and we could simple get together afterwards. I count it as one of those God-directed opportunities, and we had a great chat.

Jonathan shared with me a bit of the project he would be working on for the national office, and it sparked some thoughts that have been bouncing around in my head since. His goal is to come up with a way to help churches better develop their members as disciples-sounds simple, but it will be an extremely difficult task to accomplish (good luck Jonathan!).

Discipleship is a word we through around the church a lot. More often than not I think it ends up meaning growth—many times there ends up being a false dichotomy in our thinking where we either focus on discipleship (Christian growth) or evangelism (making new Christians). The reality is, those things go hand-in-hand, and biblical discipleship is not simply getting to the “meat” of the Bible.

At the end of his time on earth, Jesus left his followers (and us) this command:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.

Matthew 28:19-20

We are commanded to go and make disciples. There is a definite evangelistic component to that. But it’s more than going out, finding someone who doesn’t know Jesus, and telling them about him.

When I was a youth pastor I used to take my youth group on mission trips every year. Over the years I used several different missions organizations. We would sign up for when and where we would serve, show up to the location, and they would do the rest. They would find the work we would be doing, provide housing, structure our days, and program the week. I quickly eliminated a couple of those organizations that I had used, and eventually ditched them all together and planned my own trips, largely because of their approaches to evangelism. I hated when they would do things like throw the kids on the street to do sidewalk evangelism where, after a solid 20-minutes of training, they would approach strangers going about their day and stop them to try to have a spiritual conversation. Occasionally something valuable would happen, but more often it was rude, unproductive, and hard on the kids. Even in the best situations, where someone would legitimately have an interest in what was being said, we were a group from another part of the country, working with a missions organization that had a minimal presence in whatever city we were in, and there was no way to move that person on to a situation where they could continue on a path towards deeper faith. After I ditched those types of trips, I began planning my own, and I would start with a church in whatever city I felt we were led to, and our group would build into the work that was already being done by a church that had an ongoing presence in the community.

We aren’t just called to evangelism, we’re called to make disciples. A disciple is simply a follower, someone who believes in Jesus as their lord and savior, and who is seeking to live a life more in line with what he taught us-as Jesus said, “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

Sometimes that starts at 0, and we share the gospel. That’s good, and that’s important. But discipleship is something that we should all be doing in our church family as well—finding someone that we can speak into their lives, help them to better follow Jesus, point them to the truth found in God’s Word. We should also have people in the church body discipling us. That’s why just going to church on Sunday mornings for worship isn’t enough. If being a part of a church means showing up 5 minutes late then ducking out during the closing song so you can beat the rush to Pizza Ranch, then you’re missing the point of church.

Discipling one another just might be the most important thing we do as a church. It’s also something that is very hard to do as a church, and something that the large majority of churches don’t do very well.

As Jonathan and I wrapped up our conversation, we both agreed that we would continue a dialogue in the future about what he was doing and what we were doing at River’s Edge to better engage in disciple making. I’m looking forward to those conversations, because that is something I think we have to do better. May God guides us forward in His wisdom and power.

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