For the past 15 years, Rodger Nishioka has worked at developing hearts and minds for discipleship in the church. As the Benton Family Associate Professor of Christian Education at Columbia Theological Seminary he’s particularly interested in faith formation for youth and young adults—this generation’s leaders.

Nishioka is one of the leaders for Big Tent’s featured breakout sessions. He spoke with Presbyterian News Service from his offices in Decatur, Ga., where he was preparing to lead a youth conference for Mo Ranch.

“Before I went to seminary I taught in middle school,” he says. “I always thought they were a reflection of God’s energetic, creative best. They were on the cusp between childhood and adulthood from moment to moment. It was so much fun.”

In some ways that metaphor fits with what Nishioka will talk about at Big Tent 2015, as he ventures into how we are formed spiritually as followers of Jesus.

“It’s really about us moving from discipleship to evangelism,” he says. “Which is really about us being apostles.”

So is that going to be the focus of your breakout session Ministries Equipping Leaders for Discipleship and Evangelism?

My work as a teacher in Christian Education is to help pastors and teachers shape discipleship and faith formation in the church. So the natural question for me over the years has been, “How to we best do this? How do we form people of faith—men and women—who seek to live as Jesus did?”

So what have you learned?

That evangelism, sharing good news, is crucial to faith formation. It really is the essence of discipleship—to share the gospel out. Jesus didn’t just keep it to himself. I really like thinking about the juxtaposition between discipleship and evangelism this way.

In the gospel of John, Jesus is described as the light of the world. But in Matthew we, as disciples of Jesus, become that light. And what happens after the gospels? The Acts of the Apostles—this is the movement from discipleship to apostleship. Learning how to live and share the gospel in action in the world, to all of those entrusted to our care—including creation—that is yearning for God’s good news in Jesus Christ.

So you’re suggesting that evangelism is more about apostleship?

I think evangelism is the logical continuation of disciples being faithful.

Discipleship has to lead to apostleship—otherwise as James says in 2:17, “Faith without works is dead.” Evangelism is the loveliest and truest fruition of a good disciple. I believe the 21st century is an apostolic century. Our job as disciples is to see how God is about and out in the world, and be in service to that mission by telling others, pointing them to this good news.

What do you mean by this being “an apostolic century?”

Well, obviously leadership is so crucial these days—the church is eager for leaders. I’ve done research focusing on people in their 20’s and 30’s, asking the question, “Why are so few of you sticking with us, especially, especially since we baptized and nurtured many of you?”

What shows up consistently in the yearning of our young adults is their passion for theological and ethical integrity. They want to see how God is at work in our world—and they want us to show them how to live a more faithful life in response to God’s overwhelming grace in Jesus Christ.

You see how they made the turn towards apostleship? They want to live it out, to participate in how the Holy Spirit is helping transform the world, so that Christ’s beloved community, here on earth, can become more known.

Sounds like they want the gospel?

I think if we focus too much on ourselves we misconstrue the purpose of the gospel.

That’s one of the reasons I love this idea of Big Tent. To bring together as wide a gathering as possible, representing all of the constituents of the church is brilliant.

Good things happen when we gather in all of our diversity to work together on theological imagination and resilient leaders because imagination and resiliency are hindered by homogeneity (sameness), and enhanced by heterogeneity (differences).

In the Big Tent setting we can see more clearly. The one thing that unites us all is our worship of the Lord Jesus Christ, and our desire to see God’s reign more fully.


Registration details, a detailed schedule and other information for Big Tent 2015 are available at