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The million-dollar question is, what’s the unique yet common problem that every person in the world struggles with applying to their lives? Thankfully, it’s not rocket science. The human condition is not so complicated that we can’t bring proper care to fellow strugglers. Though you may disciple one thousand people with a thousand different stories, you know that all those unique narratives find their genesis in one common problem.
My problem and your problem are the same as the one that Adam had in the beginning. Adam had to decide if he would believe God. Once Adam chose not to trust God, his story developed uniquely to him, his relationships, his context, and his current situational difficulty. He had our universal common problem (unbelief), though his story played out differently.
It is impossible (and even unnecessary) to know everything that there is to know about a person. But you must understand how the doctrine of sin (hamartiology) intersects with the doctrine of man (anthropology) to create the doctrine of the soul (psychology). It’s at that intersection where you will find our universal common temptation not to trust God.
Though Jesus is the Way, each person uniquely comes to Him. In John 3, the Savior had a counseling session with Nicodemus. In John 4, the Savior had another counseling session with a Samaritan woman. Both of these individuals had the same problem. They were not living in belief. (In their situations, it was a lack of regeneration. The core problem is always the same whether the person is a believer or unbeliever.)
Jesus did not give them two solutions. He gave both of them the same solution: you must believe (John 3:7; 4:13-14). The critical thing to understand here is that Nicodemus, the Samaritan lady, Adam, you, and I struggle the same way in our hearts. Christ knew this, of course. Though we all have the same core problem, we do not do “cookie-cutter-soul care.” Christ did not use the same method to bring these two unbelievers to belief.
He understood, discerned, sympathized with, and loved them according to their individuality. He listened to their story, and while listening to them, He figured out how to bring them from their story to His story. That, my friend, is “Discipleship 101.” Knowing the core problem is not difficult. Getting a person out of their narrative to trust God in a practical way unique to the struggler is a discipleship gift.
You can learn about a person’s story. You can figure out where they have been. But as you are determining their story, you must also begin the process of leading them from where they are to where they need to be. Remember, the Lord was leading Adam with excellent question asking (Genesis 3:9). This type of interpersonal in the milieu dialogue is why I don’t ask for pre-information before I meet someone or require intake forms.
Whatever struggle they are going through, their biggest hurdle will be trusting God enough to follow His path. Rather than gathering data before I meet with them, my preference is to sit with them, listen to their story, and ask relevant questions while pleading with the Lord to use me to bring these people into a greater understanding, appreciation, and application of His Word in their lives. The kind of discipleship I’m talking about here requires “two-level listening.”
Level #1 – I am listening to their story. I want to know as much as possible about them. I want to know the good, bad, and ugly of their lives. I want to get into their heads and think the way they think. I must exegete them to the point where I truly understand them. Once I am thinking the way they are thinking, I can begin bringing them to where they need to be. You could say it this way: I go to them and become like them (this is the gospel: Philippians 2:7-8). Then I begin the hard work of bringing them to the cross.
Level #2 – While listening to their story and asking them questions, I am praying, asking the Lord to show me the path to bring them to a gospel-centered and gospel-motivated trust in Him. You could say that level #1 is external, behavioral-type questions while level #2 is going after their hearts, their functional belief system; will they trust God uniquely and practically, according to the narrative He’s scripting for them?
If you want to watch a detailed diagnostic of Adam’s worship structure, his need to trust God, and a path forward, this webinar is perfect for you.
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).