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.