Dhati Lewis serves as lead pastor of Blueprint Church in Atlanta and is passionate about church planting and discipleship. His new book, Among Wolves: Disciple-Making in the City, explores making disciples in an urban context. Lewis recently took time to answer some questions about his book. Lewis also served as a keynote speaker at the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s 2016 Disciple-Making Conference. Here is a video of his message.
Dhati Lewis, seen here at the 2016 Baptist State Convention of North Carolina Disciple-Making Conference, shares his passion for church planting and discipleship.
Q: Why is learning the stories of people and communities around us important for disciple-making?
A: The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any sword (Hebrews 4:12). This means that it is relevant for our lives today. It is relevant for our neighbors and communities. But if we don’t know the stories of those around us, we can easily make the mistake of answering questions people are not asking. If we don’t know our city, if we don’t know our context, we cannot provide holistic answers for the questions our neighbors are struggling to answer. Once we understand the problems and relevant questions, we can answer more appropriately.
Secondly, if we don’t know the stories of our neighbors, we will not contextualize the gospel effectively. Contextualizing well means that we communicate in a way that the receiver can understand without compromising the integrity of the content. If you don’t know who your receivers are, you won’t be able to contextualize appropriately and risk compromising good communication of gospel truths. I have a good friend who always reminds me, we must seek to understand before seeking to be understood. This principle is critical for holistic, healthy disciple-making.
Q: You define disciple-making as our capacity to lovingly transmit and embody the life of Jesus through the life of His followers. How does this definition speak to the needs of the urban context where we can’t assume that biblical knowledge and Christian worldview are prevalent?
A: I believe that authenticity is the apologetic of our day. People are hungry for something real. They want to know truth that transforms the mundane, truth that goes beyond Sunday – they want a gospel for their everyday life. Think about it this way. In a car, you’ve got the park, reverse and drive labels on the gears. We know that when you put the car in “D” it goes forward, and when you put it in “R” it goes backward, but the average person doesn’t really know how the engine works.
The same can be true about the gospel. We may understand justification (the one-time event when the Lord justifies your soul by purchasing your debt), but we don’t know what scripture means in sanctification (the process of growing to look more and more like Jesus every day). We can talk about being saved by grace, but our lives don’t reflect that. Oftentimes, as Christians, we think we can transmit truth without also embodying that truth.
But we must be the type of person we wish to see reproduced. The truth we proclaim must match the truths we live – or else, how can we be trusted?
When we look at Christ, we see the type of people God wants us to be. And when people look at us, they should see Christ embodied in our actions. If we want to reproduce disciples who look like Christ, we must ourselves learn how to embody Christ in our everyday lives.
Q: Why is individualism such a threat to effective disciple-making?
A: I often tell our church family that if it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a church to raise a Christian. Jesus Christ was the only person to ever walk the earth who had the fullness of God dwelling within Him. He has all the gifts of the Spirit.
For believers today, if we want to see a full expression of God, where do we go? We have to go to the church. For it is only within the church, the body of Christ, that the manifold wisdom of God is made known (Ephesians 3:10).
I don’t have all the gifts of the Spirit – but I have some. And you don’t have all the gifts of the Spirit – but you have some. And when we come together as the church, we better display the fullness of our God. If we make disciple-making an individualistic effort, we will likely reproduce lopsided mini-me’s. But if the goal is to reproduce disciples who look like Christ, then we must disciple them through our corporate family, our church.
Q: In efforts to mobilize churches for disciple-making, why should they resist uniformity? What are the benefits?
A: Imagine if every player on a football team had the same strategy. If every player tried to throw the ball, who would block? If every player tried to block, who would run?
Every player on the team has the same goal, but they use different position strategies to accomplish that goal together. The team has unity, not uniformity. This idea is clear to us in sports, but for some reason it is difficult to grasp within the church. When we try to assimilate every member of our church to a single strategy, we end up with uniformity.
Uniformity kills true diversity in the body because it reinforces parroting, inauthenticity and outward conformity. God has gifted us each with unique gifts intended for the common good. We need to have unity around a common goal and mission while allowing freedom in diverse gifts and strategies to be used to accomplish the goal. When this is done well, members flourish because they have the opportunity to use their God-given gifts.
Together, we make up the body of Christ. Together, we best reflect who He is. And in unity, as each of us use our unique gifts, the Holy Spirit empowers us to “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:15-16).
Q: What do you hope people will take away after reading your book?
A: My prayer is that after reading Among Wolves, people would have tools to explore their unique vision from burden.
That they would be able to wrestle to discover how their story intertwines with God’s, their church’s and their community’s story. And that after wrestling with this, they would be able to walk in the footsteps of Jesus toward establishing a family and unleashing disciple makers to labor for the harvest. The harvest is plentiful – it’s the laborers who are lacking. I pray that God uses this book to raise up more laborers for the harvest who are equipped to make disciples who make disciples who make disciples.