I successfully avoided Lewie Clark for a year and a half. The word on campus was that he could read minds, and I wanted none of that. I was in a place I didn’t want to be—my dad had told me that if I’d attend one year of Christian college he would pay for my education, otherwise I was on my own. So there I was at Calvary Bible College just doing my time.
Lewie was the dean of men. Of course he couldn’t really read minds, but he had a reputation for asking a lot of questions and drawing stuff out of a guy’s heart. And I just wasn’t all that interested in being known. I planned to do my year, keep my rebellion under wraps, and get on with mylife myway.
I ended up taking a class in the same building where Lewie taught, so we would often run into each other and chat. I settled in to the casual nature of our friendship, and was no longer feeling quite so threatened until the day he extended the dreaded invitation: “Why don’t you come by later and let’s talk some more?”
I rehearsed all afternoon. Now I have to admit that I had been living in absolute sin the whole time. If Lewie—or any other administrator—knew what I’d really been doing I’d have been kicked out. So I had to prep my answers—my lies—for Lewie in order to throw him off. Yet even at the same time that I was living in rebellion, God was drawing me. I had actually returned to Calvary for a second year, not because Dad made me but because I had begun to see something in the lives of people there that I wanted. In my heart I was going in two opposite directions.
So, Lewie and I sat down to talk and he asked how I was doing, what was going on in my life. And I launched in to my well-rehearsed answer. He let me go on for four or five minutes and then he looked at me and said, “When are you going to stop playing this game?”
Now a whole lot happened in that moment, and much of it is hard to explain. I do know that I was confident of two things: 1) God was speaking to my heart, and 2) God had put someone in front of me who would help me. The game-playing was over, and I was glad. For the next three hours I poured out nineteen years worth of hurts, fears, and guilt.
I found out later that Lewie had been praying for me for most of the year and a half that led up to that conversation. He knew that if he approached me too soon I would not be ready to be honest, so he prayed and trusted God to work in my heart before approaching me. And when he did approach me he did more than simply confront me about the wayward life I was leading, he encouraged me with what he believed wouldbe true—that God had kingdom related purposes for my life. Lewie also assured me that he would be there to help me.
That assurance became both the basis of our discipleship friendship and the foundation for my own disciple-making. Speaking truth as if it were even though it is not yet(in the spirit of Hebrews 11) is a great motivator to pursue and fulfill God’s purpose.
Lewie discipled me intensely for eighteen months, through my remaining time at college. From the beginning I knew this wasn’t really about me, it was about Christ and his plan for his kingdom to invade the world. I was being discipled to become a disciple-maker. God’s plan was bigger than my dreams, and much bigger than my past attempts to derail that plan, at least as far as my life was concerned. Discipleship was not about getting my life together, it was about loving Jesus, loving people, and changing the world.
About eight months in, Lewie challenged me to begin praying that God would show me who I should disciple. By then I was looking at everyone through the lens of: Is this a divine appointment? Is this someone I’m supposed to invest in? Lewie had so instilled in me the realities of the sovereignty of God—that nothing happens by chance—that I was on the lookout for those God was bringing into my life for a longer term discipleship investment.
After I graduated from Calvary I was hired on staff to work in public relations as a recruiter. (Ironic, isn’t it? A few years prior I couldn’t wait to get away, now I was staying past graduation!) And God brought to me a new student named Billy.
The following year God brought Lewie and I together again, this time on the staff of Life Action Ministries. Though this was a different ministry setting—we were part of a revival team that travelled throughout the U.S.—disciple-making was still very much our approach to the relationships we developed with our team members. During this time I really began to see the truth of something Lewie had been teaching me about disciple-making all along—that while I might have opportunity to teach and influence several people at a time, I could really only concentrate on a few. Just as Jesus had many followers, but seemed to have focused on Peter, James, and John, I learned that I had to be okay with that approach in my life. Even today, as a teaching pastor, I don’t see myself as making disciples from the platform on Sunday mornings. That is a part of the process, but not where the primary work takes place.
A few years later God moved my family overseas to Slovakia, where I immediately went on the prayerful lookout for the man or men I was to disciple. This thinking drove my ministry, and drove my life. Still does.
Very soon God brought me into contact with Tomas, who at the time was just nineteen years old and in a difficult family environment. His life had been directed mostly by belittlement, manipulation, and humiliation, so we began with his having a very low level of trust in anyone older than he. I mention this because it was actually a very simple act that started bringing his walls down – I let him have a key to my office so he could use my computer to work on his term paper. This became a watershed moment. By handing him a key, Tomas felt that I had given him my trust which he received as a surprising demonstration of love.
In the context of the ministry I was doing at the time, it was natural to include Tomas in many of my activities. I often spoke at conferences, and would take him along with me. We had many great conversations driving the roads of Eastern Europe. And I took advantage of my need for help with the language, sometimes using him as a translator. I simply included him in what God had me doing.
Eventually Tomas began praying that God would bring a disciple-to-be across his path. I remember the day he came to me and said, “I know who it is! It’s Andre.” Andre was a sixteen year old boy who was at a very broken place in his life. Everything that I had done with Tomas, he began to do with Andre, and God began to transform Andre’s life. This of course added a dynamic to my relationship with Tomas because we were not only talking about what was going on in Tomas’ life, but also about what was going on in Andre’s life.
And then Andre began asking God to point him to a disciple, and God brought Miso, who had just graduated from high school. Miso was spiritually lost, but he began hanging out in the café we had opened. After nearly two years—all the while Andre loving him and being his friend—Miso came to faith in Christ. He later joined our ministry team.
I could tell of many others, but I mention this particular “lineage” of four generations of disciples to make a point: Though Tomas is the only one of the men I’ve mentioned who’s actually met Lewie, every one of them will say that Lewie has had a role in their life because of the influence he’s had in mine. That’s how it is with discipleship. Life is given and received and given and received and on and on and on.