Search and Rescue: Becoming a Disciple Who Makes a Difference

by Neil Cole

While discipleship in many cases has been reduced to the memorization and intellectual acceptance of “facts” about the gospel, this book proposes a simple alternative: repent of sin, read the Bible, and repeat.

Baker Books, P.O. Box 6287, Grand Rapids, MI 49516-6287, 2008, 236 pages, $17.99.

Reviewed by Wesley L. Handy, doctoral student in applied theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

While discipleship in many cases has been reduced to the memorization and intellectual acceptance of “facts” about the gospel, this book proposes a simple alternative: repent of sin, read the Bible, and repeat. Moreover, Neil Cole compares a disciple to a hero. Like a lifeguard, a disciple rescues sinners from desperate lives. Thus, discipleship becomes the means to explosive church growth.

In the first part of the book, Cole weaves together stories of his experience as a Venice Beach lifeguard with a running commentary on 2 Timothy. He argues that a disciple should be equipped and prepared to rescue sinners in a contagious, life-changing, universal, and incarnational manner. This section is personal and motivational by nature, and the lifeguard metaphor remains appropriate and meaningful throughout. In the second part, an expansion of his earlier work Cultivating a Life for God, Cole presents the simplicity of the Life Transformation Group (LTG), which he advocates is the smallest unit of the church. Cole argues that discipleship focused on scripture and empowered by the Holy Spirit will reproduce itself spontaneously; thus, evangelism will flow naturally from LTGs.

Cole’s work falls into the category of works advocating Church Planting Movements and House Churches. Even so, rather than tying his model to a single ecclesiology, he argues that the LTG is the basic unit of any type of church. As valuable as this book would be for church planting, Cole is not presenting a church-planting model, but an every person’s discipleship model. Nonetheless, his model will require adjustment when being applied in non-Western contexts. He assumes a translated scripture and a certain degree of literacy.

The LTG system resembles the methods of historical revivals. For instance, the focus on the confession of sin, meeting in small groups, and prayer reflects trends observed in those revivals. While some may accuse Cole’s method of being too pragmatic, Cole unequivocally states, “Hear me when I say it is not the methodology that transforms lives, it is only the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ applied to a needy soul by the Holy Spirit. The methodology is only helpful in that it brings the desperate sinner into prolonged contact with God and his word in the context of a community of others who are also pursuing the Lord.” This intention is commendable.

Check these titles:

Cole, Neil. 2005. Organic Church: Growing Faith where Life Happens. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Patterson, George and Richard Scoggins. 2002. Church Multiplication Guide: The Miracle of Church Reproduction, rev. ed. Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library.

Rainer, Thom S. and Eric Geiger. 2006. Simple Church: Returning to God’s Process for Making Disciples. Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman & Holman.

Copyright © 2009 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.

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