A book review of Walking together on the Jesus Road: Intercultural Discipling by Evelyn & Richard Hibbert
Evelyn and Richard Hibbert believe that core to the missionary task is discipling those of other cultures. But they note that most of the books on disciple-making are written for the Western church context, and even those books which talk about cross-cultural disciple-making seem to assume that the methodology used in the West can also be used in non-Western contexts. I would concur with their observation. Discipling others to maturity in Christ when those disciples are from a different culture than yours is a significant challenge, and many mistakes can be made if one just follows a programmatic approach to disciple-making used in Western churches. Their new book, “Walking Together on the Jesus Road” is an excellent book helping to address that challenge and showing us how to avoid the mistakes.
The Hibberts write from the perspective of experience. The Hibberts served as missionaries in Bulgaria among a Muslim people group (the Millet), and the majority of their illustrations come from their experiences living and working in this context. They share from both their successes and failures in intercultural disciple-making. The authors emphasize that the disciple-making process is a process of mutual learning from one another. The disciple-maker also learns from the disciple. They walk on the Jesus road side-by-side.
How is intercultural disciple-making different from discipling those from your own culture? The Hibberts stress the importance of giving lots of time to building deep relationships with the disciple, learning their culture and listening carefully to their concerns before selecting the content and the methodology for discipling new believers. The book really emphasizes the importance of giving lots of time to the discipleship process. I found 12 occurrences of the expression “lots of time” and 18 of “takes time” applied to the disciple-making process. I suspect that the Hibberts’ personal experience and their observation of other Western missionaries led them to conclude that our Western task-orientation can be a significant hindrance to effective cross-cultural disciple-making. Again, in keeping with their sensitivity to collective cultures, the Hibberts do not promote the model of a one-on-one mentoring relationship, although some of the illustrations from their ministry use that model. Instead, the authors encourage discipling people in groups where possible.
Although not unique to non-Western contexts, I was intrigued by the Hibberts’ insistence on respecting disciples as adults and allowing them to be full participants in the process of choosing what topics to study. I found most helpful their explanation of the different facets of how the church lives out the gospel. Each culture will find the gospel to be good news for them in different ways. In the people group in which the Hibberts worked, Jesus’ power to heal and his love to make them feel special were particularly attractive. The cross-cultural disciple-maker needs to find out which facet of the Gospel is most attractive to their disciples and to start with discipleship conversation on this topic. Over time, the disciple-maker needs to introduce them to the whole spectrum of Christian truth regarding how the community of faith lives out the gospel.
How does this book fit into Disciple Making Movement (DMM) strategy? The model of inductive Bible studies that is presented near the end of the book is slightly adapted from the of Paul & David Watson in “Contagious Disciple Making”. The Hibberts are clearly familiar with the DMM strategy, and talk about instilling the DNA of multiplication in their disciples. However, the Hibberts’ book does not focus so much on the development of a movement, but rather on the relationship between disciple and disciple. “Walking Together on the Jesus Road” also does not deal with the initial process of building a relationship with someone who is not a follower of Christ, and then beginning to tell them the story of Jesus. Rather, it focuses on how to disciple someone who has already chosen the Jesus Road – or who has at least identified themselves with other believers.
“Walking Together on the Jesus Road: Intercultural Discipling” is a book that I would highly recommend to those of us who are engaged in the challenging work of making disciples of all nations. The authors have provided very helpful summaries of their key points at the end of each chapter, and the content is well organized and easy to follow. It will encourage us to do good ethnographic work and free us to “waste time” in building relationships with those we are discipling. It will help us avoid some of the pitfalls of blindly following a discipleship model from our home churches, and help us recognize that both the content and the method of our disciple-making needs to be adapted to fit the cultural context.
If you are interested in seeing the chapter summaries and some of the passages I have highlighted, you can find them in this Word document on the SEND U wiki.