Steve Smallman Interview: The Walk

I have been so impressed with Stephen Smallman’s book, The Walk: Steps for New and Renewed Followers of Jesus, that I decided to interview Stephen here on the blog. I hope this brief interview persuades you to buy Stephen’s book.

Here is Tim Keller’s endorsement for the book:

This is the fruit of a lifetime of experience in ministry. I recommend this warm, practical, gospel-centered, and very useful manual on discipleship.

Stephen has served for over forty years in pastoral ministry and has served as executive director for World Harvest Mission. He currently teaches for CityNet Ministries of Philadelphia. You can learn more about Stephen at his website, Birthline Ministries.

Q Why did you write The Walk?

P&R Publishing asked me to write a book for new believers. They had already published some things I had written for “beginners” and thought I would enjoy taking on this project. They were right. I started with a typical list of things new Christians should know, but, with P&R’s encouragement, the book gradually took on the “Dummies” approach that I then tried to follow. I think most of our churches have people with a genuine interest in following Jesus but who have much less understanding of what that means that we realize. They nod when we use our fancy terms, and may even use the evangelical vocabulary themselves, but at a heart level there are many, many questions. So I started to write for “new followers of Jesus,” not assuming any prior knowledge, but soon added the idea of “renewed followers” because I think there are lots of “old believers” around who would like a chance at a fresh start.

The other major idea behind the book was a desire to spell out as basically as possible what it means to apply the gospel to those who already believe it. I think the idea that we are to “preach the gospel to ourselves” seems to have taken firm hold in many evangelical circles. But most of what I have seen is that “preaching the gospel to ourselves” means essentially repeating over and over the great truths of justification. Without question that is the rock of our salvation, but the gospel is the revelation of God’s grace in all of it’s truth–all of the riches we have in Christ (Col 1:6). I don’t know if the four steps I outline are the final word on that topic, but I feel it was a step in that direction.

Q How do you envision pastors and church planters making use of The Walk in their churches?

First of all, I hope those who are “making disciples,” whether pastors, church planters or others, will take the time to understand and embrace the more “process” approach to working with people that is at the core of the book. This is explained more in Appendix C (which should be studied in preparation for any use of the book) or in my book Spiritual Birthline. It is remarkable how people are freed up to just walk along with others as the Spirit does the real work, once they move away from the mindset of need to find the “moment” for the big “decision for Jesus.”

There are a number of approaches going on right now, so it is too early to suggest the best “model” for how to use the book. But I want to see it used in a setting where a leader (who is still a learner–not one with all the answers) spends quality time, say one evening a month, with 2-4 others who are willing to read the chapter and do the suggested projects. I think a chapter a week is to too fast, and I have learned from experience that the typical Sunday School class is not the kind of environment where real discipling can take place.

In a few weeks I’m going to make a presentation at a men’s breakfast in a church where the pastor wants to have his elders begin by studying the book with one another as a preparation for each of them taking several newer people through it. I will be anxious to see how this works. I hope people will do a quick read of the book and then pray about how it can be put to use.

Q How did you grow through writing The Walk?

For one thing, I fell in love with the Gospel of Mark. I say in the Preface of The Walk that I couldn’t escape the force of those first words: “The beginning of the gospel …”. The gospel is a story whose central character is none other than Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God. And that story can be told in a hundred ways as long as it always points the way to him. I think as obvious as that truth should be, it can keep us on track if we keep it in front of us. Even in the great issue of discipleship, it is amazing to see how quickly the discussion can move to techniques and programs, and suddenly the essential mission of following Jesus himself gets obscured. Mark relentlessly keeps us on that path.

I also think the writing of the book has opened the larger question of how discipleship is so much greater than a book or a program. Isn’t discipleship just another way of speaking about being a Christian? and if that is the case, we need to view the whole life and ministry of our churches in terms of how we are “making disciples.” This is how I would define a “missional church.” I’m pleased and honored that you and others are finding The Walk a useful resource–but it can only be one part of a larger vision for a church that views itself as a community of disciples of Jesus, called to make disciples even as they grow as disciples themselves. And our communities are one small part of the great kingdom our Lord is building among all the nations.