Rolling on in the series, “STUFF I’VE PICKED UP ALONG THE WAY.” This one also came from Ron Pinkston, by way of a few dozen conversations with people on the topic of “making disciples of Christ.”
STUFF #4 – When it comes to making disciples, influencing others towards good, encouraging people: FEED THE HUNGRY BIRD.
When I started volunteering with Jr & Sr High students, I knew that one of my responsibilities was to make disciples (aka ‘fully devoted followers of Christ.’) However, I didn’t have any idea just HOW I was supposed to do that. So, pre-the Google machine’s invention, I asked around. Called friends (on a touch tone land-line phone, even,) for recommendations. Some suggested a curriculum, studied in a classroom type setting, for a set number of weeks; others offered up a ‘y’all come’ approach, where any & everyone who showed up to class &/or youth group would be discipled (though I wasn’t exactly sure how that was supposed to happen. Still.)
I fumbled & stumbled through it, feeling overwhelmed, ill-equipped, & frustrated. Felt like I was failing at what I was trying to do. And then…
“If you want to make disciples & don’t know where to start, just FEED THE HUNGRY BIRD. Look for the student that wants to learn, wants to grow, & wants to spend time doing it. And then spend time with them.”
Don’t exactly remember the context for when/where I heard this saying, but I know when I did, a light bulb went on in my head. I could do that! And so I decided to experiment: one night at youth group, I told the handful of students, “Anyone who wants to grow in their relationship with Jesus & hang out with me before school, & drink coffee/eat a muffin at the City Cafe bakery, we’re meeting on Tuesdays @ 6 a.m. I’ll get you a ride to school as well.”
The next Tuesday, I showed up at the City Cafe as the doors were opening to the public… it was me & a few morning stragglers grabbing their coffee & a quick bite on their way to work. No one was sitting in the Cafe, so I got my cup (free refills For The Win #FTW) & parked at a table in the middle aisle of the restaurant. (It was a converted, barely remodeled Swensen’s Ice-Cream parlor. If you’ve been in one, you get the picture.) I was alone.
Every time one of the doors opened, I’d peek around to see if any brave souls were joining me in at the Crack O’Doom. For coffee & Jesus. For the longest time, (at least 10 minutes,) no students came… just early risers on their way to work. And then…
I’d heard the door, but had gotten tired of turning around to the disappointment of Yet Another not-student walking in the door. I focused on drinking my bottomless cup of joe, nibbling on a cobblestone muffin, & reading my Psalms.
Next thing I knew, I sensed someone’s presence nearby. It was Vic, a 7th grader from our youth group, standing there looking as awkward as I felt, & but as welcome as any Christmas morning I’d ever experienced. Somebody came! And now what to do.
Vic figured out the transactional part of the morning (coffee & a muffin for here in the cool green basket,) & came over & sat across from me. Drinking his coffee, slowly. Taking large bites of his muffin.
What to do next? He was here now, invited to come “grow in his relationship with Jesus.”
So we talked. Laughed. I listened to him, & prayed that I’d have something to say. His questions didn’t start on Jesus, the Bible or other spiritual topics, but somehow, they seemed to end up there.
Before I knew it, an hour had passed & it was time to take him to school – when I dropped him off, I can remember him saying, “So, we gonna do this again next week?”
I hadn’t thought of next week. But I said, “Yes. Of course. Same time, same place.” And he got a big smile on his face & said something like, “Cool. it was fun.” And he bailed.
Over that school year (& for the next several years that I lived in Carson City,) Tuesdays at the City Cafe became a ‘thing,’ at one point taking over most of the tables & booths in the restaurant. All Jr & Sr High students. All ordering coffee. All eating a muffin. All talking at their tables with friends, Youth sponsors (people there to help me with supervision & discipleship) & having a blast.
Being discipled. Encouraged towards Jesus. It was beautiful, & is still one of my favorite memories from my time in Carson.
Over the years, FEED THE HUNGRY BIRD came to mean – share time, space, & experiences with the people who WANT to gather, WANT to hang out, WANT to learn. Though it could sound trite, it really was true: the Holy Spirit set the agenda for what got addressed, & we never really needed a curriculum as He & life’s circumstances & challenges provided more materials than I could ever have wanted to have.
There’s no substitute for time together. For good conversation. For making time to listen. For saying, “I don’t know,” when you don’t know, & for heading to prayer for answers, comfort, & encouragement in those times.
It gives me great joy to know that many, many of those students are still walking with Jesus, now with spouses & their own kids (& some even have grandkids) more than 30 years later.
And it all started with Vic, the brave soul who took me up on my invite to grow in his relationship with Jesus. Over coffee. With a muffin. Before Jr High.
Thank you to my friend & fellow pastor Matt Messner for the encouragement to resume blogging. I encourage you to check out his writings – he’s a man worth listening to & he lives an example worth following.
As the oldest of 4 boys – each of us 4 years apart – I always felt a lot of responsibility to set a good example for my 3 younger brothers. Early on, a bit part of the responsibility came via encouragements & instructions from my parents to “make sure to make good decisions, because the boys will do what they see you doing.” And that they did. It was often like an impromptu game of “follow the leader,” as I’d be going about my daily business only to find one (or more) of the brothers mimicking my actions, attempting to DO what they saw me doing. Sometimes, I know they did it just to get under my skin (or was it to get me to pay attention to them & interact with them?) Sometimes they did it because it looked like what I was doing was fun (or was something they didn’t know quite how to do, so they chose the ‘monkey see, monkey do” approach to learning.)
There were people I looked up to as well; people whose actions, words, people & God-interactions, etc. helped to shape what I thought to be normal & prescriptive for what Louie should be & do, both with people & in pursuing relationship with Christ. I rarely gave any thought or intention to the process – it was more like, “I look up to these people, I respect them, & they’re older/wiser than me, so maybe I can learn from them & kinda walk in their footsteps.” But I never had an official mentor.
First time I remember hearing the word “mentor,” was watching the ’70’s TV show “Shazam!” (We watched it because the star of the show grew up across the street from my mom. But I digress.) The Shazam character had an older, trusted friend named “Mentor.” (so much for subtlety.) Mentor’s role seemed to be advising Shazam & his alter-ego in the “why’s” behind choices, values, & practices – he didn’t tell him what to do, but guided him down a path that would help him to develop his own metrics, decision making processes, & rule-of-life. Later on, Star Wars’ Jedi/Padawan learner model emerged as my very favorite picture of what a mentor is/could be. But I never had an official mentor.
In January 2000 I became the pastor of Hillside & in short order, found myself in a huge mess of confusion, loneliness (the kind that comes from not being KNOWN, being new in a new place,) unpaid bills, unclear processes & procedures on WHAT, WHY, & HOW I was to do my nebulous, barely defined job of local pastor. I can remember thinking “I have GOT to find someone or a couple of someones that will SHOW me how I’m supposed to do get out from under this mess, do this job, & care for these people.” You know, a MENTOR. I needed, desperately WANTED a mentor. And yet I had no idea where one could go to acquire one, esp. in such a real/perceived desperate point of need.
And so it happened by accident. Looking for something to fill the silence of my long Mondays of ‘doing the books, paying bills, sorting through & organizing an administrative challenge,’ based on the recommendation of a friend, I sought out the Sunday morning STREAMING ONLINE teachings of some people that I knew from the larger Foursquare family I am a part of. (If you’re interested, the rotation consisted largely of Ralph Moore, Daniel Brown, Jerry Cook, & a few others.
For the most part, these weren’t people that I had really ever had personal interactions with – they were more well-known for many years of faithful & fruitful ministry, esp. in regards to raising up & releasing others into the callings that God had put on their lives. And every Monday, I listened to these guys lead their churches in Sunday worship through various teaching series, & over the next couple of years, I began to feel like I really knew them. What motivated them. Their loves & values & strengths. Areas of frustration, traps & pitfalls they’d discovered over time. I even got to know their families & family dynamics. And not one of them ever knew that they were mentoring me, shaping me, challenging me to grow into what God was calling me to be & do in my own life, family, & ministry context.
In the middle of this time, I can remember praying, asking God to ‘send me a mentor, someone that I could look up to & interact with that would help point me in right directions.” And God answered, “I have. You’re being mentored right now. Listen. Learn. Question. Wonder. Pursue Me in the context of what you’re hearing, what you’re learning & I will guide your steps.”
It was revolutionary for me – at that moment, I saw my own life from a mile-in-the-sky view & saw that God had been working in (& THROUGH) my life for years through the men & women He’d brought into my life, whether in person (like my dad & dear friend Chuck Shoemake) or from a distance, (the teachers I was listening to, Steve Taylor, Annie Herring, & many, many others.)
The funniest part of the whole interaction with God was the very subtle but very real understanding that I came away with – I, Louie, am to live a life of someone to look up to. I am a part of the great challenge given from Paul to the Corinthians, “…follow my example AS I FOLLOW the example of Christ. 1Corinthians 11:1, NIV.) Instead of trying to find a person to be my mentor, I was to follow the great examples of those men & women in my life who were following Christ… & to expect that there were those that would then use me to do the same.
All of this to say – there aren’t any short-cuts or “7 steps to…” anything that substitute for the process of growing as a disciple of Christ, physically, relationally, emotionally, & spiritually. And if we look around, there are many, many men & women who are someone to look up to, people who are living flawed but exemplary examples of what it means to follow Christ, in their context, on their mission. Look for them. Be one of them. Keep moving forward, & bring others with you whenever you have the opportunity.
…Jesus ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, He said, “you heard from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
So when they had come together, they asked Him, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, & you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem & in all Judea & Samaria, & to the end of the earth.” Acts 1:4-8
Jesus was the Christ, this much the disciples knew. His resurrection from the dead had sealed that fact for them. And because He was the Christ, God’s Anointed One, the Son of David, Jesus’ next move should have been to follow in the David’s footsteps & lead Israel to military victory, evicting the Romans once & for all.
After 3 years, the disciples were still thinking in terms of “us vs. them.” They were still caught in the the temporary, the here & now. They still thought that their biggest problem was Rome, a problem that the Risen King could take care of quite well. Boom!
Maybe that’s why Jesus told them, strongly, to stay put in Jerusalem, to wait for the promised Holy Spirit. It’s like He said, “Guys, I don’t want you to go anywhere or do anything in your own strength. Wait for Mine. The kind of change that you & this world needs, My Kingdome coming, My will being done, isn’t brought about by human effort, but by the work of the Holy Spirit. So wait for Him. Then act.”
I get the disciples, especially how they were so quick to believe that God’s purposes actually mirrored their own. They needed to lift their eyes up from their myopic view of selves & get divine perspective.
This happens when the Holy Spirit gently confronts. Challenges. Convicts. Changes. Reveals. Fills. Empowers.
And suddenly, my agenda, my purposes seem small. Insignificant. Perhaps even irrelevant.
And there is a joy, a relief even, in the revelation of God’s purposes. Cause I FIT in them. And so do others.
Acts 16:6-10 They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
The call to spread the gospel and to make disciples is at the core of what it means to live out the life of the Christ-follower. So it seems ironic in this passage that it was the Holy Spirit, the very Spirit Who empowers us to be witnesses, that told the missionary team, “No, don’t do that here,” and not just one time, but twice.
Every time I read this it catches me a bit off guard; Paul, Silas, and Timothy want to preach the gospel, but the Spirit of Jesus shuts the door. When I think of ministry frustrations and difficulties, the first thing that comes to mind is the opposition of our enemy, and I want to pray (and have prayed) for God to make a way for the gospel to be heard and to take root.
Reading that the Spirit of God sometimes says “No,” causes me to examine my own heart and life, and even to wonder if some of my own “banging on closed doors” was due to functioning on my own agenda, versus the agenda that the LORD is working from.
The rest of Acts 16 reveals that the LORD knew what He was doing by telling the team “No” to Asia and Bithynia; He instead opened a significant door in the city of Philippi, and with signs and wonders, and a well-timed earthquake, used the missionary team to bring about a great, city-changing salvation that shook the spiritual (and physical) world to its core.
I’m reminded that Jesus said He only did what He saw His Father in heaven doing (John 5:19 et al), and that some of the greatest miracles in the book of Acts (Peter and John heal the lame man in Acts 3,) happened specifically as a result of something that Jesus DIDN’T do for whatever reason.
I want to submit my agenda to the LORD, and exchange my good ideas and opportunities for the ones that God would put in front of me. God’s timing matters; His Spirit is at work, and I want to be led by the Spirit of Jesus so I can partner with His God ideas.