Somewhere along the way I picked up the idea that discipleship was about finding that one mentor who could, with his wit and wisdom, heal my wounds and bring me closer to Jesus. I thought there’d be notebooks, coffee, and in-depth Bible studies. I imagined that he was older, wiser, and profoundly interested in my life.
Maybe you found that kind of person. And good for you.
But here is what actually happened: I was discipled by the church.
My regular old normal church.
I went to church and heard sermons.
I attended classes and groups and get-togethers.
In third grade I saw my Sunday school teacher, Bud Whitlow, write a check for what seemed to me to be an insane amount of money and give it to the church. I watched him write that check every Sunday for as long as he was my teacher. (Bud let his son, Steven, and me blow up milk jugs with a 12 gauge on his property outside of town.)
In sixth grade Mrs. Amanda Jordan told me to read my Bible for myself, not just to listen to others read.
Someone else taught me how.
Someone else told me to look for the narrative thread of salvation history in the Old and New Testaments.
In eighth grade a young dad from church took me to visit the sick people and showed me how to pray with them. Sometimes he’d tell me to jump in his truck and take me to visit the people who were new to the church. He’d always put on his ball cap to drive and take it off when we were about to go inside. A few times people prayed to become Christians when we went to their home.
When I was a freshman, dad took me and some men from my church to a pastor’s conference in Jacksonville, Florida, and we listened to sermons for two straight days. We would drink coffee in between the sessions. I felt like a grown man.
Another man not much older than me volunteered to lead our youth group at church and taught me how to ask my friends if they want to be Christians. A few times I did.
I played football for Coach Wesley Dicks at Keystone Heights High School. He was also a deacon at our church and showed me how to live a godly life as a public figure in a small town. He probably thought I wasn’t paying attention because by then I had started hiding my faith and acting like an unbeliever at school.
When I landed in a South Carolina college and began avoiding her altogether, the church still had my heart.
I did my best to ignore Don Wilton’s sermons, but I still attended with my girlfriend.
One of the leaders at our school, Rick Brewer, encouraged, cajoled, bribed, me to take my connection to the church seriously but I transferred schools and left the state instead. (I always assumed that he saw through my Christian charade. There was no hiding my love for the world.)
My brother and I moved to Oklahoma together. Since I was new in town, a pastor I’d never met came to visit our apartment and invited us to church.
I tried to make him feel stupid. He walked away angry with me, but I closed the door knowing the church still wanted me. Some Baptist pastor in Shawnee, Oklahoma, probably thought it was a waste of his Saturday morning to knock on my door. But it was actually a part of my discipleship.
Eventually, I returned to the church and found her happy to take me back.
A volunteer opened the door and smiled.
A very kind older woman asked me to fill out a card and gave me a gift with the church logo on it.
They put me in a group with people my age.
Guys my age encouraged me to give 10 percent of my paycheck.
The young couples class discovered that I could teach and gave me the opportunity.
I had treated the church so badly, yet the church eagerly encouraged me to pursue leadership.
Sometimes older, wiser men would cross my path and would take an interest in me, but none of those guys possessed all of the spiritual gifts. I learned that they’re just men.
If I were hoping for a spiritual guru, or all-in-one spiritual guide/father/pastor, they failed. But as a part of the body, they did their job.
These were good men who were each deficient in some way.
Individually, they were less than what I needed, but corporately they were Jesus’ body bringing me to maturity.
God never gave me a personal spiritual father who would play Paul to my Timothy, but I‘m not sure that’s very common anyway.
He did give me His very body, the church.
I was discipled by the church.
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