I was a junior in college, a brand-new student to the University of Oklahoma as a transfer from a school in my home state. I had grown up in a Christian home and given my life to Jesus at the age of five, with as much understanding as a five-year-old can have. Looking back, I don’t doubt the sincerity of that choice, but it took me a while to truly come to own my faith.
I wish I remembered where I heard this recently: It was a conversation about how people come to faith. The testimonies we hear are often like Paul on the Damascus Road. The person was walking in spiritual darkness, then suddenly, snap, a bright flash of light, so to speak. Their eyes are open to their need for Jesus, and they commit to follow him. It’s a clearcut dividing line that way. But when you think about Scripture, where was Peter’s salvation? James’s? John’s? We see them encounter Jesus, but before Jesus came on the scene, they seemed to be doing their best to follow God in a lifelong journey.
Yes, some people come to faith in a sudden flash; others are more like a sunset rising over the horizon. The darkness slowly turns to dawn, and the first hint of that fiery orb peeks against the lightening blue. Maybe it was when they were five, and they said a prayer and were baptized. Perhaps true faith developed through the journey along the way.
That seemed to be where I was—fresh into my twenties, in a new stage of life. I visited the Baptist Student Union (it sounded like a good idea; I had grown up Baptist, after all), met many new people, made some new friends. I kept going back, and it wasn’t too long later a staff member at the BSU invited two other guys and me to go through a study called One on One with God.
His name is Derek.
Twenty years later, I have mixed feelings about the method of that particular study. On the one hand, it set me on a two-decade course of deepening faith; on the other hand, I’m not the biggest fan of its layout and flow. I tend to do things differently now, but the year I spent with Derek and those other two guys was my introduction to spiritual mentoring or life-on-life discipleship (or just plain discipleship, if you will).
A verse in 2 Timothy 2 stares us straight in the face with this notion: “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2:2 CSB). Paul considered Timothy his spiritual son and had taught him many things throughout the years about following Jesus. Now, Paul tells him: Don’t keep it to yourself. I didn’t teach you those things to end with you. I discipled you; now it’s your turn. Go disciple others.
Lest we think that this is merely about leadership development, let’s not forget the Great Commission call Jesus placed on all our lives: Go, make disciples, baptize them, and teach them to obey all that he commanded us. One of those commands happens to be go, make disciples. This command is for every follower of Jesus.
I recently was at the funeral of a man I didn’t know well. His mother and mother-in-law are dear, sweet ladies in my church. One retired pastor who had been good friends with this man stood up and shared some about his life. The pastor talked about how he had all sorts of highlights and notes in his Bible, including one in the margin beside 1 Corinthians 16:13 that read, “Go find men and encourage them.” I wish I had known this man better.
To echo the call of Dawson Trotman, founder of The Navigators, in Born to Reproduce: Man, where is your man? Woman, where is your woman? Where is the one you have led to Jesus and are teaching how to follow Jesus? Or where is the one someone else led to Jesus but is still young in their faith and you can come alongside?
It has been my experience that we love our Bible studies and our worship gatherings. I don’t want to downplay those, but what are we doing with what we learn? What are we doing once our souls are refreshed on a Sunday together? What do we do in the time between? “Be doers of the word,” James wrote. If our Bible studies and worship gatherings don’t lead us to the doing of making disciples, then maybe we’re missing the point.
Where’s your man? Where’s your woman? Go be a Paul. Go be a Derek. Go find someone younger than you in faith, and teach them what you know about Jesus and life as you continue to learn and grow from your Pauls and your Dereks.
Mike Bergman is the pastor of a very normative church in small-town America. He is passionate about the weather, his family, foster care, and Jesus.