When it comes to investments, the best ones are those not only produce results right away, but that continue to provide benefits for years to come. Mentoring relationships are exactly the same. The opportunities are all around us. In nearly 25 years of ministry, I have seen my fair share of opportunities and have acted upon them. Every relationship has had a profound impact on me but one really stands out in my mind lately as I am preparing to embark on the next leg of my ministry journey with the Navigators.
Over 10 years ago, I was serving on the pastoral staff of a church in suburban Chicago when, at a ministry fair, a young college student showed up at my Sports Ministry booth looking to serve. Adam shared with me that he had recently come to know the Lord and felt a desire to serve. Of course if you know me well enough, when I asked him about his sports background and he shared that he was running track at one of our local colleges and had played basketball in high school, my interest was peaked. But as we continued to talk, I could sense a genuineness about him that led me to invite him out to lunch so we could talk more about what it means to serve. It was definitely about more than finding a new friend to play basketball with and do life together, there was more to the story that was about to be written. I could easily just tell you this story from my perspective, but I asked Adam to tell this story with me because our relationship hasn't always been a one-way thing, it's a story about two men becoming "better together"
Adam: When I met Jason I was eager. As a college senior who had recently trusted Christ I wanted to know how to walk with and follow Jesus. What struck me about Jason was both his intentionality as well as his natural approach to getting to know me: spending time together doing something we both loved - playing basketball! Now, he is literally about a foot taller than me (check the picture on the right if you don't believe it) I don’t remember winning many games, but what I do remember are the conversations that followed as we would sit on the court wiping away sweat. He would ask me questions about what God was teaching me and how I saw Him at work in my life. Honestly, these were questions I didn’t know I should be asking and thinking about.
Later, over a burger, I remember him sharing with me an important discipling principle, “In each season of life you should seek to have a Paul - someone ahead, a Barnabas - someone beside, and a Timothy - someone you are entrusting and passing your life onto." I took this to heart and took it to prayer. I had a “Paul” but now I needed some “Timothys”. Looking back now, 10 years later, I still see those final months of my college career as some of the most spiritually fruitful months in my life as I began to grow and as God opened doors to begin investing in the lives of roommates, teammates and friends.
Interrupted By A Dream
Jason: As relationships go, we get consumed with life. Sometimes, God has a way of reminding us of things and people that matter. In my case, I had a dream one night about two years ago that got my attention in a "game changing" kinda way. In that dream, I was visiting at my grandmother's home and I heard the doorbell ring. I went to answer it and Adam was standing at the door. I was shocked for a couple of reasons like 1. he had no idea where she lived, 2. I never mentioned that I was going to visit her. and 3. we hadn't talked to each other in a while. I asked him what was he doing there and he said "I have a random question for you, can we go somewhere and talk." I of course said yes and we went to a coffee shop nearby and began to talk about some of the great times we have had over the years. Our conversation was interrupted by a woman who said she was writing about discipling relationships and overhearing us, she wanted us to tell her our story for her article. That's where I woke up from the dream with a sense of urgency to reach out to Adam. I wasn't sure why but I knew that I needed to give him a call. I decided that I would call him sometime after I got off work that day. A little before noon that day I was at work when I got a text. It was Adam and his text said "I have a random question for you" I about lost it right there in the middle of work but I got it together and excused myself to go answer him. He explained that he was preparing a teaching about "spiritual generations" and he was constructing his "spiritual family tree" and wanted to know if I had pictures of the man who discipled me and the man who discipled him. Fortunately I had both pictures since we are friends on social media. I sent them to Adam and said that this was no accident and we needed to talk on the phone asap and that he needed to send me his teaching. He agreed and this was the start of something special in our relationship. I'll let Adam tell you more about it......
Adam: Little did I know that what started as the basic steps of walking with Jesus and helping others to do the same would turn into a calling and career. Two years after meeting Jason I met the Navigators whose simple motto is, “To know Christ, make Him known, and help others do the same.” With this I was back on a college campus, the University of Minnesota, seeking to make disciples who make disciples in the spirit of 2 Timothy 2:2. The natural, yet very intentional approach that once drew me to Jason was the same thing that drew me to the Navigators. Anyone, anywhere can join God in living this out. It’s central to what Jesus called his disciples to in the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20 and it’s why I’m passionate to share with students on campus.
So when I had the opportunity to share a message about “spiritual generations” Jason was back on my mind. When I reached out to him I was quite surprised to hear of the dream he had just had of me! In many ways, this rekindled our relationship and over the next several months we began connecting over the phone more frequently, this time much more like a Paul to a Barnabas, one brother to another brother. During these months, I was reminded of how intentionally and naturally Jason goes about making disciples in all spheres of his life. On many occasions I wanted to stop the conversation and blurt out, “Bro, you are a Navigator!” and finally one day I did....
What Goes Around Comes Around
Jason: I am so glad he finally spoke up! You can imagine my thoughts as Adam is on the phone, suggesting that I consider looking at partnering up with The Navigators. Something about it felt right. This was weird especially given I had been approached with the idea of becoming a Navigator about 18 years before that and didn’t feel it then. As Adam was going on, I began to recall how much the Navigators influenced the foundational framework of my ministry over two decades. My entire style of discipleship and evangelism came from a Navigator named Jim Petersen and his book “Living Proof: Sharing the Gospel Naturally “. I’ve lived and taught it throughout my years in ministry. Could it be that I was a Navigator and I just didn’t know it? That statement/question kept repeating itself throughout my recruiting and interview process. It made total sense. The deeper into the process, the more it became clear that this was the Lord’s plan for me all along and He used a “Timothy” to help a “Paul” see it!
Paul & Timothy: A Two Way Relationship
The relationship depicted in the bible between Paul and Timothy provides us with one of the greatest illustrations of a discipling relationship. It started out with Paul investing in a young Timothy who was eager to learn. As the relationship grew, Timothy caught the vision for disciple making and Paul charged him with the challenge to put it into practice;
“and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.” 2 Timothy 2:2
Timothy eventually became Paul’s partner in ministry. The two of them went on to take the gospel and make disciple-makers in many of the churches of that day. Paul refers to Timothy as a co-laborer in the Gospel in Romans 16:21
“Timothy, my fellow worker, greets you; so do Lucius and Jason and Sosipater, my kinsmen.” Romans 16:21
Their relationship was marked by their ability to love and serve each other. Even at the end of Paul’s journey, he was vulnerable enough to call on Timothy for help. In the last chapter of his letter to him, Paul admits that he is basically alone and needs his help.
“Do your best to come to me soon. For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry.” 2 Timothy 4:9-11
Adam: Being back together and over another game of basketball, I was reminded of Jason’s favorite hashtag: #bettertogether. From the basketball court to the nitty gritty of walking with Jesus, we are better together. We aren’t meant to and we really aren’t able to do it alone. One of the first verses Jason shared with me as a young believer was Proverbs 27:17, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” In reflecting over the past decade of friendship with Jason I’m struck by the fact that our relationship has been and continues to be mutually sharpening.
We’ve had two way conversations and he has not only taken an interest in my life but has given me the privilege of seeing and speaking into his. This sadly is not a mark of many discipling/mentoring relationships but is one of the key reasons why we’ve been able to grow such a deep trust and closeness. It’s a trait I’ve sought to model over these past 8 years of investing in “Timothys” on campus as I desire to see Timothys grow up into Pauls, co-laboring for the kingdom of Christ.
Jason: Adam is so right! Over the years, I have observed many “discipling” relationships simply be one way relationships where the discipler is passing down information, but the person being discipled never gets the opportunity to contribute to the relationship. Communication is a two way street. It takes both parties being open and vocal about what is going on. When that level of transparency exists, it sets up the opportunity for both individuals to grow.
Early on in my ministry I was given a piece of advice that has stayed with me all these years. It was just two words “stay teachable”. Those two words are hard to live up to especially when we begin to see a little bit of success and somewhere along the line we get it in our minds that we know it all. Along the way, I have learned that being transparent as a leader is a good thing. A transparent person doesn’t think more of themselves than they ought to because they have humbled themselves to the point of allowing someone else to see the good as well as the bad.
I have always tried to maintain this two way relationship throughout my life. Am I ever so grateful that I have that kind of relationship with Adam because if I didn’t, we may not be at the point that we find ourselves preparing to enter a new chapter of our relationship, working side by side at the University of Minnesota.
From Parent To Partner
This next chapter of our story is a fulfillment of what Rick Warren refers to as the “partnership” phase of a Paul/Timothy relationship. In his article “ Three Phases Of A Paul and Timothy Relationship” Rick outlines three stages that mentoring/discipling relationships go through.
Phase 1: Parenting = Timothy as a son. Caring for Timothy
Phase 2: Pacesetting = Timothy as a student. Showing Timothy how it’s done.
Phase 3: Partnership = Timothy as a co-laborer. Working alongside Timothy.
He says that all effective discipling relationships go through all three phases. As I look back at our relationship, I can see how it’s moved from a ‘father-son” relationship to a brotherly partnership. I love what he said about where our relationship is now as brothers, co-laborers for the gospel. If I’ve learned anything over the last 25 years of disciple-making, it’s that both parties are always deeply affected in a true two-way disciple making relationship. For us, it fans the flame of discipleship in our hearts. That desire to reach students on the campus with the gospel, discipling them and equipping them to do the same. That desire has led the both of us to commit to give our very lives to this cause.
We know that our story is unique and not everyone is called to give up everything to become a disciple-maker. The amazing thing about all of this is that you don’t have to be called to serve in the same way we are. Making disciples is something that is for EVERYONE. Jesus called all of us to it in Matthew 28:19-20;
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
Adam: The more and more I think about my own story of growing as a disciple of Jesus, I realize I needed many guides on my journey and still do. We all need men and women who will come alongside us, tell us how to do it, demonstrate it with their lives and then co-labor with us. As I’ve grown as a follower of Jesus, a disciple-maker on campus, and now a father of 2 boys I’m convinced that intentionally investing into the lives of others is both rewarding as well as the vital means by which God intends to complete the Great Commission of making disciples of all nations.
Jason: I am convinced too! It was 30 years ago that someone intentionally came alongside to show me what it meant to be a disciple who makes disciples. Because of that great example that was modeled for me, 20 years later, what started as a couple of guys playing basketball together turned into a life changing relationship that forever changed the trajectory of both our lives.
That is why I am in it and I know that is why Adam is in it. This world is in a desperate need for people who will come alongside someone else and walk with them into their God ordained purpose in life. You don’t have to be a “ministry professional” to do this. All you need is a desire to invest in other and a willingness to be intentional about it. If we are going to see the fulfillment of the Great Commission, it will be fulfilled through ordinary people becoming disciple-makers who go out to live, work and play next door to everywhere....are you in?
Stay Forever Strong!