20 Years a Christian: Discipleship

The day after I got saved, I bought a Bible, and started to read. For the first time I could understand every word. Before I hated to read, and a day later I couldn’t stop. I drove my wife crazy, always having the Bible with me, reading it every chance I got, even when watching television. I was like a race horse waiting for the gate to open; snorting, breathing heavy, heart pounding, and then…boom! The gate opens and I’m running as fast as I can. All I was concentrating on was winning the race, claiming the prize, and doing all I could to get there.

Pastor Wayne was a great mentor. I spent a lot of time with him: observing, learning, listening, reading, praying, counseling, and asking multitudes of questions about the Bible and my situation with my wife. But my heart pounded to tell others of the gift I was given so that they would have what I had. But there was a time of learning and growing; trials and testing, that proves what kind of mettle you’re made of.

After a few months, he introduced me to another guy at our church, Tony Didlo, who was already involved with street ministry and sharing the gospel with strangers. It takes great maturity to know when the person you are mentoring and training needs more than what you could give them. It wasn’t that Wayne couldn’t, or wouldn’t — but that other people were doing it better, and I needed to learn from them.

Starting Street Evangelism

When I started with Tony, we would go to the Court Avenue District of Downtown Des Moines. In the summer there were people everywhere outside. Most of the restaurants had music, and the whole place was pretty electric. Unlike today, no matter where you went, there was always someone to talk to. Not only would we talk to the people in the restaurant areas, but we also went to the homeless at Nolan Plaza, and even talk to the people fishing on the bridge. Back then I was terrified. Looking back on it now, that was easy compared to today. Fewer laws, and more freedom then. But it was the way Tony trained me that made a huge difference that I hope to do with someone else one day. He discipled the way Jesus did: I do, you watch; I do, you help; you do, I help; you do, I watch.

I do, you watch

Just like Jesus, Tony taught by example. At first, I just followed him wherever he went — willingly. He started and ended every conversation, and I would just pay attention and listen. I would obviously introduce myself to the one whom he was speaking to, but I wouldn’t inject my thoughts unless really pressed upon. I not only prayed when we approached people on the street to talk to, but I listened, watched, and observed. I paid attention to everything about the conversation. What was said, facial expressions, body movements, voice inflections, and so much more. I listened to every word Tony said, and then paid attention to the answers to see if I would have said it the same way. Then, between conversations, Tony and I would critique what was said, talk about it, and I would ask why he did things a certain way, or how I would have done it better.

I do, you help

Once I had a good idea of the plan, how to do things, and felt more confident, Tony would start conversations with strangers on the street and I would interject my thoughts or bible verses into the conversation. Over time, I gained even more confidence and he would start conversations and I would end them. This got me talking, not just listening; using the things I learned and skills that I had acquired through the first process.

You do, I help

After several weeks or even months had passed, I was ready for the next stage, where I would start the conversations with strangers and then Tony would finish them, or even just interject by my side. I have to be honest, of all the stages, this was the most critical, time-consuming stage where you really start to apply the things you learned. “I do, you help” was a great way to get your feet wet and really test the water so to speak, while putting your toe in, and testing the temperature. At this stage, you actually are the one putting your foot out and doing most of the work. If I got stuck, I would just look at Tony and say, “What do you think?” That was his queue to interject and help me out because I either didn’t understand something, I was flustered, or forgotten my place. This was easy because he was right there with me listening to the conversation, and was an active observer.

You do, I watch

There may be a long period of time before getting to this stage of discipleship. I’m sure it is different for everyone, and if you were to ask Tony how long it took for me, he might not remember. Probably years to be honest. But a person doesn’t get to this stage without doing the work needed. That requires a lot of time, patience, learning, and not only willingness to participate, but actually participating. You can’t observe the whole time. This stage tested your mettle and what you’re made of.

Over time, I talked more and listened less. And that was good; great even. At this stage I would start and finish a conversation with Tony listening from afar, and not right by my side. In Nolan Plaza, there used to be benches where the backs would come together so people could sit on either side. Tony would take one side, I the other, starting a conversation with someone. Tony could hear everything being said, but he would keep quiet and let me fly — or fall.

So, with no stage to graduate to forward, how did Tony know when I had passed? He had a simple, yet devious way of testing me. He nonchalantly would want to go to McDonalds or a fast food resturant for dinner after our outings downtown. It was late enough that there weren’t many people eating, but it was not empty. We would get our food and sit down to eat. After a few minutes, Tony would reach into his top pocket, pull out a tract, slide it over to my side of the table, and point to someone who he wanted me to share the gospel to. I would look back and it would either be a single grandmother, or a guy with face-tattoos and a mohawk. But he would give me about a minute or two to make up my mind and take the tract over or not. If I did take it, I would walk over, say a few things and give it to them. I respectfully try to engage in a conversation, because the person is eating; but at the same time try to at least get them thinking. If I didn’t take the tract, he would simply wipe his mouth, take the tract, get up and do the same thing he asked me to do. Then, when he was done, he would come back to his seat and finish eating without saying a word. He knew at that moment, I would need more training, and take a step back. He didn’t have to say anything, I already knew I wasn’t ready for what was next.

Is that cruel?

Would you consider that type of testing cruel? Do you think that’s pretty rough to just slide a tract over and point to the toughest, ugliest and possibly meanest person in the whole room to test a guy to see what he’s made of? No. It would be cruel if Tony asked me to do that, and if upon refusing, he would sit and keep eating. But we as Evangelists are to learn by example. To be led means that the teacher is to go first, to walk ahead, and to be right by your side; not on the sidelines looking from the dugout and yelling things at you to do. I was blessed to have that. I wouldn’t be the man I am today without it.

Sure, I failed plenty of tests with him. I didn’t take the tract and talk to the guy in the orange jumpsuit that said, “Polk County Jail” on it. Sure, I didn’t open air preach when he wanted to go and do it in front of the Liars Club. But, a few years later I did; putting in the extra time and effort needed to achieve a goal.

What if I failed?

Like I said, there were plenty of times I failed the tests. When I say, “failed” I hope you don’t think that as I felt like a failure. That’s not true. It was more like wanting to see if I was competent, or measure up to be on my own. When the disciples didn’t measure up, Jesus took them a step back. Same with me. Not to the beginning mind you, but just one step. So, if I was on, “You do, I help,” and I missed a lot of things and needed more time, I just took a step back and treaded water in, “I do, you help” a little more. Learn from those mistakes if there are ones, and maybe all I really needed is more practice at that level.

What was the goal? The same goal Jesus had with the disciples — to learn as much as I can so that I can do it by myself and train others the same way. Jesus, Tony, and hopefully I am making disciples to train and equip others also. To equip the saints for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11, 12).

This is nothing new even in the secular world. Parents are discipling their children to be competent, moral adults. Kids go to school and are tested to see if they are ready to advance to the next level. Adults are graded on how well they perform a job in their career. It was learning from those times of frustration and becoming more mature in my Christian walk that helped propel me even further.

What is real failure?

The real failure is not doing the work and giving up. I really believe what the church is lacking is discipleship. Most of the questions I receive at GotQuestions.org could be answered by a male or female role model. But, it’s not for the lack of mentors, but students willing to sit under someone and learn, grow, and put the time and effort in. No one wants to do the hard things.

Mentors invest time and hard work pouring into those they are teaching. They are willing to go the extra mile. But it is the one being discipled who holds all the cards. They have to do the work; they have to take the time. They only go as far as they want to go. Like a race horse, I wanted to run, and nothing was going to stop me. Not even myself.

I will in the near future talk about each stage individually and also give biblical examples how Jesus taught.

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