The 'Goliath between your ears' that is deceiving the Australian church
This mega-church leader says discipleship isn’t what you think
Dale Stephenson thinks Christians in Australia have been deceived. “So many people – and this is the majority of Christians right across Australia – have never, ever helped a person put their trust in Jesus,” he tells Eternity.
“They’ve got a really limited experience of what it looks like to make a disciple who could make a disciple.”
Stephenson, who leads Crossway Church in Melbourne, one of Australia’s largest Baptist churches, calls it “the goliath between our ears”, the giant who taunts us by saying “it’ll never be you who leads someone to Christ.”
He says people feel under-qualified, and resign themselves to the idea that it’s not up to them to make a disciple.
But, says Stephenson, if he asked the question to the average Christian: “Are you discipling somebody”, most Christians would think of working with another Christian.
“That’s how closed the circle has become,” he says. “That’s how deceived we have become as an Australian Christian community.”
“Jesus didn’t begin with Christians. He made disciples and he began with where people were at.” – Dale Stephenson
To Stephenson, discipleship is about moving people towards a faith in Jesus.
“Jesus didn’t begin with Christians. He made disciples and he began with where people were at.”
Stephenson subscribes to a type of discipleship called the Discovery Bible Study method, centred on opening the Bible with someone who doesn’t yet follow Jesus. The method follows a simple ABC approach: A: Ask – start with prayer; B: Bible – empower the reader to discover God’s word for themselves rather than being taught by a leader, and; C: Commit – end the study with the questions, ‘What are you going to do?’ and ‘Who are you going to tell?’
Stephenson says it’s as simple as asking someone: “I’m looking for someone to read the Bible with, I don’t know whether you’d be interested?”
“My experience has been that on your first or second or third ask of somebody, they will say yes. For most people, as they’re led by the Holy Spirit, it’ll be their first ask,” he says.
Over 500 people put their trust in Christ for the first time at Crossway Church last year.
Stephenson stresses that no Bible experience is required in order to read it with someone else.
“We’ve started to see this really mobilise, to the point where someone will disciple another person when they aren’t even a Christian yet.”
He has given talks on developing a discipling culture within churches around the country. At one talk, Stephenson says he met Stephen Bloor, an Anglican minister from Adelaide’s northern suburbs. “He had the rubbish meter on, the bull dust radar going off like crazy,” Stephenson says, laughing.
“He said, ‘It can’t be that simple.'”
But Stephen Bloor decided to give it a go. His church, St John’s Anglican in Salisbury, was experiencing an influx of interest in Christianity from recently-arrived Iranian refugees.
“We’re in a high-refugee area,” Bloor tells Eternity. “I had more people asking about reading the Bible than I could handle – I still do,” he says.
Bloor decided to test out Stephenson’s discipleship theory and asked an Iranian refugee, Mohammed*, if he’d like to read the Bible.
“He said yes straight away,” Bloor says. They read through Genesis chapter 1 during their first session together. And at the end, Bloor asked: “What are you going to do, Who are you going to tell?”
“Mohammed said he wanted to tell some of his Iranian friends. He took the Bible with him.”
The next week, Mohammed and Bloor met again. During the week, Mohammed had sat down with a group of his Iranian friends and read the Bible with them. He wasn’t a Christian. Bloor was able to give him a few Persian Bibles and kept meeting with Mohammed for several months, nurturing him as Mohammed then went and learned about the Bible with his friends on his own.
“God can use people who aren’t Christians yet to help other people to put their trust in Christ.” – Dale Stephenson
As with many of the Iranian refugees who pass through Adelaide’s northern suburbs, Mohammed moved away and Bloor lost contact. But he says the excitement Mohammed had to share what he had learned in that first Bible meeting with other people he knew is representative of his experience with many other Iranian refugees, several of whom have now been baptised.
“I’ve found they get really excited about who they’re going to tell. This is really good news for them. They have people they want to tell straight away.”
Bloor says in his small church of about 70 members, the concept of “rapid discipleship”, where you see people just opening the Bible with others and discovering for themselves what it says, is an answer to prayer.
Stephenson says the power of discipleship is all from God.
“You realise that God can use people who aren’t Christians yet to help other people to put their trust in Christ, why? Because they’re sitting and reflecting on the word of God. You’ve got to believe that the spirit of God is active there. God himself can do what he needs to do.”
According to Stephenson, his work at Crossway to cultivate a “discipleship culture” is bearing fruit. Over 500 people put their trust in Christ for the first time in the church last year.
“That’s not just hands at the back of a room in the shadows. We only measure real people with a real name saying, ‘I wasn’t a follower, and now I am.’
“We’re making it so that anyone, anywhere, anytime can make a disciple. It has got to become that simple.”
* name changed