We had been together for the better part of eight hours. Although I was sure he’d lose interest after an hour, I was pleasantly surprised that my son wanted to stick around for all nine innings of the baseball game.
Three hours before the game we had been at the ballpark for an event where Christian baseball players shared their stories of their faith. Immediately following, we were invited onto the field for a “clinic” involving players and coaches instructing young little-leaguers like my son in some of the fundamentals of the game.
Those eight hours together resulted in both silly and spiritual conversations. Our memories will be filled with the famous and forgettable. The score-book I kept indicates the entire third inning was missed due to a “Hot Dog Run!” The day concluded with a simple conversation on a profound subject—baptism. My son said he was ready to display his faith to the church.
“Quantity of time results in quality of time.” I see that truth in that expression born out in my own experience. But there’s another factor to this equation that turns the “quantity” into the “quality,” namely verbal intentionality.
Here’s what I mean: The only thing that will convert quantity of time spent with someone into quality time is verbal intentionality. This intentionality is necessary for authentic discipleship.
THE PROBLEM WITH GOSPEL-BY-OSMOSIS
Osmosis is, to quote The New Oxford American Dictionary, “the process of gradual or unconscious assimilation of ideas [or] knowledge." An idea, trait, aspiration, expectation, or paradigm moves in an imperceptible way into the mind and heart of someone else.
For many Christians today, this is the kind of evangelism we practice. There's a thought that if we just live as good people those who are lost in our contexts will eventually "get it" and become Christians.
Even within the church, there is a sense that if young Christians (or the immature) just hang around long enough, the depths of the gospel and a gospel-shaped life will just automatically happen.
Certainly, there is some husk of the truth in this. We are called all throughout the scriptures to imitate the faith of our spiritual ancestors and leaders. But the movement from a slow-burn Christian faith to an intentional and experiential Christian faith can’t just happen by osmosis. We must be intentional with our words.
This is why we have to have direct conversations. We have to ask the people we are evangelizing and disciplining real and direct questions. We have to clearly state the gospel message and solid, clear actions that keep in step with the gospel. Gospel-formation by osmosis may happen in small degrees, but it’s true fruition comes by verbal intentionality.
To say it bluntly, we have to open our mouths and talk about Christ, and what it means to walk with him and to be a Christian.
DISCIPLESHIP THROUGH INTENTIONAL WORDS
A few years ago, I was on a student ministry camping trip with my church. I had only been pastoring at the church just over a year, and I had been praying for some of the students to trust in Christ. As our group floated down a winding river together, I happened to find myself talking with one of the students I had been praying for. She was raised in a strong Christian family, and although I knew she comprehended some of the truths of the gospel, she had not believed in Christ.
As we drifted along, I sensed a prompting to ask her directly about what she thought about Christ and where she stood in relationship to him. The question opened a firm dialog between us that resulted in a final question: “Liz, what’s keeping you from becoming a follower of Jesus?”
At that point she was able to say, “Nothing. I want to follow him!” And we were able to pray and discuss those next steps in her new faith together. All that was needed to turn the years of time around the gospel into a moment of Spirit-prompted repentance and faith was a direct, verbal question.
I wonder if we miss or discount these moments to be used by the Spirit because we’re convinced that showing up is enough. Instead of intentional discipleship and evangelism, we’re buying them second hand. They’ve been used, but they’re not that great.
My son is getting baptized at our local church later this month. I’m not going to take any credit for what God has been doing in his life. Yet, even after eight hours of quality time together, had I not asked a direct question about his heart and walk with Jesus, we’d still be where we were at before the game even started . . . just sitting around.
Jeremy Writebol is the lead campus pastor of Woodside Bible Church in Plymouth, MI and the Executive Director of Gospel-Centered Discipleship. He is the author of everPresent: How the Gospel Relocates Us in The Present and a contributing author to several other publications. He writes personally at jwritebol.net.