2 Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. 3At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— 4 that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. 5 Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. 6 Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. Colossians 4:2-6
The Vine Project is a book written to help churches in “Shaping your ministry culture around disciple-making.” The authors Colin Marshall and Tony Payne see this book as a sequel or follow-up to their book The Trellis and the Vine, in which they help pastors focus on disciple-making by building people rather than programs, training people instead of running events, and growing people instead of using them.
The Vine Project is designed to help people take one step to the right (not politically J) along a continuum from not knowing Jesus to being fully equipped for ministry. This process is brought to us by the letter ‘E,’ Engage, Evangelize, Establish, and Equip. Our team added one more ‘E,’ Expand. How can we help move the people we meet in town, our coworkers, our friends, and neighbors one step closer to Jesus?
The apostle Paul’s close to his letter to the church in Colossae contains elements that highlight some of the 5E’s. Before the 5E’s, prayer is the place we need to start. “Continue steadfastly in prayer…pray that God may open to us a door for the word.” Disciple-making must begin with prayer. Pray for the hearts of the people God wants to use you to reach. Lay the foundation of dependence on the work of the Holy Spirit. Then live out verses 5-6.
Engage – “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time.” Every relationship we pour into can be a conduit for the Gospel. The “outsiders” are those who do not yet know Jesus as Lord and Savior. Listen to them well, be wise and sensitive to their needs and conversation. Redeem the time you have with them, we do not know what tomorrow brings. Every interaction may be their last in this world and we want to be sensitive and open to what God is doing.
C. S. Lewis brings out the seriousness of engaging those not-yet-in Christ. “You have never talked to a mere mortal… it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit…your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses… It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.”[i] This is the heart of engagement, helping people take one step toward Jesus.
Evangelize – “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” The Gospel needs to be demonstrated, yes, but it must be eventually spoken. Notice the apostle Paul writes our speech should be always gracious. This is often missed by the proverbial fire and brimstone street preachers I’ve witnessed. Yes, the Gospel is preached, but sometimes not with grace.
Our conversations with people are not cookie-cutter ones. We need nimbleness when sharing the Gospel with others. Sometimes we need a hammer, but other times we need to make sure we are not crushing a bruised reed. This takes prayer, thought, and preparation. That is where the next E comes in.
Establish – “[K]now how you ought to answer each person.” This comes from a consistent study of God’s word and specific prayer for specific people. We need many tools in our Gospel toolbox. We are not to be one-verse wonders. We meet people where they are at and ask the Holy Spirit to give us the right words at the right time. “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” Proverbs 25:11 As we sit under good preaching, gather with others around God’s word in the Bible, and soak in it every day in our personal times of worship, God is placing tools at our disposal.
The apostle Paul knew how to make disciples and in his conclusion to the Colossians he reminds them of the importance of engagement, evangelism, and being discipled. Great lessons for all of us today.
[i] C. S. Lewis, Weight of Glory