W.O. Thompson, Jr. was a man who served God in many ways. Although he may be known for his years as a church pastor, then as a faculty member of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, it seems that one of the most profound areas of his ministry was that of dealing with people who had terminal illnesses. In the Epilogue of his book, Concentric Circles of Concern, Thompson talks about the time he was diagnosed with cancer and how it had spread throughout the bones of his body. In a time when many would have grown bitter and gotten mad at God, Thompson sought God, asking the purpose of his having cancer. God’s answer to Thompson came in the form of a passage of Scripture.
Thompson used his illness as a way to reach more people who were facing terminal illnesses themselves. He passed away because of this cancer in 1980.
Sometimes it seems easier to focus primarily on reaching the masses with the Gospel. Christians spend most of the time preaching at big rallies, revivals, or any other venue aimed at reaching large amounts of people with one goal in mind: to get people to accept Christ. But what happens to those people who do make decisions to accept Christ once the rally is over? It is almost as if they have forgotten one of the primary things Jesus told His disciples to do: make disciples. That is the topic that Thompson deals with in his book, Concentric Circles of Concern.
Thompson begins his book by talking about the importance of developing relationships with people. The Bible is clear in showing that human beings were made for relationships, with God and others. Relationships are the conduit through which the Gospel effectively moves. It is through relationships with people one knows and those who are not known that people see the embodiment of the Gospel message of love and hope. Sometimes while seeking to delve into the world of evangelism and fulfill the call of God to go out into the world and reach people with the Gospel it is easy to forget about those people who are right next door, so to speak. Because of this, Thompson developed what he called “concentric circles of concern.” This chart showing the various circles of concern begins with self, then moves on to family, relatives, friends, neighbors, acquaintances, then to strangers.
In the midst of these concentric circles of concern, Thompson lays out his seven stages of making disciples. In the first step, Thompson notes the importance of getting right: with God, self, and others. Everything in one’s life hinges upon the health of that person’s relationship with God. Even after a person has a relationship with Christ, it is easy to lose focus, make mistakes, and damage the once intimate relationship. In those instances, one must come to God in repentance, asking for God’s forgiveness. It is important that someone makes things right with themselves. This may come across as sounding a little strange, but it is definitely a needed, yet sometimes overlooked, step. Individuals need to have a correct, biblical view of who they are in Christ. It is easy to fall into the trap of beating oneself up over the slightest mistakes and not having the correct view on their identity in Christ, but in order to truly be an effective witness and make disciples, it is essential to know who one is in God’s eyes. Once these relationships are made right, God then moves individuals on to right relationships with others. God wants people to live together with love and respect for each other, but sometimes those relationships are hurt and broken by many different situations, but everyone should strive to mend broken relationships.
The next step in the process of making disciples is that of surveying one’s relationships. This seems to fall into the category of being right with others, but it takes on an even greater significance. This step involves prayerfully thinking about relationships and identifying individuals who are not Christians that a person would have the chance to reach with the Gospel. Although prayer is the third step in the list of disciple making, it is the most important. For one to be effective in any aspect of live, especially in sharing the Gospel and making disciples, that person must ask God for wisdom and discernment. Building bridges is the fourth step. This step deals with the building of bridges between a person and others in their circles of concern in order to reach them with the Gospel with a heart of love. Showing people the love of God is the most effective way of reaching people with the Gospel. Simple acts of kindness can lead to great opportunities to share the message of Jesus Christ with people. The last step is to make disciples and help them grow in Christ. Seek every opportunity to share the Gospel with people, through words or deeds, and do not abandon that person. If they accept Christ, help them to grow in their knowledge and understanding of the Gospel.
Thompson was very effective in his desire to give easy to follow steps and advice on how to make reach people with the Gospel and make disciples. One of the weaknesses of the book was the intermingling of the two topics of the steps to make disciples and the concentric circles of concern. I believe it would have been much more effective and had a much better impact had the two topics been separated a little more, although they do have some things in common. Even though I did view this aspect as a weakness, I believe that Thompson’s arguments were effective and did achieve his overall goal. The book was also very easy to read and had a lot of very practical advice along with the theories of evangelism and discipleship. This was definitely one of the strengths of the book. There are plenty of books that are filled with theory and “what if” type scenarios, but Thompson’s use of theory and how it applies in real life made the book a very useful tool that can be referred to time and time again by any Christian, whether you are a seasoned ministry worker, or a teenager. Another aspect that I viewed as a strength of this book was the inclusion of real life scenarios. This added to the practicality of the steps given by Thompson.
I completely agree with the author and his chart on the concentric circles of concern. I believe this chart is an effective tool that can be used in real life by anyone. I have never seen anyone put this type of information in this type of chart, but I believe that it is very effective and can help an individual in the process of sharing the Gospel and making disciples. I also think the steps which Thompson gave as ways to make disciples are very practical. The first step, which speaks of making things right with God, self and others, is the best starting point, although it is not thought of much when speaking about evangelism and discipleship. For one to be effective in this area, they must be willing to make things right with God, first of all, then with themselves, and do their part to heal the broken relationships with others. Secondly, when Thompson speaks of surveying one’s relationships with others to determine who we might reach with the Gospel message, I believe he speaks of a step in the entire process that we rarely ever take into consideration. One of the best arguments for this idea mentioned by Thompson is the fact that there are plenty of people who do not even realize the amount of lost friends and family they have. A lot of people focus on reaching complete strangers with the Gospel message and we spend our time going on mission trips to domestic and foreign sites'”and all these are great'”but we sometimes forget of those people who we know and see frequently.
Another one of the greatest strengths of this book is Thompson’s section on the importance of prayer in the process of contemporary evangelism and discipleship. Prayer is indeed a key ingredient in any aspect of a Christian’s life and we must always seek God in prayer for wisdom and understanding. Asking God for the discernment in dealing with others and sharing the Gospel is vital. We pass by people day in and day out without giving a second thought as to that person’s spiritual life. It is important that we pray that God would open our “spiritual eyes” to see those people the way He sees them and to help us see opportunities to share the Gospel and pray for the courage to be obedient.
Although I did think there were some weak points in this book, primarily with the layout and how some parts of the material were presented, the content was strong and it was written in the way that anyone can understand the process of sharing the Gospel and making disciples. It is definitely a book that I would recommend all ministry workers and laypeople to read and apply these principles to their own lives. Jesus called his disciples to reach out to others with the Gospel and show them love, then to make them disciples. Thompson’s books gives great practical advice as to how we can follow through on that call on our lives.