The Navigators refer to this as the “with Him” principle. I also like to look at this kind of relationship as “friendship with a purpose.”
It seems that cool, flashy Christian events and listening to dynamic speakers have become the most important part of American Christianity. Whatever happened to this kind of close personal bond? Is the “with Him” principle outdated? Is it no longer valid?
My father’s spiritual leadership in our family was filled with much wisdom. Dad knew I needed the “with Him” principle or “friendship with a purpose” in my own life. However, he also knew he was not the one to do it. Early in my ninth-grade year he asked a young man named Mark Sulcer to move into our home for Navigator training. What I did not know at the time is that Dad had asked Mark while he was finishing college to spend time helping me grow into an equipped laborer for Jesus Christ. Through Mark’s love and concern for me, he was teaching me indirectly about Jesus.
What was so great about those four years that Mark lived in our home was all the time he spent with my friends and me. He went to tons of my soccer games, took my friends and me skiing, and wrestled with us to complete exhaustion. Through it all, Mark’s life touch was there. It was so natural to memorize Scripture with Mark. It was so natural to pray for the salvation of my friends with Mark. Because it was so natural I caught more than I was taught.
Like Timothy reminiscing about his experiences with Paul, I look back on those times with Mark with great fondness and gratitude. This kind of special relationship increases the depth and effectiveness of the ministry of the laborer.
During his years of heading up the Navigator ministry in the Midwest, my father learned many lessons from the Scriptures on discipleship. Acts 20:4 says, “And there accompanied him into Asia Sopater of Berea; and of the Thessalonians, Aristarchus and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timotheus; and of Asia, Tychicus and Trophimus.” What a picture! Young laborers in training—living, walking, suffering, ministering with the apostle Paul.
Solomon said, “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed” (Proverbs 13:20). Paul chose this simple plan of training young men by bringing them with him on the road of life. Why didn’t Paul start a school for the training of laborers? Was it because he didn’t have enough contacts? Nonsense! There would have been a line a mile long waiting to get in. Was it because he didn’t have the academic qualifications? Nonsense! Paul was one of the few, if not the only one, who did. Then why did he choose this method? The answer is abundantly clear and simple. Paul knew he could not improve on the method of Jesus Christ. He knew what Jesus had done, and he followed it as closely as he knew how.
Whereas the “with Him” principle is a general friendship approach to training, the “one-to-one” principle is usually more structured. Its usefulness is primarily in the training of laborers, but each laborer must use it also in his efforts to help the growing Christian become a mature, dedicated, fruitful disciple. Admittedly, the bulk of his contact with the young Christian may be at a small-group level, but he must supplement his group fellowship with periodic one-to-one training and counsel.
Let’s say you have four or five young Christians in your church, your Sunday school, or your men’s or women’s fellowship who are clearly eager to grow. You realize that if they aren’t helped and challenged to the maximum of their interest and potential, their growth will be stunted and possibly their interest cooled. But what should you do? You can’t possibly get with all of them on a one-to-one basis, and maybe you shouldn’t. Quite possibly the most effective thing you can do is to involve them in a small-group Bible study.
First of all, if they are motivated by the idea, agree on some ground rules. To create personal ownership, it is best to discuss these guidelines with them rather than throwing your weight around by “laying down the law.” Ask them for their opinions: Shall we agree to have our lessons prepared when we come to our Bible study group? Shall we include Scripture memory as part of our study? How many verses per week? Which verses?
When you clear the air ahead of time by bringing them into the decision-making process and letting them help set the standards, you are likely to get a greater degree of cooperation and commitment. Now it’s their study: They made the rules; so full speed ahead!
A great way to start is with basic topical studies in order to help the young disciples get established in Christian doctrine. There are many good studies designed to help new converts make progress toward becoming mature, dedicated disciples. (I highly recommend the DESIGN FOR DISCIPLESHIP series and the STUDIES IN CHRISTIAN LIVING series published by NavPress.)
Some might ask, Why not begin by studying the books of the Bible? As you help the young Christian grow, that is the ultimate goal. However, first we should lay a solid foundation on the various topics that are vital to the inexperienced, growing Christian. Then begin to study different books of the Bible. It is helpful to start with the shorter books first. It gives the growing Christian a good feeling to know he or she has completed something. Solomon reminds us that “the desire accomplished is sweet to the soul” (Proverbs 13:19). Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and 1 and 2 Timothy are good “starters.” After finishing a couple of these, you can then suggest a study of a longer book, such as Romans or John. Look upon the question-and-answer studies as a solid foundation upon which you begin to build the superstructure with the study of various books of the Bible.
If you have your study weekly, you might like to try the early morning hour. This time usually works well for men and is a great way to start the day. Meeting before work usually does not conflict with other plans, and it adds a touch of heartiness to meet in the early morning hours. Begin with a prayer to commit the time to the Lord. Then check each other on your new Scripture verses to make sure each of you has them word perfect. This takes only a few minutes if you pair up by twos and quote them to each other.
Remember, you are the leader, not the teacher. Ask discussion questions; keep the study moving; and at the end, it’s often good to give a brief challenge before closing in prayer.
“Okay,” you say, “but where does one-to-one time fit into all this?” Simply put, your one-to-one time with these people can be seen in the same way that a medic looks on a soldier who has been wounded. If someone is being attacked by the forces of darkness, if he is having problems with overexertion, divisions, priorities, demotivation, or other serious trials, it’s time to get that person aside and help him through it. Apply spiritual first aid. Pray with him; comfort him; encourage him—whatever it takes to keep him going.
As the group continues to meet, it will become evident to you which individuals are the most motivated and eager to learn and grow. These are the ones to whom you want to begin giving personal time. But let them evidence the hunger and desire before you approach them individually. If you move too soon, you could scare them off. However, the eager ones will not continue to be satisfied with just what you can give them during the study time. They will want you to share your life with them. That’s where the “with Him” principle begins to mesh with a variation of “one-to-one” in the context of your small group. We have a God of variety; He is not locked into one method to accomplish His purpose. The same is true for developing laborers. You can find many creative ways to achieve what I have mentioned, so I hope you use these suggestions as a springboard in helping young men and women grow.
My father had the privilege of being a part of the ministry of The Navigators when Dawson Trotman was alive. He recalled a time in 1951 when Dawson told of a very discouraging pattern he had observed in the military ministry. Large groups were failing to produce many effective laborers. “Why?” Daws asked. “Because a mother knows how to care for her baby but not how to run an orphanage. First Corinthians 4:15 is why the large groups often fizzle out.”
In this Corinthian passage, Paul described the father-son kind of relationship that takes place in one-to-one. There should be a mature concern on the part of the leader for certain young Christians. But the leader of a large group can’t meet the personal needs of all the group members. Sometimes people get lost in the shuffle. That’s why I urge you to use the tool of the small-group fellowship, supplemented by periodic times of one-to-one fellowship. And learn also to use the “with Him” principle.
Daws taught leaders eight vital guidelines to help the new Christian grow:
- Build in him a life that will glorify God.
- Build in him a life centered in Christ that is supported by regular prayer, Bible study, witnessing, and fellowship.
- Get him into contact with other strong Christians.
- Get him into the right environment.
- Teach him, “When they were alone, he expounded all things to his disciples” (Mark 4:34).
- Observe him.
- Give him experience.
- Pray with him.
Because each individual is different and uniquely created by God, you will need to be flexible in your one-to-one encounters. But one thing is loud and clear: We need to do all within our power to help these new ones count for God.
One more vital ingredient in motivating and helping the young Christian grow in his or her intimacy with the Lord is church attendance. It is essential to involve new Christians in the life of the local church. The church is the logical place to get the personal touch that we all need. My father set a great example in this area of church involvement. He saw the benefits of corporate worship and sharing life with the whole body of Christ. He never saw the parachurch organization he worked for as an end in itself or taking the place of what God had established in the local church. In fact he said, “I have never seen a person do well over the long haul whom, early on in his walk with God, did not get involved in the life of a local church.” There may be some, but I have never seen them. It may indeed happen, but it must be a rare event.
There are, no doubt, many ways to positively influence the life of a new believer. But we must never forget that it is almost impossible for that believer to thrive without the close personal contact of a more experienced Christian who cares about him. As we reflect on the needs of growing Christians, let’s pray that God will use us as “wise masterbuilders” in the cause of Christ (1 Corinthians 3:10). For this is the privilege and responsibility of laborers.
LeRoy Eims and Randy Eims, Laboring in the Harvest (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2011), 66–72.