This coming March it will be exactly 30 years ago that I felt a serious sense of calling on my life. I was not quite 14 yrs. old. I believed that I was to spend my life investing in other people. More specifically, I felt that calling in the direction of vocational ministry. And so began my journey.
The work of discipleship has been my life’s work. Really, before I knew what I was doing, I was busy teaching people to be application-style followers of Jesus. Not just “saying you’re a Christian”, but showing that you are. As someone has said, “We are human beings not human doings.” I have tried to teach people that life with Jesus should be a reflection of that reality. A primary focus on being over doing.
A good friend of mine has a phrase that has come to define his life… it goes like this, “A disciple isn’t really a disciple until they have made another disciple.” This mentality is the full development of the ethos that surrounded my upbringing. I was raised in a culture that valued salvation – it still does. When I have conversations with those who are still of this persuasion, our conversation most immediately goes to, “We had ______ number of people saved last Sunday.” Beginning to follow Jesus (being saved) is important. Continuing to follow Him and leading others to follow Him are exponentially more important.
That brings us to the heart of this post. This past Friday I was privileged to reconnect with a young lady that represents well the way in which I have been blessed to serve. During her high school years Jenni attended another church regularly, but would occasionally attend the youth group where I served as pastor. After high school she went on to a Christian university in Kentucky and felt a calling into vocational ministry. She came home to Michigan and asked if she could serve in our youth ministry. Of course I was happy to have her and did my best to show her what a Jesus-focus should look like in a ministry context. We became good friends through that experience and I’ve been pleased to see God continue to develop her gifts even now as she is serving in our nation’s capitol.
Seeing Jenni again reminded me of all of the places I have been privileged to serve vocationally… Chinese Gospel Church, Northland International University, Bethlehem Baptist Church, Immanuel Bible Church, Locust Grove Baptist Church, The Chapel (EFCA) and Process Church (EFCA). Wow! In just over 20 years of vocational ministry we have lived in Illinois, Wisconsin, Virginia, Arizona, Kentucky, Michigan, and now, Georgia. Additionally I’ve been blessed to serve short-term in Mexico, Ukraine, Russia, and Hungary. The common thread of each of these places? People. People who were discovering and learning and failing and trying again to follow Jesus. Just a few years in to my journey I can see people all over the world whose lives I have been graced to be a small part of.
In some ways I wish I could “do-over” some of the discipleship of my early years in ministry. But even in those early relationships I can see the grace of God in his making up for my weakness (as still today). The greatest joy of this backward look is being able to see pages and pages of young men and women whose lives I have influenced with the grace and love of Jesus. What makes this look even more gratifying is that these same friends are now influencing others in the same way I was able to encourage them. This is full circle discipleship.