Can we grab a Dr. Pepper sometime this week and talk about what happened today?” This question opened the door for me to begin growing as a disciple of Jesus Christ. I have been a lead pastor for two years and have seen some great things happen in the lives of the people around me, but I continue to be overwhelmed by the growth that takes place within my own life when I submit to the spiritual leadership of someone farther along in the journey than I am. A good friend once told me that we should each have a “Paul”, a “Barnabas” and a “Timothy”. In other words, a mentor, a peer and someone we are mentoring. As I have much more experience receiving discipleship than I do at offering it to others, I am writing of my experiences as a Timothy.
Several years ago I stood up after kneeling at the front of the sanctuary at Hutchinson Friends Church in Kansas. I had been attending meeting for many months and as a result of the Bible based teaching, the unconditional love from those around me and a lot of prayer, I felt the Holy Spirit beckon me forward my intention to live my life for Jesus from that day forward. After I had finished praying, and after many of the people who I’m sure had been praying for me had left, Jeff came up. He gave me a hug and asked the question that began this article. Jeff knew something that I hadn’t yet figured out. He knew that in order for lasting transformation to take place, I was going to need someone willing to pour themself into my life. I was going to need someone to teach me about grace, mercy, love and other elements of a growing walk with Jesus: one that can’t be forced, earned or achieved by just gritting one’s teeth. Jeff had chosen to invest in me. He had chosen to disciple me.
I believe that intentionality is one area in which the Church has fallen short today. There just aren’t enough Christ followers purposely engaging in the discipleship of others. When I read the gospels and looked at the way Jesus entered into relationship with his disciples, I realized it wasn’t “organic” — it didn’t happen naturally. Jesus was very intentional and to the point. He must have said, “Drop what you’re doing there, I have something better for you.” For some reason many have accepted the idea that discipleship has to come from an established friendship or relationship. This can be a very good foundation for disciple making, but as I read scripture, I find that it is certainly not a prerequisite.
As I continued my journey with Jesus, being led by my “guide,” Jeff, I began to realize another truth: this wasn’t going to be easy. Following Jesus is hard. Jeff didn’t pull any punches or try to convince me that it was a smooth and easy path. He explained the kind of life Christ wanted for me. John 10:10 talks about “life to the full” and Matthew 11 offers an easy yoke, but these are not guarantees of earthly comfort, they are promises of spiritual peace in the midst of the storm. No, being a disciple from an earthly perspective looks a little bit crazy. Jesus says trouble is a certainty for his disciples (John 16: 33), and the sacrifices that are required of them are great: giving up the things that the flesh and culture tell them to cherish. Jesus says, ”If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters — yes, even their own life — such a person cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). Another teaching from the book of Matthew shows a group of people who desired to follow Jesus after they had seen him heal. He told them, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head. Another disciple said to him, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ But Jesus told him, ‘Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead’” (Matthew 8:18-22).
To be a disciple of Jesus is to live life in a new and strange way. Followers of Jesus are called to be “peculiar” (1 Peter 2:9). Discipleship isn’t about teaching someone to avoid suffering, it’s about teaching them to endure it with God’s grace. I recently had a friend pray that God would grant me “grace to suffer well” and while I don’t’ like that prayer very much, I understand that sometimes that is a part of the journey. What better way to grow our relationship with the one who endured all for us, than to suffer a little ourselves? It is an essential piece of the disciple’s journey.
Had the truth of this suffering been withheld from me early in my walk with Christ, I would not have grasped the reality of God’s grace, which has carried me through many of the trials I’ve faced. I would not be the man I am today. This lesson wasn’t about “cleaning up my act”; it was first and most significantly about eternity. Every choice I make, every thought that crosses my mind, every action I take needs to gravitate toward the impact it will have on eternity. This lesson was the greatest gift Jeff gave to me. He allowed me to be myself until I no longer could. As he taught me about God’s love, grace and His desire for me, transformation took place. My choices were not about being better for God; they were about being better because of God. What a huge difference that makes.
My journey continues to be a learning experience. As God blesses me with other loving and wise mentors, I continue to “work out my salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). This certainly isn’t a blueprint for discipleship; this is simply a snapshot into my journey. What I do know, however, is this: Jesus intentionally sought out his disciples. Jesus promised joy and hope, but also trouble and sacrifice. Jesus did not simply “clean his catch”: he inspired transformation through his great love and grace. As a result, Jesus’ church still impacts lives today. Jeff was obedient to follow Jesus’ model, and I am thankful to him for that. I am doing my best, with the grace of God, to continue that process, both in my own life as I continue to seek out godly leaders, and in the lives of those I serve as I encourage them on their own journey with Jesus.
Manny lives in Union, Iowa, where he serves as the pastor of Bangor Liberty Friends Church. He is a 2009 graduate of Barclay College and currently attends Barclay College’s School of Graduate Studies in pursuit of an MA in Transformational Leadership with an emphasis in Spiritual Formation.