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.