How to Develop Disciples: Offer Biblical Hope in Practical Ways
Engaging Scripture through acts of service
My wife makes the best peanut butter and jelly.
I don’t know this firsthand. I don’t eat PB&J regularly, nor are my children raving about the sandwiches they eat. But every Saturday morning, starting at 5 AM, friends of ours who are homeless and heroin-addicted remind me.
A few years ago, some church friends and I began bringing a couple dozen sandwiches and a vat of coffee to a section of Philadelphia known as K&A. Once a bustling marketplace, it is now at the epicenter of America’s opioid crisis. Drug dealers offer their services, needles litter the ground, and those in the greatest need of help find shelter in parks, next to hospitals, and inside transit stations. Surrounded by the sounds of police sirens, loud music, and frequent altercations, we bring coffee and conversation.
But our goal isn’t just to caffeinate the homeless. Our goal is to bring hope and healing through God’s Word in practical, life-altering ways. We offer listening ears and relevant biblical stories, all while offering to meet practical needs.
As a pastor of discipleship, I’ve realized partnering with others in this time of service is a powerful form of Scripture engagement. Over the years, I have struggled to help people begin to encounter God through reading the Bible. But putting the Bible’s message into practice has become my favorite way to help someone become a follower of Christ—both individuals we meet on the street and team members from local churches and civic organizations who come with us.
Here’s a simple framework to get started. Feel free to print it out as a reference point for your times of service.
Find a need and meet it
You don’t have to go far to find those who are hurting. Think about Jesus’s words in Matthew 25:35-37 (ESV):
“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?”
Jesus points out that those who most identify with him meet the physical needs of those around them.
Get to know your community and your neighbors. Find the areas of struggle and need. Bring hope by touching a person’s essential needs in the form of a hot meal, a pack of diapers, or a helping hand.
Bring someone with you
One of the best lessons to glean from Jesus’s ministry is his way of working with his followers—mentor and apprentice. Look at Matthew 17. We see Jesus taking a few disciples with him to pray (Matthew 17:1-13), healing a boy and problem-solving the disciples’ failure (17:14-20), and even walking one of them through a governmental tax issue (17:24-27).
Don’t serve alone. You will see people grow much faster when you are serving alongside them. Your words will have more weight as they see your preaching and teaching in action.
Coffee and conversation
One of the most effective changes we’ve made in learning to serve our homeless friends well is including coffee. I’m not sure what’s so powerful about coffee, but people stick around when there is coffee to be had.
We are often in such a rush, and we too often want to believe that ministry can be a quick touch. But God is not in a hurry. God is present in conversation, in relationship, in truly listening. Like Jesus with the woman at the well in John 4, we sit to listen and to understand as well as point the person toward the God who is already there with us.
These practical steps are important, but we have found one more step is needed to spark true life change: an encounter with God in Scripture.
After inviting someone to have a cup of coffee and a sandwich, offering to pray with them, and (for those who accept the offer) taking time to listen and pray, we then share a brief story from Scripture. We usually select a story that person can relate to—like Jesus healing someone (for example, John 5:1-15), or another story that connects with a situation they are dealing with. This opens the door for us to form a relationship around God’s Word, and then we’ll make every effort to keep meeting regularly—coming back every Saturday—to see that person and their circle of friends.
Discipleship through acts of service doesn’t have to be complicated: bring someone with you, engage the person by serving them, then share the hope found in the Bible. We do so in a way that shows the person we are serving dignity and respect. And as we do that, we see new disciples begin to grow and develop, both in those we’re serving and those we’re serving with.
What would it look like to make this happen in your context? Who is that someone you can take with you?
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