“Why am I telling you my whole life story?” Kay* exclaimed, as she realized that a front-yard conversation with Ann and Tom Bourke had become very deep and vulnerable.
The Bourkes knew why she had opened up. They have been gently intentional and prayerful about creating a safe and comfortable atmosphere to connect with neighbors in the front yard of their Detroit home.
“Putting a table and chairs in our front yard has helped create an environment of connection,” Ann shared. “We started with the front porch, but I read about how a turquoise table on the lawn can draw attention and offer a place to linger, so we took that step, rather than always being in our backyard.”
Tom will often sit in the front yard in the morning, reading his Bible and praying for neighbors. If someone stops by and asks what he is doing, he tells them. The reaction is always positive.
Engaging with their neighbors has been a learning process for the Bourkes. They coach others in all walks of life on how to intentionally share their faith. Tom and Ann wanted to connect more deeply with their neighbors, looking for people within their sphere of relationships who might be interested in exploring the teaching of Jesus. They want everything they coach others to do to be something they are practicing in their own lives.
“I don’t consider myself a gifted evangelist,” shares Tom. “I do know that an authentic relationship is key. As we get to know people and build relationships, we go deeper with those who seem open to reading the Bible and interacting with Jesus. We keep it simple. Our Bible reading group started with three young couples, then another couple asked to join after they heard what we were doing. We read a section of Scripture that deals with a common life issue, such as stress (Matthew 6:25-34), then we ask questions and discuss openly.”
Others on the Detroit Navigators city team also use this Bible reading approach. Tom and Roger VanNoord (who, along with Bob Adgate and Denny Williams, developed The Life Issues Series) were on a panel discussion and someone asked, “How many people who read the Bible with a Christian friend will come to faith?” They answered simultaneously, “All of them!” It has been their experience that those who are truly engaged in reading the Bible with a Christian friend will eventually find faith in Jesus, though it might be a process that takes years.
Not Just for Extroverts
When Tom first starting discipling others in how to intentionally share their faith in the workplace, an executive with a large automobile company who was a Christian said, “I’m an introvert, I don’t do evangelism.”
“People often make the erroneous assumption that evangelism is only for extroverts,” Tom says. “It isn’t about being a salesperson, it’s about gentle intentionality and prayerfulness.” He is committed to speaking truth and praying that God will work in others’ lives.
Tom shares the coaching process: “Many people have notebooks full of information they learned at workshops on evangelism and discipleship. In coaching a group of committed disciples, we’re always talking about the very next step that someone is taking, rather than imparting lots of information. One man I’m coaching realized his coworker is ready to hear more specifics about the Good News of Jesus, so during our time together we talked about ways to make the gospel clear. This just-in-time approach makes our coaching relationships relevant and timely. Ultimately, we want those we disciple to be disciplemakers who will then disciple others.”
Prayerful, intentional, Life-to-Life® discipleship bears fruit over time—in conversation, in relationship, in pointing to Jesus, and in coaching disciplemakers.