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Chris Lee's Interview with Dr. Robert Coleman


REVEAL Director Chris Lee, a Master of Divinity candidate at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, interviewed Dr. Robert Coleman, the writer of “The Master Plan of Evangelism”.  Coleman is currently a professor of Evangelism and Discipleship at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.


Author/Editor:  Chris Lee


Conversation with Robert Coleman, regarding Master Plan of Evangelism, 2/26/02, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.


CL:  Have you heard much about the abuses over your book and how its been twisted?


RC:  You mean for instance with the [International] Church of Christ?  I never was involved with the Church of Christ, nor did I intend the book to be twisted in this manner.  But people will be people, and they will twist anything.  See, I do not see discipleship as a pyramid leadership structure; rather I encourage a servant-leadership model, based on the model of Jesus.


Discipleship is always a lifestyle, as is evangelism; discipleship is also for all believers, not just some.  And this is what we need to be teaching in the churches.


[editor:  leaders are first and foremost to be servants, cf. John 13, Matthew 20:25-28, etc.  In fact, in the Matthew 20:25-28 passage, leaders are not to “lord their authority” in such a way that it is like a commander, like the Gentiles do.  We are to lay our lives down for each other, and there is no command structure, no one-over-one model.]


CL:  I'll agree with everything you say so far; I've tried even teaching a discipleship class at church, as I truly believe all of us are called to be disciples, that is, learners and students of Christ, our entire lives.  What do you think of this mentor notion?


RC:  I've tried to point out that growth does not only because of one individual, but rather, the church is the proper context of growth and discipling.  In other words, it is through friendships and the church that we learn and grow in Christ.  Now, we have the opportunity to impact -- even having a tremendous impact -- a small number of people at any given time, but we mustn't think that we're the only ones discipling people.  They've been discipled by their parents, their teachers, their friends, their pastors.  Ultimately, the context of discipling is the church.  I see this coming from Genesis, where the first couple are to teach their kids to know God and to love God.


CL:  I agree with you that although I've had some closer friends, the people I've considered as my James, John, and Peter in my life, that I've been taught and nurtured by many people in my church, whether pastors, Sunday school leaders, friends, acquaintances, people in my classes, seminary professors, and so on.  There is something nice – and necessary -- about having the James, John, and Peter in my life, but at the same time, I realize that others have lent to my spiritual growth. 


RC:  Indeed, it is through the context of lifestyle and relationship that discipling initiates – it should never be about programs, methods, or techniques.  Christ himself models how people are to live lives -- he commands us to do as he has been doing.


And discipling and discipleship is about every individual practising being like Christ today.  Even someone can make disciples in a securities firm on Wall Street as much as he can in the church.  We are to make disciples everywhere.  However, I believe it to be important also to contextualize these methods, that is, make the methods culturally relevant, and relevant to differences in personalities, but the principles themselves are very simple.


CL:  God often does work through our personalities, especially when you look, say in the Bible at the general Joshua or the practically prince Moses, or through brash Peter or relatively quiet John.  You can also see this worked out through the church, like in the story of how illicit slave trade in Britain was abolished through the friendship of Grainville Sharp, William Wilberforce, and John Newton.  Through my experience, God has also used my own personality to teach me lessons. 


RC:  Indeed, God can and does use all personalities to extend His kingdom.  And I believe that believers can and should become better Christians without having to go to seminary or Bible school.  How?  As you practice it, and as you live [being a Christian], people will see it.  To learn how to do it, you need to learn it within the context of relationship -- by imitation.  Observation and imitation.  Skills are learned by doing.  We need to have a vision of who we are – and this comes from God -- but He uses people who are living in the Word, who are living the vision, to communicate it.  Like measles, you catch it from being around them long enough.  What guides people?  Their vision guides them.  People stumble around because they don't have a vision.


CL:  So your vision in the Master Plan of Evangelism is to both evangelize, making disciples, and also help them grow into maturity?


RC:  Yes, it fulfills the Great Commission and the necessity of edification in the church.  You can never transmit it by writing books or doing seminars .. but you do it by being close to people.  That is the Master Plan.  It is simple yet very difficult – at its heart it is the cross, learning to deny yourself (your sinful nature) -- bearing your cross daily.


CL:  My relationship with my current mentor (Chris Sherwood) at Park Street Church has long been developing; I met with him as my pastor for the last 6 years and this is the first year that he's directly mentoring me on a weekly level.  I had passed the idea by him about mentoring, and others had too -- and his feeling was that everyone had one proper mentor:  the Holy Spirit.  He didn't like the idea of having mentors for everyone.  I think his inclination that our sinful tendencies as human beings is to take our eyes off of God and place it on men, and that having a human mentor would just facilitate that more quickly.  What are your thoughts?


RC:  It is nice, of course, to have someone like a mentor who you can be close to, learn from each other, and encourage each other.  Natural friendships are a context for discipling for me.  [Coleman goes on to tell me a couple of stories about his friendships and how they discipled each other, or how the relationship reversed, where Coleman was more senior at one point, and now the other guy was much more Spirit-filled.]  The Great Commission is not something that complicated that you have to learn by going to seminary or Bible school.  Jesus modelled it, and exemplified his vision.  I see that you learn skills by doing them.  Values are not necessarily about being in classes -- but rather, by living together and being together.  Being involved within your own ministry and learning to be like Christ.  You can make disciples anyway, anywhere.  Without the vision, you can easily become distracted.


[editor:  Note that discipling basically just means encouraging each other in growth in Christ through friendships; it doesn’t mean that one person is “over” another.]


CL:  And what are your thoughts about having people help us, or helping people grow in Christ?


RC:  Ultimately, we have to believe that and act as if only the Holy Spirit makes changes -- we can't make any changes.  That's why prayer is the main component in the Master Plan.  We both admit our own faith in God and have confidence in His promises, as well as we admit our self-insufficiency.  In this confidence, we trust in God to work through the Spirit in the hearts of others.  We can't do anything; God must do the work.


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