Donald L. Watson and Paul D. Watson. Contagious Disciple Making: Leading Others on a Journey of Discovery. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2014. See here to buy the book.
Contagious Disciple Making is about how Christians can make
disciples of Jesus Christ. It is not exactly a book about how
individual Christians can go out and share their faith with individual
non-Christians, though it does have stories about that. Its authors,
David Watson and Paul Watson, think bigger. Their vision is the
conversion of families, communities, tribes, and even nations. Their
expectation is that people will come to Christian small groups and then
be able to start their own small groups. They support discipleship:
mature Christians mentoring people on how to obey Jesus, and the mentees
mentoring others and passing on what they learn. Moreover, they share
their experiences of their method actually succeeding.
In reading this book, I often felt as if I was reading about a
factory producing cookie-cutter Christians. One could understandably
respond that my impression is completely off-base. After all, do not
the Watsons say that disciple-makers should respect the individuality of
the communities they’re reaching and allow them to use their own ways
of worship (as long as they don’t contradict the Bible)? Do they not
say that disciple-makers should mentor the group leaders and then back
off from the group and let the Holy Spirit do his work, rather than
being heavy-handed teachers and builders of their own personal religious
empires? Yes, they do say that. Their critiques of traditional
methods of disciple-making are insightful.
Still, as I was reading the book, the thought that went through my
mind was that I was too much of an individual and a free-thinker to
participate in the sorts of things that they talk about, and that people
I know are too independent and free-thinking for me to drag them along
into a Christian small group. The section on discipleship had good
insights, but it scared me a bit: it seemed to be suggesting that a
discipler should have a say about everything in a disciplee’s life, and
that both should be pursuing perfection. I had mixed feelings about
entire families and communities becoming evangelical Christians: how
would this affect people in the family who do not exactly fit that
paradigm, such as gay people? And what if a person in the Christian
community just does not want to go along with what his discipler or
small group is saying he should do?
Some of the book’s advice was practical, but I was wondering if what
we see in the Bible is always so practical. A key point that the book
makes is that disciple-makers should go into communities and look for a
Person of Peace: a Christian or one who is open to the Gospel, who can
then help bring others in his or her community to Christ (or, more accurately, into a Christan small group, where they can fall in love with Jesus). In one place,
the book says that the Person of Peace should have a good reputation
within his or her community. Makes sense. But the book refers to the
woman at the well in John 4 as a Person of Peace, and she did not
exactly have a good reputation! And yet, contrary to what I may imply
here, the book is rather critical of business models.
The book did have lots of good parts. Paul Watson talked about
asking God’s opinion about movies and ways to use Jesus’ parables to
pray for the needs of communities. The stories and anecdotes were
excellent. On some level, the book did at least try to respect that
people may be in different places spiritually, for it contrasted ways to
teach non-believers in a small group to obey Christ with ways to teach
believers to do so. Its section on small groups may be helpful for
those looking for specifics, whereas its section on mentorship may not
be so helpful, especially for people who struggle socially and may not
know how to establish a mentoring relationship.
The book may be valuable for evangelicals who want the sort of thing
that the Watsons talk about: more people becoming evangelicals. But
even someone like me, who cringed a bit in reading the book, can find
edifying insights in it.
I received a complimentary review copy of this book through the BookLook Bloggers (http://booklookbloggers.com/) program. The program does not require for my review to be positive, and my review reflects my honest reaction to the book.