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Making Disciples of the Whole Family

23 Apr Posted by in | Comments
By Jeannie Marie

As individualistic Westerners, we sometimes forget that the
gospel is for the whole family.
God made families. He wants
them together, and we can honor that design by including the whole family in
our disciple-making process.

In most non-Western cultures, families— and even entire
communities, tribes, or clans— make decisions together. Rarely does a young
person determine his own career path, his marriage partner, or his religious
beliefs on his own. Since Westerners value independence and individual
decision- making so highly, we can unintentionally rip families apart in our
zeal to disciple one person at a time without regard to his or her family.

Finn, a Westerner who works in South Asia, living with unreached
Muslim people groups, understands the strategic and biblical importance of
family and goes to great lengths to honor it. He knows the local language well
and holds a solid reputation within the city as a businessman. The community
regards him as a spiritual and respectful person who follows Jesus and honors
God. One day, Malik, a young man from one of these unreached people groups,
came to visit Finn and his wife. Malik told of how Jesus had appeared to him in
a dream, and he asked Finn to teach him more about Jesus.

Finn responded, “I would love to do that. Go home and ask
permission from your father, and we will discover more about Jesus together, in
your home.”

The color drained out of the young man’s face. He drew his
finger under his neck, slitting his own throat, shaking his head. His father, a
Muslim sheikh (an Islamic spiritual leader), would never agree. He was right.
His father refused to let him study. Finn encouraged Malik to pray and continue
to ask his father’s permission, honoring his father in this way.

Six times Malik came to ask Finn to disciple him, but Finn
refused, instead giving him more ways to speak to his father about his
interest. The young man kept telling his father how the Qur’an spoke of Jesus
the Messiah more than it did any other prophet, and that his holy book actually
encouraged Muslims to read the Injil, the Bible in Arabic.

One day, miraculously, Malik’s father finally agreed. Finn began
visiting the young man’s home to read the Bible with him in a way that promoted
discovery, encouraged obedience to the Word, and inspired sharing it with

Malik came to a vibrant faith in Jesus Christ, transformed by
the Spirit from the inside out. Most members of his extended family also
surrendered their lives to Jesus Christ as they walked alongside him in his
discipleship process. Even though his father did not (yet) embrace Jesus as the
Messiah, the sheikh supported, encouraged, and blessed his son to obey and
follow Christ.

The father even witnessed his son’s baptism, done in his home
without Finn or other Westerners present and born out of the young man’s desire
to obey after reading about baptism in the gospel of John.

Malik became a conduit of the gospel to many others, starting
Jesus communities that are multiplying rapidly, with Finn continuing to coach

Finn could have agreed to disciple this young man in secret,
without his father’s permission. It’s likely Malik would have still come to
faith. But his family would have been excluded, creating barriers to sharing
his new faith in Jesus with them. If the local community had discovered his
allegiance to Jesus Christ without going on his journey of discovery with him,
they would likely have excommunicated Malik, with much shame brought on the
family. In countries that operate under sharia law, a strict Islamic code, he
might have even been killed.

We also can honor the family as Finn did by helping our
disciples speak of their desire to learn more about God in bridging ways with
their families. We can encourage them to honor their fathers and mothers when
they share what they are learning as they are learning it. For international
students here without their family members, we can regularly ask, “What does
your father think of this passage? When could you share this with your
brothers?” and remind them to thank their parents for raising them to be
spiritual seekers after God.

Jesus the Messiah is for the whole family and the whole
community, and we can honor the family structure when we invite people to
consider Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God.

is an author, speaker and
strategist for an international sending organization. This post is an excerpt
from her book 
Across the Street
and Around the World: Following Jesus to the Nations in Your Neighborhood…and Beyond
Nelson, 2018).

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