A Modest Proposal for Improving Discipleship: Ban Coffee Shop Meetings

Close your eyes.

If I ask you to picture a meeting happening today where one Christian is discipling another, what image comes to mind?

Is there a Starbuck’s logo in it?

Now think back through all of the discipleship stories of Jesus that you can remember. How many of those could you fully transpose to a coffee shop and not lose the essential nature of the lesson Jesus is imparting?

  • Nicodemus comes to mind. That one could have, perhaps, happened in a darkened corner of an out-of-the-way Starbucks.
  • The woman at the well? Why not make it the woman in line ready to order her mocha frappuccino?
  • The rich young ruler could have walked up to Jesus’ table. “Good teacher, can you scoot over for a minute?”

But notice that these are all proto- or pre-discipleship conversations. With Jesus’ committed disciples there actually are a few moments that might work in a coffee shop, like the “Who do you say that I am?” dialogue. But what is noteworthy is how many of the discipleship experiences happen on the road. And this doesn’t mean on the tour bus–it means in the warp and weft of daily life, in the acts of preparing meals and eating them, paying taxes and avoiding them, going to weddings and funerals, and–yes, a hard one for us to comprehend these days–at work.

When you disciple at a coffee shop, you are on a retreat from daily life rather than engaged in it. Jesus preferred to teach his lessons in real time, as events were unfolding. At a coffee shop there is a tendency to reflect, discuss, philosophize. This drops considerably if you are discipling someone while they are working front counter at McDonald’s and you are slurping your shamrock shake to one side of the lobby as you observe them.

Discipleship is really intended to be like working out. If you are training someone to work out, you work out together side by side, often trading repetitions. You don’t work out separately and then get together later and talk about it.

So let’s stop meeting at coffee shops and philosophizing about discipleship. Let’s follow the Great Commission to the letter. The new ISV translation of Matthew 28:18-20 catches the essential nuance of the Greek when it says “as you go” in verse 19 rather than simply “go”:

Then Jesus came up and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore, as you go, disciple people in all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. And remember, I am with you each and every day until the end of the age.”

Discipleship happens on the road. Those you are discipling live life with you as you go. They watch you and imitate you as you imitate Christ.

Save money on the coffee. Cancel the meetup at Starbucks. Instead, ask yourself, “Where will I be today and what will I be doing such that I can call the individuals I am discipling to join me and observe me in that situation as I carry out the command of Christ?”

I challenge you to make one such call today. And then I challenge you to make this your default way of discipling others.

In our next post, I’ll tell you about the man who discipled me that way, and who I consciously imitate as I disciple you.

About Pastor Foley

The Reverend Dr. Eric Foley is CEO and Co-Founder, with his wife Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, of Voice of the Martyrs Korea, supporting the work of persecuted Christians in North Korea and around the world and spreading their discipleship practices worldwide. He is the former International Ambassador for the International Christian Association, the global fellowship of Voice of the Martyrs sister ministries. Pastor Foley is a much sought after speaker, analyst, and project consultant on the North Korean underground church, North Korean defectors, and underground church discipleship. He and Dr. Foley oversee a far-flung staff across Asia that is working to help North Koreans and Christians everywhere grow to fullness in Christ. He earned the Doctor of Management at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management in Cleveland, Ohio.
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6 Responses to A Modest Proposal for Improving Discipleship: Ban Coffee Shop Meetings

  1. Steve says:

    Looking forward to hearing about that person and their approach, Eric.

  2. Jacquelynne Titus says:

    Anywhere and everywhere, in a democratic country how can you refrain from introducing Christ to, furthering the knowledge of, providing opportunities to participate in the Great Commission? That’s Co-mission Mk 16:15 not O-mission (tell that to your pastor! 🙂 :-))

  3. Yes, doing real neighborhood ministry isn’t about forming affinity groups comprised of people “like you” that meet at Starbucks. That is easy to do. Go to where the people (not just the one’s like you) congregate, speak to them, make friends, evangelize, disciple. You’ll be surprised what you will find. It’s an eye-opener.

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